Category: Archive

The hurl story

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Carey’s decision to retire from inter-county hurling was coming. He was still supremely skilful, still had that electric burst of pace, but Brian Cody has been changing the guard at Kilkenny, and in his mid-thirties, Carey probably thought his face mightn’t fit the new image.
There was also the question of desire. Could he give it his all for a 17th season? Could he sweat it out for one more summer? Although his form at club level for Young Irelands had been particularly sharp, he reckoned it was the right time to quit.
And who could second-guess someone with five senior All Ireland titles, five National Hurling Leagues, two Kilkenny championship winner’s medals, nine All Star and two Hurler of the Year awards? All those accolades for a hurler whose prime didn’t even coincide with a dominant period for his county.
It was no fluke that a hurling revival during the 1990s that saw Clare and Wexford rise to the perennial challenges from Cork, Tipperary and Kilkenny, had Carey at its epicenter. Liam Griffin, who guided Wexford from a wasteland to the Promised Land, dubbed hurling the “Riverdance of sport,” and for Griffin anyway, Carey would always have had Michael Flatley’s starring role.
While Carey’s stickwork, his pace, his discipline on and off the field, made him the iconic hurler of a generation, the game in the quiet of the winter months was where to place him in the pantheon. Better than Christy Ring? The debated boiled and cooled, but the conclusion for some was that Carey wasn’t even better than an Offaly contemporary, Brian Whelehan, and maybe not even better than Kilkenny’s scoring machine, Henry Shefflin, and not better than Eddie Keher before him.
However, a man with hurling in his soul like Griffin could only scratch his head when Carey wasn’t included in the Team of the Millennium. The reason might have been that for all his All Ireland success, Carey never truly owned Croke Park in September.
The player himself was irritated as it seemed as if his worth was only gauged by the number of goals or points he garnered, while his overall team contribution was forgotten. He did score a vital early goal against Offaly in the 2000 final, and there was another against Clare in 2002, however, his late point in that same game remains quintessential Carey.
He left Ollie Baker, and half a packed Croke Park, for dead with a delightful feint and angled his run towards the Hogan Stand sideline from where he paused for what felt like an eternity before firing the ball majestically over the bar.
The nearest thing to that level of skill and awareness is now wearing a Tipperary jersey. Kelly is only 24, and yet his scoring feats are already the stuff of legend. Last month, he hit Limerick for 0-14 at Semple Stadium, and then last Sunday, he calmly added another 2-9 in the Munster semi-final victory over Waterford at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
So far, in 27 championship appearances for his county, the Mullinahone clubman has clocked up an extraordinary total of eight goals and 156 points — more than Nicky English managed in his career. And yet, Tipp want more.
“I thought maybe he could have sneaked another goal there in the first half that might have made the difference,” said Babs Keating with a wry smile after the win against Waterford. “But then I’m greedy with Eoin.”
What has been especially impressive this summer is that Kelly has been destructive when Tipp have been on top, and just as influential when their backs have been to the wall. It doesn’t appear that Carey’s departure has left an attacking void, and in early June, one All Star award is said to have already been decided.
“I don’t know about All Star awards,” says Kelly, “but I’d take a win in the Munster championship any time. It’s just great to be back in the final. We didn’t perform last year, and we want to put that right this time around. However, we know the step-up that awaits us. We’re going to need a 20-man game against Cork and also a bit of luck. Looking back on how Cork played, we know we have homework to do if we’re to try and stop them hurling.”
They asked if DJ Carey was as good as Christy Ring. In a couple of years’ time, the same people will be asking if Eoin Kelly is as good as DJ Carey.
If the comparisons can never be definitive, great hurlers deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.

Not that Ireland would necessarily liked to have been included in a group with Italy, the Czech Republic and Ghana, but there is envy here as the U.S. prepares for the soccer World Cup kick-off.
For a while, it seemed as if every four years in June much of the nation would come to a halt. When it began in 1990 and continued euphorically into 1994, the Irish didn’t just yearn for participation in the World Cup finals, we began to expect it.
In 1998 we sat at home and watched as France bewitched and beguiled, and then in 2002, we were convulsed, not by events on the pitch, but by Roy Keane’s walkout. Or was it his expulsion? Did he jump or was he pushed? Oh, don’t start all that again.
And now this summer, after the team’s failure to qualify, which brought about a squalid conclusion to Brian Kerr’s tenure as manager, we’re watching again. Watching Brazil, and watching the U.S., with that feeling of envy.
Why? Because most of Ireland remembers that first venture in Italy 16 years ago. We felt like gatecrashers at first, chancers who really had no right to be part of a celebration, which includes soccer’s storied nations. But that changed in the space of a few weeks, and then we felt like we belonged.
It didn’t matter too much that manager Jack Charlton and his team never actually won a match in the tournament — the “win” against Romania in the last 16 came after a penalty shoot-out — simply dining at the top table was enough.
There was Kevin Sheedy’s goal against England, the desperation of a 0-0 draw with Egypt, and then Mick McCarthy doing a deal at 1-1 with Holland to play out the last few minutes so that both teams would advance to the knockout stages.
That “win” over Romania in the glorious sunshine of Genoa was an awful match, lit up once or twice by the skill of Hagi, but certainly not by any Irish ambition. But then it didn’t matter when Packie Bonner saved a penalty, and when David O’Leary scored one. It was a case of “never mind the quality feel the hangover.”
Losing 1-0 to Italy in Rome was a glorious defeat, even generating more feel-good that Ireland’s 1-0 victory over the same opposition at the Giants Stadium four years later. The remainder of the tournament in ’94 left much to be desired on the pitch and heralded the beginning of the end for Charlton, but off the pitch, the country still ground to a halt at match time.
If the bitter civil divisions over whether you were for or against Keane, or for or against McCarthy, dominated the electronic media, as well as swamping the front pages, the back pages, and nearly every other page that could take ink, still linger on, what a time that was four years ago.
But this month, it will be hurling and football, and a watching brief. Not that there won’t be some taking of sides as England’s fortunes continue to hold a major interest in Ireland. It’s akin to the obsession with the British royal family — we mightn’t like them, but we’re fascinated by their stupidity, their excesses and their tradition.
A bit like their soccer team, really. One minute, England had their best chance since 1966 of winning the World Cup, and then their star player Wayne Rooney went and broke a bone in his foot, and now they appear to be in disarray. So much so, that the beleaguered coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, included a 17-year-old called Theo Walcott in his squad, despite the fact that Walcott had never even played a game in the Premier League, and despite the fact that Eriksson had never seen him play a game at any level.
Go figure. Because of the commitment in Ireland to English clubs such as Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, one eye will be on England and Rooney’s possible return. The other will be on Brazil, and their gifted playmaker, Ronaldinho.
It will be a rollercoaster month for soccer’s devotees, with a hint of regret that Ireland’s players are lounging by pools in southern Spain rather than sweating it out in Germany.

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