This is a more recent article, I wrote it about a parent going out to watch their young lad start hurling.
LIKE HIS FIRST steps and his first words, the first time your young fella hurls in a match, it’s something you’ll never forget.
Of all the places to be in our club, Under 8 hurling is where it’s at – it beats them all for the innocence, and the beauty of the fledgling game.
As one oul lad says, leaning over the wire, pipe in gob, hurl in hand: ‘you can see their DNA from the way they hurl when they’re wee.’ By the way he hurls the ball, by the way he carries himself; from a shrug of the shoulder, to a side step, to the young ciotóg who’s strong side is the wrong side. The genealogy’s plain to see.
It’ll start indoors maybe, hurling with a plastic bas that can do no damage worth talking about, although the odd skelp can sting a knee and concentrate the mind. The loose whaling as a cub hurler pulls with gay abandon – the shiny new helmet he got for his birthday makes him lose all fears. Like the superheroes on the television, he, himself, alone, sees a field around his body that fends off any invader. Invincible he is, invisible to foe, rock solid to his friends. He sees the ball. And nothing else. He’ll be neat and tidy when he grows a bit and he’ll hurl, no fear of that.
Times go by. . . when they learn to lift and strike, it’s as if a new world has opened and unfolds before them. Henry Shefflin in the back yard burying the ball time and again. . . bottom corner, top corner. Round the dog, past the trampoline, over the bar. Shanahan to Canning, bang. The neighbour’s window gets a rattle but thanks be to God for the new double glazing. The sliotar throws back in, a flying ground stroke scalds the backside of the cat as she runs for cover. The dog ambles off the field in the manner of the inneffectual junior corner forward who’s just been given the shepherd’s crook and called ashore. Happy he’s no longer in the line of fire.
Come Spring, come the big day. The biggest stage of all. The Blitz. First time hurling against another team. The new club shirt, clean in parts but the hint of the pre-match pasta stains the front.
It takes our lad a minute or two when the ball’s thrown in, the ferocious pull, the big tubby lad a few inches taller who bestrides the pitch like a seven year old collossus. His weight throws the others about like rag dolls. Our man gets a fierce belt on the knee, the tears well up as he goes down. Next ball a shove in the back and after that another clip as he tries to lift. The cat moved a lot easier than these boys and the garden was a safer place. He feels the burning in his eyes. ‘Come on our fella’ says the coach, ‘you gotta stand up for yourself, or do you wanna come off for a while?’
The eyes flamed a look, through the bars of the helmet. Defiant, determined, twas as if he’d been set free. Next ball. Next ball. Like his grandfather slicing in the bog, hurley down, he nicks the sliotar, neat as can be. One second the hand is there, the next the ball disappears and he’s away to the side. With a flick off the wrists he drives it down the field. The cheers of his mother unheard. Next ball. Tidy as you like. Another hops at his knee, he gathers and clears. You see it takes any man a minute to get into his game. And so it begins.
To everything its place and everything has its place. But when you’re Under 8 hurling, it’s the only place to be.