Monday 1 May 2017

"People have the perception that now he's a messer" - Jack Guiney's father defends son

Dave Guiney is trying to understand his son Jack's breach of Wexford discipline

Dave Guiney on his son Jack (pictured): ‘He is a different man than Rod and myself, he is very capable, but he may or may not decide to be a hurler’
Dave Guiney on his son Jack (pictured): ‘He is a different man than Rod and myself, he is very capable, but he may or may not decide to be a hurler’

Dermot Crowe

Let's go back, 12 years, to a beautiful Saturday morning in Rathnure, sheltered by the Blackstairs and immortalised by the Rackards. Here we meet Dave Guiney. He is 33, still hurling county, and coaching a group of young children that includes his own son Jack, who is 10. He envies Jack, who has been hurling since the age of six. Dave began at 13 but he didn't start playing seriously until 18.

His son would want for nothing and in time matured into a highly accomplished hurler. Growing up in Rathnure, where Dave moved in 1994, helped him prosper. In Rathnure, hurling almost defined who you were and earned you status. Dave had been raised with his twin brother Rod in Rosslare, where hurling had little impact or influence on a young man's life.

But there was a sporty and feisty streak in the family history. Dave's father Jack was a fine athlete, Kerry-born, who played rugby for Ireland. His most notorious moment came in Ravenhill in the 1940s when he declared his republican sympathies by turning his back to the British flag during the anthem.

The Guiney twins he reared fought hard for what came their way on the hurling field. Commitment was never found wanting. At 33 Dave had worked his way back into a Wexford team preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final shot at Cork. In order to do that he needed to overcome serial setbacks and a litany of spirit-sapping injuries, including a cruciate tear at 31. But he loved it and he went bull-headed for it while he could.

When the news came through that his son Jack had been dropped from the Wexford panel after their win over Westmeath two weeks ago that encounter 12 years ago came flooding back. "I always said I'd never retire with regrets," Dave said at the time. "I'll give it my all and when you give it your all in a game, or in your career, you can retire happy then. That's as good as you were, you put in as much as you could put in. There's a great satisfaction in that.

"So, like, a guy that drinks pints and doesn't look after himself and when he's 35 and he's finished hurling: would he have regrets? I'm sure he would. But when I'm 35 I won't have regrets because I mind myself, I train hard, I'm dedicated to my sport. I'll be as good as I can be."

He was true to his word, as anyone who knew or saw him would confirm. Dave was the first to admit he was not blessed with the most natural hurling talents, but a lad who took it up seriously at 18 was knocking on the door of the Wexford senior panel inside three years because he set no limits for himself and he had a monstrous passion. As he prepared for that All-Ireland semi-final against Cork, he was relaxed and reflective: "I suppose I was always told to stay disciplined at something if you were interested enough, to keep plugging away at it. Like, I was told very early on that I'd never be much good at hurling. There's years I thought I was cursed, so when you get the run of luck you might as well go with it. Enjoy it while it happens."

It is impossible not to see the resonance of those sentiments now given the predicament in which Jack finds himself in his fourth season in the county senior panel at just 22. Jack enjoyed better support systems and a great deal more natural talent than his father. But a breach of discipline sees him miss today's Leinster Championship semi-final in Nowlan Park, a game made for any talented player with ambition. Instead he will be present as a spectator. His immediate future is uncertain but his father says it is too early to make definitive pronouncements.

Dave is still hurling, at 45, for the junior B team in Rathnure, which is their fourth adult side. The events surrounding his son naturally disappoint him but he is not rushing to judgement and believes it raises issues about the current levels of demands on players and whether the line between what's fair and what's unreasonable needs to be redrawn and rethought. Sources indicate that Jack had sailed close to the wind in the past and that this was not a decision taken lightly by Wexford manager Liam Dunne. The decision is also said to have the support of the players who endorsed a drink ban after the Westmeath game in order to prepare for the massive challenge of facing All-Ireland champions Kilkenny in their own backyard.

"I think Liam was in a situation where if he didn't do it, he was in danger of losing his panel," said one source who didn't wish to be identified. "There is that line that has to be drawn. You still have to feel regrets for him (Jack) as a young man. Hopefully lessons will be learned. He is an exceptionally talented young man. I think he has a lot to give."

Back when Jack was ten, that morning in August 2003, Liam Dunne had come through a winter of almost demonic sacrifice and repentance in one final throw of the dice at 35. He later spoke of struggles with drink and dealing with personal issues while striving to stay fit for inter-county hurling. His monumental effort paid off with a series of brilliant performances as the sun set on his career. But he'd made innumerable mistakes and errors of judgement and earlier in his career, he had the captaincy stripped from him by Liam Griffin when he played a club match the week of a Leinster Championship game. All the indications from this episode are that he did all he could until faced with no alternative but to let Jack Guiney go.

