IT’S been a bad few weeks in Limerick hurling with the controversy whipped up over the decision by senior manager Justin McCarthy to jettison a dozen players from the panel, including several of the county’s most high-profile hurlers.
On Sunday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, however, and even as Limerick’s representatives Adare were being denied the opportunity to reach their second Munster final in succession when beaten by Newtownshandrum, a ray of light emerged for the long-suffering Shannonside supporters.
In that game, which Adare lost by three points, 1-17 to 1-14, all but one of Adare’s scores came from one player – Declan Hannon. His age? Sweet 16.
The scores came from everywhere, from all distances, from all angles. He had 16 shots at the target – 14 were scored, one went wide, and the last effort in the final minute with Adare needing a goal to tie was goal-bound before it was deflected out for a 65 off the helmet of a Newtownshandrum player.
It wasn’t a one-man effort by any means, and 1-9 of Hannon’s total came from placed balls, most of those frees won by others, but it was an exhibition. “His cover is blown now,” said Niall Moran. “We were hoping to keep him protected for another while yet, but too late for that. But he is a player of great potential.”
Moran is a teacher in Ard Scoil Rís in Limerick city, where Hannon is a prized student, in 5th year, and also a star of the Harty Cup team. In a little touch of irony, Moran is also one of the high-profile victims of Justin’s cuts, but that’s not for this forum.
One of those people who, even while still playing, gives back to his sport, Moran is heavily involved as a coach with the Harty Cup team and was there last year when Hannon led the school to Dean Ryan honours. But long before that Moran was aware of the talent that is Declan Hannon.
“I first came across him in the GAA summer camps years ago, when he was only seven or eight,’’ Moran recalled.
“Even then you could tell he was something special – he was the sweetest striker of a ball you could wish to see.
“He’s not what you’d call an exciting player to watch, not a hat-trick hero kind of guy in the way that Andrew O’Shaughnessy was. He’s a big, strong man, around six foot one or two but with a bit of filling out to do yet.
“He’s a multi-dimensional hurler, a bit in the mould of Tipperary star Noel McGrath. He won’t stand out every time you see him, but he is always capable of doing what he did Sunday.
“It hasn’t come as any surprise to us here in the school anyway – we played him in a Harty Cup semi-final two years ago when he was barely turned 15. We were under pressure and threw him in at midfield after about 10 minutes, and he gave an exhibition. People would need to be careful about over-hyping him, but he’s very well rounded, has a lot of interests outside of hurling.”
Even as a student, Hannon is top-class, says Moran: “He’s very quiet, soft-spoken, comes from a very solid family – his mother is a Stakelum, from Tipperary (Damien is a grandson of Pat Stakelum, the former Tipperary senior captain). He’s a dream student from a teacher’s point of view, he is a gentleman to deal with. The rest of the kids here look up to him, they know how good a hurler he is, but even from first year he has carried that well.
“He’s a leader, a natural leader.”
So where to play him?. This year he was centre-back for the Limerick minor team, was outstanding in that position, came on at wing-back for the U21’s and did likewise.
With Árd Scoil Rís he is also centre-back but according to the manager that is only an emergency measure.
“We’re playing him there at the moment because we have a few injury problems, but long-term we’d be looking at him in the forwards. In my book he’s a natural forward, a beautiful striker, very composed, very level-headed. He doesn’t panic, he certainly knows where the posts are.”
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