Willie John: What is there to fear?

TEN MINUTES into the interview the mood changes.

What has started out as a jovial, laugh-along meeting suddenly takes on a serious note. Willie John Daly is asked how Carrigtwohill will cope with taking on the favourites Cork IT in tomorrow’s Cork SHC final, he straightens up in his chair, fixes me in his sights. “In hurling you never back away from anyone. You take on your man toe to toe. It doesn’t matter who he is or how big a name he is. You take no backward step.”

It’s enough, a reminder that this man has never looked at hurling except as a chance to take on the biggest and the best. That’s exactly what’s expected of the latest generation of Carrigtwohill hurlers in Páirc Ui Chaoimh tomorrow. And he’s in no doubt but that they will deliver that type of performance . It’s a reminder too that the fire that made him a revered name throughout Ireland in the fifties still burns.

Willie John Daly, Carrigtwohill’s most famous son, still doesn’t take prisoners. It’s scarcely believable he’s four years short of his 90th birthday.

And in a year when Carrig have scaled the heights and stand on the cusp of their first senior final since 1918 the senior management team have come calling. They wanted a bit of what he’s selling. Before the Midleton semi-final they invited him to talk to the team. This was the crunch match — the hottest of local rivalries.

So he came from his home in Cobh and stood before them, these 21st century young men and he bridged the 60 or more years between them with a sermon on the abiding spirit of Carrig.

Daly played in the same half-forward line as Christy Ring for a decade, collecting three All-Ireland medals and as Willie John Ring, Christy’s brother, was fond of saying “That fella was so fiery you could light matches off him!”

It’s exactly the approach Carrig will need tomorrow to overcome the odds.

Daly is fulsome in his praise of Niall McCarthy, who, the old timers say, most resembles Daly in his heyday.

“Niall is a great hurler. He has taken on the best and never backed off. He’s brilliant in all aspects of the game. But all the lads have been brilliant this year. Noel Furlong excelled in the semi-final and he’s a fine player. Rob White is a lovely forward and they’re all nice lads too.”

Daly won all the medals the game had to offer save one. That medal is on offer again tomorrow.

He watched both semi-finals and expected the Cork IT/Newtown game to be a thriller. However the college steamrolled them, which might not necessarily be a good thing for them. “I don’t think that having an easy semi-final is the best preparation for a final. Carrig’s semi-final tested them more. I think they’re ready.”

Of course, he’ll be there tomorrow. He’s travelling up with Billy O’ Neill, an old mate from Carrig who played with Cork and ended up living in and playing with Galway — ironically against Cork in both All-Ireland hurling and football finals in the 50’s.

They’ve never seen Carrig win a senior. The village are certainly underdogs tomorrow but if they can conjure the life force within Daly for one hour then, as he is wont to say himself — “what is there to fear?”

“Words of wisdom...

You never back away from anyone. You take on your man toe to toe.”

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