Saturday 14 December 2019

I thought I was too good for corner-back, now I know how hard it is, admits Hickey

Treaty defender is hungry to teach the Rebels a lesson

Limerick's Seamus Hickey says he loves the skill that playing at corner-back demands of him. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Limerick's Seamus Hickey says he loves the skill that playing at corner-back demands of him. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Cliona Foley

Seamus Hickey has been lurking across the border in enemy territory this week.

He only got the job – a design engineer for surgical cutting implements – with Strkyer, in Carrigtwohill, five weeks ago.

"Yeah, I finally stopped studying, after a decade of it," he grins, insisting his new workplace is such a multicultural spot he's rarely recognised as the Limerick hurler who has come full circle this summer. He's headed back to the crumbling edifice of Pairc Ui Chaoimh tomorrow for the first time since a Munster minor final in 2005.

Nine years ago Limerick's teen tyros included Richie McCarthy, Tom Condon, Gavin O'Mahony and James and Michael Ryan.

He recalls marking Pa Cronin and that they lost heavily but still made it to the All-Ireland final, which they lost to Galway in a seminal summer in their careers.

Since then there have been dramatic highs and lows: from the All-Ireland senior final in 2007 to the 2010 player boycott.

As recently as 2012, Hickey missed an entire league campaign while doing a PhD in New Jersey. Not long after his return he broke his arm in a club game. Even last year's odyssey to Munster glory ended with the agony of a cruciate injury in the All-Ireland semi-final.

In typical Hickey form he deliberately returned to squad training in the new year, doing his own work on the sideline.

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"To parachute into the panel around championship time was something I didn't want to do," he said. "I was involved while the league was progressing, just to be there for the camaraderie."

Little wonder he was thrilled to make his comeback just seven and a half months after surgery in a challenge match in Charleville in late April.

Yes, it was against Cork, and was TJ Ryan's first day in sole charge after Donal O'Grady's departure.

"I came on at half-forward. TJ told me to run around sniffing for ball, just to get my touch and get my eye in. It was funny. I was as raw as a steak!" Hickey chuckles.

He didn't even recognise the man marking him, the Rebels' new centre-back Mark Ellis.

"He ran down the field and scored a point. He actually played well that day, I got him his place!" he jokes.

Behind the breezy personality is a whip-smart intelligence. Ryan has now returned him to corner-back, from where he won Young Hurler of the Year in 2007, yet Hickey railed against the position in his youth.

"I rebelled against the notion of being 'a hurler' at corner-back. Corner-back is for people like Tom Condon who can't hit the ball!" he quips. "Finesse players like me should be further up the field."

Now he loves the unforgiving clarity of it and the skill it demands.

"Your remit is simple, you know what you have to do. Your man is not to score. If he scores he has to earn every single score he gets and there's to be no goals conceded."

He cites men like Michael Kavanagh, Jackie Tyrrell and Brian Murphy, "top-class hurlers who everybody has respect for, not because they're stopping corner-backs, but because they can hurl".

He was wing-forward last year so his return to defence unseats a man – Stephen Walsh – who did a great job, yet Hickey's response speaks volumes about the Munster champions' often underestimated determination and focus.

GUILTY

"There's no room for me even to feel guilty about it. It's something that I wanted and I had to go for it," he says. "Was Stephen disappointed? Of course he was, absolutely! Had he done anything wrong? You could argue, no, he hadn't. The only thing that I had done right was I was there. That's the dynamic you have amongst a group of lads that are as close as we are.

"Stephen never for a second would begrudge me, nor for a second would I begrudge him. It's just the type of group we have."

That's the same steely approach he will bring to the Pairc tomorrow before the bulldozers move in.

Hickey may finally have chucked the books but he's still a student of the game and Cork's attacking addition since last year's final has not gone unnoticed.

"Yeah, I know plenty about Alan (Cadogan)," he says, singling out his performance against Waterford. "He had space to exploit his pace and a fearlessness too.

"He came on and didn't give a flying toss if he missed his first three balls because he knew he'd probably get his fourth.

"I've been very impressed with what I've seen."

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