Impressive show of masculinity from intercounty hurlers leading by example

These players are skilled exponents in the finer points of a code bordering on an art form

Kilkenny  manager Brian Cody speaks to Tommy Walsh before introducing him  as a second-half substitute during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship semi-final against Galway.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody speaks to Tommy Walsh before introducing him as a second-half substitute during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship semi-final against Galway. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Fri, Jul 4, 2014, 11:00

How often have we heard the phrase “proud hurling county” used to elicit some semblance of hope for a team that are, to put it mildly, struggling in the championship maelstrom? Or the term “proud hurling man” when defending some under-pressure manager.

All of us hurling heads have heard of the Rattler Byrne, Christy Ring, Mick Mackey, Jimmy Doyle and Nicky Rackard. We could reel off the names of another few dozen hurling heroes. All proud hurling men from proud hurling counties.

The last seven days has thrown many of the familiar names into the public domain again.

Brian Cody, Tommy Walsh, Jackie Tyrell, Cillian Buckley, TJ Reid, Conor Cooney, Kevin Moran, Brick Walsh, Chrissy O’Connell, Declan Sherlock, Kieran O’Connell, Francis Fullerton, Séamus Hughes, John O’Dwyer, Stephen McAree, Kevin Kelly. Even more proud hurling men.

What can we write about Brian Cody that hasn’t already been written? He shuffled the deck again before last Saturday’s game in Tullamore and came up with another new combination which did the business.

Tommy Walsh is finding favour again in a new role but he’s still Tommy Walsh, the hero, the legend, as brave and honest a hurler that has ever played the game. He took a heavy late tackle last Saturday and could have drawn at least a yellow card for his opponent, but while visibly shaken he got up and trotted back into his position.

We’ve come to expect that manliness from all Cody’s teams and

Tommy is the perfect example of all that is manly about hurling.

Jackie Tyrell was back to his best at corner back. Cillian Buckley is settling in to be a competent wing back while TJ is showing a consistency that has him moving into the player of the year category.

Conor Cooney was one of the few Galway players who could have been happy with his performance last weekend.

While Waterford put themselves back on the championship path, seasoned campaigners were to the fore again. Kevin Moran and Brick Walsh have been the fulcrum of this team for a while and are still the top performers.

Chrissy O’Connell might be a new name to many but he delivered a man-of-the-match performance for Antrim against Offaly and will be heard of in the future.

But what about Declan Sherlock, Kieran O’Connell, Francis Fullerton, Séamus Hughes, John O Dwyer, Stephen McAree and Kevin Kelly? Proud hurling men all.

They brought a significant amount to last week’s hurling world, just like the household names already mentioned.

They are proud hurling men, or maybe apostles would be a better description. They are playing against the wind much of the time, but they are believers and are carrying on their proselytising with impressive enthusiasm in a province where, in Gaelic games, football is king.

Declan, a graduate of the Birr hurling world is now dispensing the hurling gospel in Tyrone. Kieran, I’ve no doubt, has a fairly receptive audience in parts of Antrim while Francis is toiling away in the Orchard county of Armagh. Stephen is spreading the hurling good news in Down while John has been sent from the Tipperary hurling stronghold of Killenaule to Co Derry. Séamus is one of the hurling gurus in the drumlin and lake-speckled countryside of Cavan.

These, among many others all over the island and indeed abroad, are people who devote much of their lives to this wonderful game of hurling.

I had the pleasure of working with them last weekend in the surrounds of the top-class Tyrone Centre of Excellence in Garvaghey, not far from Omagh.

Take an online visit to Tyronegaa.ie and be highly impressed by the facilities.

One could not but admire the enthusiasm of these coaches. The Ulster GAA Coach Academy – with the highly-enthusiastic and organised Derry native Kevin Kelly driving this particular hurling initiative – are to be applauded for the quality of their tutors, coaches, facilities and course content. These proud hurling men are endeavouring to make their counties proud hurling counties. They have a way to go but their passion is evident and their desire to introduce the game to a new audience is heart-warming. But they need much support from headquarters and from president-elect and Cavan man Aogán Ó Fearghail when he takes over next year .

The quality we witnessed in Tullamore last weekend, and what we’ll see in the various venues this weekend, is the tip of the iceberg. Most of the time we don’t see the huge amount of people that have an involvement in the finished product on show in Thurles or Croke Park. They are rarely acknowledged sufficiently.

The shop window package is a quality product. The various county sponsors supply much needed cash to the running of the teams. The championship sponsors Liberty, Etihad and Centra also play a central role in ensuring that this shop window package is promoted properly in this highly-competitive sporting summer.

This weekend two proud hurling counties will have their championship journey terminated as will their proud hurling managers.

While at HQ challengers Kilkenny take on champions Dublin in what should be a fairly physical encounter.

The champions, we hear are in good fettle and are on the go long enough now and have the necessary experience and drive to overcome the newly resurrected Kilkenny awakening.

So whether you journey to Thurles, Ennis or Croke Park this weekend you’ll be among proud hurling folk in highly-charged pressurised conditions where winning, at this level, unfortunately, is everything.

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