I WAS de­lighted to at­tend the wed­ding of one of Wick­low’s great­est ever hurlers, Don Hy­land, when he mar­ried Angie Murphy last week­end.

De­spite play­ing the less popular of the two Gaelic games in the county, Don is one of the most ac­com­plished and dis­tin­guished hurlers ever to play for Wick­low. Over the last 25 years if you men­tion Wick­low hurl­ing to any­one inside or out­side the county the name of Don Hy­land fol­lows very quickly.

I have known Don for nearly 25 years and have watched with great in­ter­est his hurl­ing ca­reer over that pe­riod.

He had a hugely suc­cess­ful un­der­age ca­reer with both club and county and was iden­ti­fied for hurl­ing great­ness in Wick­low from an early age.

In 1989 at the ten­der age of 16 he won his first Se­nior hurl­ing cham­pi­onship with his beloved Carnew Em­mets when he was se­lected to play in goal for a very ex­pe­ri­enced Se­nior out­fit.

Don per­formed ex­cel­lently in that fi­nal and looked very com­fort­able in what was a new po­si­tion for him.

At that time I was the Wick­low hurl­ing goal­keeper and had ev­ery rea­son to worry that this baby-faced young man could very eas­ily be re­plac­ing me.

How­ever, thank­fully this didn’t ma­te­ri­alise as Don was also a much too valu­able for­ward to be con­sid­ered for this goal­keep­ing po­si­tion. He went on to win seven Se­nior cham­pi­onships with Carnew; the last of them be­ing in 2009.

Shortly after win­ning his first Se­nior hurl­ing cham­pi­onship Don was called on to the Wick­low Se­nior hurl­ing panel by their man­ager at the time, Mick O’Brien, where he re­mained as a hugely com­mit­ted and im­por­tant mem­ber un­til he re­tired from in­ter-county hurl­ing in 2012.

Through­out his play­ing ca­reer Don worked in the fam­ily business as a haulage con­trac­tor, a job which de­mands long hours and long dis­tance travel.

De­spite this, Don gave un­be­liev­able com­mit­ment and made im­mense per­sonal sac­ri­fices to play hurl­ing for both his club and county.

His par­ents, Ed­mond and Breda, his big­gest fans and men­tors on many oc­ca­sions cov­ered Don’s work­load to en­able his hurl­ing ca­reer de­velop.

Any­where Don was play­ing you were also sure to see Ed­mond and Breda on the side­lines.

His per­for­mance lev­els through­out his il­lus­tri­ous play­ing ca­reer were as­ton­ish­ing and I couldn’t doc­u­ment here the many oc­ca­sions that Don was the match-win­ner.

Many are high­lighted but one I vividly re­call was the All-Ire­land ‘B’ home fi­nal in 1996 when Wick­low played Kil­dare in Nowlan Park, Kilkenny and when our reg­u­lar cen­tre-half back, Casey O’Brien, was in­jured and Don left his for­ward role dur­ing the game to give a match-win­ning per­for­mance at no. 6.

Another time was in the 2008 SHC fi­nal be­tween Carnew and Gle­nealy when Don scored what I con­sider to be one of the best points ever scored in Aughrim.

He took a free against the wind vir­tu­ally on the side­line at the dugout near­est the dress­ing-rooms.

I was stand­ing be­hind Don as he struck the ball. I thought he would never reach the dis­tance against the wind and when he struck it ini­tially it looked as if it was go­ing wide but in the last 15 yards it just curled over the bar.

It was Brazil­ian-like and un­be­liev­able and as I was a men­tor on the op­pos­ing side I was gob­s­macked.

Don had few equals in his point-tak­ing abil­ity and if one was to cal­cu­late his scores for both club and county it would be a very com­pre­hen­sive tally for one player.

When I took over as man­ager of the county Se­nior hurl­ing team in 2000, Don was al­ways an ex­cel­lent role model as a county player and con­tin­ued to per­form to the high­est stan­dard.

His ef­forts were re­warded as he was part of Wick­low’s three-in-a-row Ke­hoe Cup win­ning teams and in 2003 he played a sig­nif­i­cant part when Wick­low fi­nally won their first All-Ire­land ‘B’ fi­nal.

Don gained one of the high­est ac­co­lades pos­si­ble for a Wick­low hurler when he was se­lected for the Le­in­ster hurl­ing team on four oc­ca­sions.

In 2003 he be­came the first, and to this day the only, Wick­low man to win a Rail­way Cup medal.

What an achieve­ment and an indictment of his abil­ity it was for Don to play on a team with the likes of Henry Sh­ef­flin, JJ Delaney and Tommy Walsh to name but a few.

The Rail­way Cup medal was won in Rome, Italy and im­me­di­ately after the game Don trav­elled di­rectly to Lan­zarote to join the rest of the county hurlers who were on a cel­e­bra­tory hol­i­day after their All-Ire­land vic­tory.

Don was also hon­oured in 2008 when he was se­lected for the Ir­ish Shinty team to play Scot­land in Fortwil­liam where he was joined by fel­low county play­ers, Jonathan O’Neill and Michael An­thony O’Neill.

This was a bril­liant ex­pe­ri­ence for Don and one which forged many friend­ships some of whom even at­tended his wed­ding.

Our paths crossed again when I took up the role as man­ager of Carnew in 2012. De­spite be­ing in the lat­ter stages of his ca­reer Don’s com­mit­ment to the team dur­ing my ten­ure was ex­cep­tional.

In those two years I don’t think he ever missed a train­ing ses­sion even if it meant trav­el­ling back from all cor­ners of the coun­try.

His ap­pli­ca­tion to train­ing and matches was al­ways top drawer and his fit­ness lev­els and de­sire to win at times left some of his much younger team­mates in the shade.

De­spite re­ceiv­ing a nasty eye in­jury ac­ci­den­tally in match last year, which would have forced many play­ers into re­tire­ment, Don bravely bat­tled back from the in­ci­dent and con­tin­ues hurl­ing with his club. He was also in­stru­men­tal in set­ting up The Don Hy­land School of Hurl­ing for promis­ing u13 hurlers in Wick­low.

Un­like sim­i­lar projects in other coun­ties Don made huge ef­forts to at­tend as many ses­sions as pos­si­ble. No doubt this project will con­tinue to re­ceive his support in the com­ing years.

Ob­vi­ously I’ve only scratched the sur­face of what has been a bril­liant ca­reer with un­be­liev­able longevity of one of Wick­low’s best ever hurlers and sport stars. As Don now en­ters a new chap­ter in his life I would like to wish both him and Angie (a Wex­ford girl) all the very best for a long, happy and healthy life to­gether.

Don and Angie’s wed­ding was a won­der­ful, joy­ous oc­ca­sion and it was great to have a chance to meet up with so many cur­rent and for­mer sport­ing ac­quain­tances.

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