Galway’s John Hanbury says he and his team-mates were “a bit naïve” about the Super 11s when they went out two years ago to play Dublin in Boston’s Fenway Park, which he describes as “almost a holy ground” in American sports.
“We were out there before and we were a bit naïve to the scale of it all,” says Hanbury.
“When we got out there we realised it was such a huge event. It was part of the bigger Irish festival that is on that weekend. It is the culmination of that.
“When we got out to Boston we realised over 20,000 people were after buying tickets to this game. I follow the American sports, not a lot of the lads do, so I was aware of the significance of Fenway Park. There are a lot of kids over there whose dream it is to play there. And us coming from Ireland not knowing that, we were a bit naïve.
“It is almost a holy ground. In 2015, we heard that we got to play at Fenway and that was the huge thing. Going out there again in the back of your mind you are telling yourself to enjoy it. You are taking in a lot more and appreciating what you are able to do now.
“Last time the atmosphere, I don’t know how the acoustics works, but it is absolutely electric in there. The noise was on par with an All-Ireland semi-final or final. It takes you by surprise. It definitely took us by surprise in 2015.
“It’s a nice feeling that you are going into a place, and at this time of year you don’t normally get that atmosphere. It’s definitely something I am looking forward to.”
The Super 11s games are being carried on TG4 and on American television.
“It was live on NESN last time, New England Sports Network,” says Hanbury.
“Last time we were on at 4pm or 5pm in the States so it was on a later time in Ireland. This time I think it’s on a little earlier. It’s easier for Irish people to watch it.
“The other thing is the American audience and that shock. One of the good things the GPA guys mentioned last time was NESN’s average viewership for that time was in the millions. That gives you a bit of realisation as well of the audience you are hitting.
“It was great last time there was a lot of mainstream US sports coverage with ESPN. To get that you are talking in the tens of millions. It’s amazing the sport that can get that sort of coverage. It’s scary in a way but it’s exciting.”
This weekend Hanbury will line up against the man who first brought him into the county side. Anthony Cunningham gave him his senior start in 2014 and now Cunningham is part of Dublin boss Pat Gilroy’s backroom team.
“I was involved with Anthony on the U21 team in 2012,” says Hanbury. “He was over them and the seniors when they got to the All-Ireland final. I was on that panel. In 2014 he called me in.
“Unusual? It’s just how life goes. It is a strange thing facing a former manager on the sidelines but it happens a lot, be that with club or underage.
“Gavin (Keary, Galway minor coach, recently appointed Clare senior coach) is a former team-mate (Loughrea club). It’s going to be nice to catch up with those lads.”
Hanbury believes the smaller-sided Super 11s game is an ideal “testing ground” for changes to hurling.
“It’s a nice idea because it’s a testing ground for anything that you want. There are a couple of rules where it’s nice to see if they work out.
“The rolling subs is an interesting one because it really increases the speed of the game. You can have this constant high-energy match because guys are always fresh.
“The fatigue of the game can be managed. Back in 2015 they were testing out the penalty. It is where a lot of new rules are found.
“I remember the last game we played against Dublin, you go 100 miles an hour and when you blow a gasket you come off and then you are back in again. It’s pure honest stuff. It’s a nice aspect to try out.”
The tap-and-go free is another rules development that’s different to the 15-a-side game, but Hanbury feels that’s best suited for fouls deep in one’s defence.
“Hurling hasn’t been caught with the cynical fouls, unlike the football where they are trying to figure out ways to speed it up.
“You really only ever see the tap and go free being used in your own half in defence. With the distance you can score from frees, anything from midfield up is scoreable. In the backs it makes sense.
“It would be interesting to see implemented — it’d be no harm.”
A software engineer in Galway with Storm Technology, Hanbury is able to balance the demands on the inter-county player.
“It’s a different world, I can get my head out of hurling when I come in. I enjoy the profession and they have been fantastic.
“They understand but at the same time they didn’t have to do anything special. It’s an environment where you come in and do your work. The work-life balance is managed very well. It’s a huge thing as a hurler or any athlete.
“The work-life and work-sport balance has to be right and they’ve been fantastic.”
Is the trip to Massachusetts the end of the 2017 season or the opening salvo in the 2018 playing year?
“It’s tricky,” says Hanbury. “I would probably give it the end of 2017. People have their own opinion on it.”
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