The Munster and Ireland backrow tearaway tells Mark Rodden of his apprenticeship with camán and sliotar and why he believes hurling inculcates skills that come in handy on the rugby pitch

WHEN I was very young Tipperary were going well at the time. My uncles would have been big supporters and my dad was always very good to bring me to games all over Ireland. I loved all sports but especially hurling and I suppose that’s where my love for it came from.

I started playing when I was 10. I played until I was 18 and I had to make a decision what game I was going to play.

I played everywhere but a lot of the time I played midfield. Towards the end I used to play in the full forward line as well.

It gives you a great work ethic and great hand-eye co-ordination and you pick up skills in hurling and football that definitely help on the rugby pitch.

I played with Boherlahan-Dualla. It’s a hurling-mad area and there’s a strong tradition within the parish. They last won the county final in 1996 and that sparked massive celebrations – it was the first time in years that they’d won. I was at that game against Toomevara and I have happy memories of it.

The first Tipperary game I remember was in 1987 when Tipp came out of the doldrums. They had a really good team coached by Babs Keating and the core of that team went on to win a couple of All-Irelands.

I was a big fan of Nicky English and Pat Fox. They were the two guys that the kids used to hope they’d grow up to be. They were the two superstars on a team that had a lot of very good players.

English was a really stylish hurler. He had a bit of magic in him and he was a great score-taker. In many ways Fox was rated as high as him but I suppose English was probably a little bit more flamboyant.

I’ve been to a good few Munster finals. My favourite was the Cork-Tipp game in ’91 after the drawn game in Cork.

In the replay in Thurles, Tipperary came back from about eight or nine points down to win. Aidan Ryan scored a goal at the end and there was a pitch invasion.

We’d recorded it and nearly every morning for about four or five months after that game we’d put it on and myself and my brother used to watch it before we’d go to school.

When you go to games it just stirs something in the belly that you never feel in any other walk of life. It’s very parochial and very passionate.

It’s a real raw atmosphere. You get a feeling of pride and there’s great colour and fanfare that goes with it. They’re just great occasions.

I was at this year’s semi-final against Waterford. I think people were expecting Tipperary to get to an All-Ireland but it’s never easy, especially when you’re being built up and huge expectations are put on you.

Coming from where Munster have come from, semi-finals are always difficult affairs and they’re the games that teams are often caught at.

We were lucky to get out the other end of the Saracens game this year and it was the same thing – we were built up and everyone said we were going to get an easy ride into the final. But I think and hope that this Tipp team will come back and that they’ll have their day yet.

GAA players are professionals without being paid for it. Their discipline and their dedication is an example to young people and anybody in any walk of life.

They sometimes train in the morning, then go to work and come back and have to train again.

They just seem to get on with it and make it work and that’s a great testament to all the players who go out there and give it their all when they play for their county.

There’s a big GAA and rugby crossover in Munster. The fans bring the GAA support to the rugby matches, with great noise and passion. They really get on the opposition’s back and give us a huge lift.

The number of people coming from Tipperary to Munster matches is just unbelievable. They have hurling in the summer and rugby in the winter and it works very well. They’re very passionate about both but I’d say rugby still has a bit to go to be number one in Tipp.

I think we’ve been lucky in that the fans have taken the Munster team to their hearts. We’re lucky that there’s a good work ethic in the team.

Anybody who’s in it has worked very hard to get there and I’d like to think that the lads have remained grounded and they’re very approachable.

A lot of the guys come from a GAA background as well and they try to keep that modesty in their lives.

© 2008 The Irish Times

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