Trip to Tipp has Treaty's Hickey buzzing after injury and 'lonely' spell in the States
SEAMUS HICKEY has had a tough year, but if there's one thing it has taught him, it is the unifying ability of sport.
However, there must have been times during Limerick hurling's turbulent boycott year of 2010 when he seriously doubted it.
And there will be little enough of it in evidence on the pitch in Thurles tonight in the big derby qualifier between the Treaty men and neighbours Clare.
This will be the fifth time they have gone hammer and tongs this season between the Waterford Crystal, Allianz League and championship -- and one of their campaigns will end here.
But for Hickey, the prospect of heading to Thurles has him buzzing.
The 2007 Young Hurler of the Year missed the entire National League season because he was in the US doing an internship for his PhD in electronic cooling.
He only returned a week after the Division 1B final, but quickly got in two challenge games for the county, albeit without his favourite hurl, which he had to leave behind him in America as customs officers designated it 'a weapon.'
Then, just two weeks before Limerick's Munster SHC clash with Tipperary, in a club game for Murroe-Boher, Hickey (pictured right) suffered a badly broken arm, close to his elbow.
He actually played on at the time and it was only when he took a subsequent line-ball that the agony of it hit home. An X-ray in Limerick Regional immediately diagnosed "as bad a fracture as I've ever had."
So, he watched the championship tussle with Tipp from the sidelines, deeply frustrated, which sums up his season so far.
Only in the past year has Hickey come to understand just how huge a part sport, and especially hurling, plays in his life.
Murray Hill in New Jersey is not, as Micheal O Muircheartaigh might remark, a hurling stronghold.
But that's where the University of Limerick post-grad engineering student pitched up last winter because his research is sponsored by local US telecommunications giants Bell Labs.
He arrived armed with a detailed gym programme and running schedule, not to mention his hurling gear, including a ball-rebounding net that manager John Allen had procured.
"I'd hoped there'd be a GAA club somewhere locally, but Murray Hill is really only a small village by American standards and unless you had a car there was no chance of hooking up with a club," Hickey explains.
The local tennis club, fortunately, had a practice wall which helped keep his hand in, though he had to explain that he "wouldn't be defacing their property."
But most of his training was done, unaccompanied, out on some soccer fields in the heart of a forest and he found the running drills particularly difficult on his own.
Hickey returned home in great shape, not least because there were few distractions.
Murray Hill is a 'dry' town (that didn't bother him as he's a non-drinker) and had few social outlets.
"Finding people my own age around was hard -- it was a pretty lonely existence at times, but it meant I worked my backside off," he reveals.
He did find one thing in common with his workmates. Sporting interest locally is traditionally split two ways: you're either a Giants or a Jets fan.
Hickey actually follows New England Patriots in the NFL, thanks to a summer spent hurling in Boston, and caused a stir locally by wearing his Patriots hat.
He actually got to a Denver Broncos game to see new superstar quarterback Tim Tebow (who has since moved to the Jets) in person, and reckons his NFL interest did help him socially.
"I had great fun trying to explain hurling to them," he laughs.
"I told them it was like a cross between ice-hockey, lacrosse, baseball and field hockey and they were like 'how does such a sport even exist?'
"I definitely realised that sport really brings people together and it certainly worked to my advantage."
When he broke his arm, medics wanted to operate immediately but, worried that this would delay his hurling return, Hickey found an understanding consultant who offered a less invasive solution.
"I gave myself six to eight weeks and was back in seven," he explains, referring to his return off the bench against Antrim last time out.
"I'm nowhere near 100pc," Hickey insists.
"You need to get your confidence in hurling, you need to be happy to be hopping off fellas, but I can give honest effort and am happy to contribute in any way I can to the team.
"You have to have that in hurling, because it's so fast and skillful. That's what makes it different to so many sports.
"We saw that from Clare last week, just how subtle and minuscule the margins are and the sort of team spirit that has to be there every single day.
"If the group isn't tight, then the cracks show and there's a domino effect big-time.
"In hurling, especially, the team is only ever as good as its weakest link."