Management is a difficult and often thankless challenge, not least because the people you are responsible for, with their varying personalities, backgrounds, whims and drives, need to be fused into one functioning and harmonious dynamic. It is unfair at best and idiotic at worst to judge Dunne as being too inflexible while not knowing all the facts. Equally, it is too easy to cast moral judgement on a young man who, for whatever reason, is betraying a lack of the commitment now expected of a top inter-county player.

"I am disappointed for him," says Dave Guiney of his son now, 12 years later. "As this story evolves and people get the facts, I think people can make up their own minds. He is a different man than Rod and myself, he is very capable as a hurler, but he may or may not decide to be a hurler. Sometimes people get very annoyed when young people decide what they want to do, but that is their choice.

"He is still very much a hurler. He still loves the game and I think has ambitions. He is quite a dedicated player even though people have the perception now that he is a messer. I see him weekend after weekend and the hours of practice he puts in. Maybe we are expecting too much of the young players, we blow them up too quickly.

"He was sanctioned. It was not his decision. Okay, he went and had a few pints. It is something he has to look after for himself. And to decide on. I don't think he is his dad, or Rod, that kind of player, I don't think he necessarily feels obliged to play for Wexford, like it is part of his destiny, not like something we felt we had to do and we would have done anything to do it."

On Thursday night Guiney scored 4-4 from play in a league game for Rathnure, leading to some finger wagging in Dunne's direction. It missed the point. If he scored 10-10 on bended knee with one hand tied behind his back it didn't change anything. His talent was never in question. But it is, of course, a brave call for Dunne to make.

"You see the trend with these guys, they come in very young and they want to live a bit as well - the discipline and expectation is very hard at times for everyone to live up to," says Larry Murphy, who had Guiney at under 21 last year when Wexford reached the All-Ireland final. "They seem to be getting younger and younger."

Murphy sees potential trouble for Dunne if Wexford don't perform against Kilkenny. "Every county, and in particular Wexford, need their strongest panel if they want to beat the Kilkennys of this world. There will be an element saying he should not have been overlooked, an element saying they did the right thing. I know what it is like and you have to take a decision and weigh it up. It is a results-based business. Some will say he was wrong. From my own point of view, I think Liam has handled it very well. I know Brian Cody made tough calls over the years. Because he has won so many All-Irelands, people will back Brian Cody to the last.

"There is no doubt a fit and enthusiastic Jack Guiney is a big asset to the team. Jack has all the attributes: height and strength, the hurling ability. He has the ability to turn a match on its head, he has an awful lot of power and certainly he is a player that we need. Maybe it happened too soon for him in his career. We don't have the luxury in Wexford to wait for a player to mature.

"You look at (Clare's) Colm Galvin, players are almost superstars at 19-21, and to be fair sometimes they get a little bit burned out. There is a bigger world out there. For me, hurling for Wexford was the biggest honour and you didn't care about travelling the world; it is a different era now, the world is a far smaller place and people want to live a bit. I think it is not the be-all and end-all of life. For us it was.

"Shane Bennett (Waterford) is only doing the Leaving Cert. The game is moving so fast and appetites keep changing for the newest and youngest star. Joe Canning had it too. Some lads can handle it better than others. The discipline you need now is huge. I felt we trained hard, but it has moved on to another level."

Dave Guiney trained six nights a week under Cyril Farrell when he was over Wexford in 1992 but the game didn't make the same demands on a player it does now. "People forget that this is a sport that people are supposed to enjoy," he says. "For months on end he (Jack) would not go out. We need to find a balance. That is a challenge. I will go to Kilkenny and Jack will be there too. I think he is handling it very well. He is disappointed, he worked very hard to get to where he is. He trained with the club on Tuesday night, he is reacquainting himself with some of his clubmates."

Has Dave Guiney sympathy with Dunne's position? "It is a difficult one," he acknowledges. "For years I would have played with a lot of players who would have a very defiant view of drinking in relation to sport and I did not agree with that view. I didn't see the need for it (drinking), but some guys did, they needed to go out and have a few after a game. I have been in situations where I have had to discipline people for drinking two or three days before games and it is a difficult issue.

"As a player I would avoid it; my twin (Rod) would have enjoyed a pint and it did him no harm. Every player is different. The thing with Jack will evolve, it is too early to be drawing conclusions. The only man who can answer what's ahead is Jack himself. I never forced him to play; his decisions are his own decisions."

To Liam Dunne, it seemed that Guiney did not want it enough. Maybe this period outside the tent will have the desired effect in making him appreciate the value and privilege of being inside. All of Wexford would hope so.

Ultimately, as Dave's career against the odds showed, talent is only part of it. Aside from the cruciate tear, other impediments for Guiney senior included multiple broken bones, a broken jaw and a frightening scare when a ball hit him flush in the eye as a minor. At 22, his son has the time and talent to make his way back if he wants to. Wexford can wait for no man though; today the show goes on in his absence. "I hope in ten years' time you will be writing about a very successful career," says his father, "and you will be talking to Jack."

Amen to that.

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