Sport Hurling

Tuesday 16 January 2018

I'd always take eight or nine hurleys along just in case – Anthony Nash

Cork's Anthony Nash
Cork's Anthony Nash
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Anthony Nash is facing selection headaches in the week of the All-Ireland hurling final.

Hardly greater than Jimmy Barry-Murphy's conundrum over Brian Murphy, but significant nonetheless.

From an extended squad of some 33 he has to deliver bad news to 24 or 25 which aren't going to make the match day cut!

The joys of being a goalkeeper with an obsessive streak for having the proper range of hurleys.

Like Phil Mickleson's wedge collection, it's all about the right feel for the right shot.

So, he'll load up just eight or nine elite pieces onto the coach taking Cork to Dublin on Saturday afternoon and the rest will remain behind at home in Kanturk.

"It's like picking the team – whoever plays well at training," he laughs.

But when you are as "fussy" about your tools, as Nash admits he is, then selection is a key issue this week.

He hasn't quite gone the road of naming each of them like one well known inter-county hurler, but each one gets tender loving care. This week they won't be left around the shed – instead a warm, cosy, spot somewhere around the house in such an important week.

Moment

"Oh there's a number one and two," he admits ahead of the big decisions.

"They're in hiding at the moment. They don't come out until the week before championship. They get special treatment.

"I'd be very fussy when it comes to hurleys. I think you have to be as a goalkeeper because if you're not happy with your hurley inside in goals and there's something up..

"(You will be) gripping hurleys and making sure the handles are right and making sure of the weight and the balance (are perfect), so you'd be touching up hurleys and stuff like that even up to the day or the week of the game."

His great pal and current Cork footballer Aidan Walsh makes them for him.

Already they have the 'slab' for next year's crop put away for seasoning in Walsh's workshop outside Kanturk.

"It's great to have a friend making them because I can wreck his head a bit more than other people!"

"I have used Aidan's hurleys for the last three or four years. I would have changed around a bit. Aidan being in Dublin (at college) this year didn't help. It was a bit of hassle trying to get him down from Dublin to make me hurleys. He's very good. We put away slabs so they season over a year and then when he comes home he can make them and they're ready to go straight away.

The match-day 'team' each has its own specific function. Shot stoppers, penalties, long-range frees, puck-outs and even one for a 21-yard free if the need arises.

"I'd always take eight or nine hurleys just in case you get a 21-yard free or a couple break.

"In the league games especially, you'd break two or three hurleys hitting puck-outs alone, but when the weather gets better the sliothar starts to get softer and the hurleys start to last a little longer," he explains.

"I have loads at home. I have enough to keep two or three teams going. My mother is always giving out to me that she wants to burn them in the fire!

The perfectionist in him brings out the duty of care.

"The week of a match I just go through the same routine," outlines the 28-year-old business teacher in Mitchelstown CBS.

"You have to be happy with a hurley. The days of going into the bag and picking up something the day before the game is gone.

"I give out to my clubmates that do that at home still, but I think especially it's relevant to a goalkeeper because you have more time on your hands.

"When you're running around the field there your head is elsewhere. When you're standing inside in goals you're just holding on to it, so I'd be very fussy when it comes to the stick."

Such attention to detail has served him well.

After years as an understudy to Donal Og Cusack he got his break when Cusack tore his Achilles tendon in last year's league semi-final against Tipperary and Martin Coleman, the other member of Cork's coterie of keepers, struggled badly in the subsequent league final against Kilkenny.

By the end of his first full championship season, he was an All Star and a second successive award beckons next month.

His impressive artillery has brought a new dimension to Cork's game over the last two seasons, the ability to convert frees, '65s' and even penalties.

He has accumulated 1-9 since taking over and his three points against Dublin in the semi-final came at a crucial time.

His ball-striking and puck-outs have earned rave reviews, but there was a time in his career when he struggled with accuracy and distance. Then Ger Cunningham, the current Cork coach, came into his life.

"When I was a minor my puck-outs were shocking to be honest," he recalls.

"My father got in contact with a man from the 'Barr's and put me in contact with Ger. Since then we've kept in close contact. He's been great to me and developed my game along the way, so I'm indebted to him."

Cunningham was a hero to many a young Rebel growing up in the 1990s, but not to Nash. His allegiances lay across the border in Limerick where his uncles Mike and Declan formed two thirds of the their full-back line in the 1996 All-Ireland final.

The memory of both All-Ireland final defeats, 1994 and '96, cut deep in him at the time.

"I was asked before in a player profile what's the hardest thing, outside of playing, you've dealt with and I said those two performances," he admits.

"I was very young at the time, but I would have considered them very tough. I've watched them back since on TG4. You would have seen it and felt so sad for them. They've had fantastic careers and they've been fantastic ambassadors for Limerick hurling and they can take something from that."

That bond with his uncles never tested his loyalty and it wasn't until they retired and he became a Cork minor that he crossed over the divide.

"Blood is thicker than water, they say, so that's why I would have supported them. I was actually born and christened in Limerick alright myself.

"I think one of the priests down there tried to snap me when I was at a young age, but when the lads stopped playing I kind of faded away. Living in Cork I would have supported Cork anyway, but on Limerick-Cork days, when the lads were playing, I definitely would have supported Limerick."

His first day at Cork training remains his most memorable courtesy of the great handshake and welcome afforded to him by Brian Corcoran.

"He was the first man over and welcomed me to the panel. I nearly fainted at the sight of him. I couldn't imagine a young fella from Kanturk coming up here and Brian Corcoran shaking his hand, welcoming him into the panel.

"I was fairly nervous walking in that dressing-room door to see lads (of such stature) and he was in the middle of togging out. Out of his way he came over to shake my hand and it's something I'll never forget."

The routine of match week and Croke Park will fall into place once the hurley selection is out of the way.

A game of cards on the bus, rooming with Brian Murphy as always and a game of FIFA. He's mindful of former soccer goalkeeper David James' warning that playing computer games so zealously didn't help his goalkeeping!

But then James had much more time on his hands without the responsibility of having some 33 cherished wooden sticks to care for.

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