'They put some footballers to shame' - Harmison
England great Steve Harmison believes that club hurlers are more professional than some full-time cricketers and soccer stars.
Pace bowler Harmison was a key member of the England squad in 2005 that won back the Ashes for the first time in 18 years and he's now manager of non-league football outfield Ashington in the Northern League, but recently he found himself playing hurling for Tipperary club side Borris-Ileigh.
"I had heard of the game but I'd never seen it," said 37-year-old Harmison. "I agreed to do it, then I saw it and I thought to myself 'wow, what am I doing…'. When I saw it I thought 'this is like wrestling with hockey sticks!', but it was brilliant."
Harmison was in Ireland for The Toughest Trade, an AIB-commissioned documentary which will air on RTE2 tonight at 9.55.
He went to Tipp while Premier County captain Brendan Maher headed Down Under to play with the Adelaide Strikers in the Big Bash League.
He was shocked to learn that hurling, even at the highest level, is completely amateur and he was blown away by the attitudes of players at club level.
"It's just as professional, if not more professional, than cricket when I left it. As the week went on, the more I was thinking that these guys are amateurs but behave like professionals," the former Durham player said.
"They put a lot of people to shame in football who are getting paid for playing.
"To see the Borris-Ileigh lads training to get themselves in a position to get better and playing for their parish made me shake my head. They're amateurs, but they were going the extra yard for each other.
"That was refreshing because I see some of the attitudes from people who are getting paid who are not interested, they take it for granted and have poor attitudes.
"These lads do it for nothing and they work their absolute nuts off to be in a position to play. That for me was the biggest standout. They wanted to get better and they weren't doing it for any financial rewards.
"I couldn't get my head around it either when lads were telling me that they wouldn't drink for three or four months at a time," said Harmison, who comes from a sport that has a long-standing drinking culture in England.
Harmison now lives in his home village of Ashington and manages his local team, which made it easier for him to identify with the importance of where you come from in the GAA.
"Where I am from is a close-knit community in a very small place," he said. "Sport is massive there and the town means everything. Every day that was going by I saw more similarities to where I'm from."
Harmison played for Ashington until he was 18 when professional cricket took over and he fell in to management 11 months ago.
"We're on a six-game losing streak at the minute!" he laughed.