‘We’ll give it one hell of a lash’

SEVEN All-Ireland medals down. Another on the horizon. Noel Hickey of Kilkenny has put down another long season of drudgery and effort in the Kilkenny cause, sacrifice and denial.

“I look forward to training,” he says. “It’s great heading in, there’s good crack in the dressing-room, what more could you ask for?”

We were aiming for the impassive commitment angle, Noel. Are you saying there are jokers in the Kilkenny pack? “Gorta (Martin Comerford). Cha. John Tennyson. The three of them come to mind.”

Hickey traces his own intercounty interest and ambitions to a neighbour.

“In 1992 Kilkenny won the senior All-Ireland and Liam Fennelly was captain. I was growing up in Dunamaggin and Pat O’Dwyer from up the road was full-back on the team. He came to the school so I looked up to him.

“When I came in, then, Willie O’Connor was there and was a great help. He was good for advice when he was in the corner and I was starting out at full-back. I’d go to games in the car with himself, John Power, they were the lads I looked up to and no better men for it.”

Hickey’s in that veteran role himself now, advising “without realising it”, as he says himself. The self-effacement isn’t an accident. There’s no trace of a swelled head.

“Brian has us that way but the lads would be like that anyway. With my family if there was any sign of a big head it wouldn’t last too long.

“You don’t think about last year or whatever. You do know that losing an All-Ireland is the sickest feeling ever, so we’ll give it one hell of a lash.”

On Sunday he could be facing Eoin Kelly, a fair contrast after the huge framed Aisake O hAilpín of Cork.

“He’s the biggest man I ever marked but there probably wasn’t much ball came into him that day, in fairness. Then you could have someone like Damien Hayes of Galway, or Eoin – all excellent hurlers, so you have to deal with whatever comes up.

“They’ll (Tipp) be better this year. The experience of last year will stand to them and they look to be coming good. Even the first day, when Cork beat them and people were writing them off, I felt that was just one game and that there was no way they were as bad as that. As the year’s gone on they’ve improved from game to game.”

Time has been kind to Hickey this year. Last season he was forced to look on, crucified by injury, but 2010 has been healthy.

“Last year I just went from one thing to another with injuries and I never got a good run at it. It was great to be involved last year, but you can’t beat being out on the field on All-Ireland final day so I’m really looking forward to it.

“At the start of last year I had the two operations on my groin, I came back and did my medial knee ligament and I was out for a while with that.

“Then I did my a-c joint in my shoulder coming up to the All-Ireland final so I never got a chance to get the hurling up, or the fitness good enough.

“It was very frustrating. Normally you get one injury and you get over it, but last year it was one thing to the other. It was a year to forget.”

At least he knew his place was safe.

“Last year JJ (Delaney) was fullback and he’s a super hurler there. You know the lads from around the county and they’re all excellent hurlers.

“The way Brian operates is if you’re not playing well enough, you’re not going to get picked. I didn’t know how I’d be this year hurling-wise, so it was great to get a couple of games and build on it from there.

“You see the fellas there performing well and you know yourself what you have to do. If anything, it drives you on a bit because you have to up your own game or else get left behind. I wouldn’t stress about it. It would be in your head that you have to get working hard at it.”

He’s used to hard work as a farmer, anyway, the tough slog–- “Well, it doesn’t make any difference because farming is all nearly tractor work now,” he says. “There’s no physicality in it.”

Another angle closed off, the roadblock slammed down on another avenue. Then again, isn’t that what top defenders do?


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