I HAD THE RECENT PLEASURE OF ATTENDING THE WEDDING DAY OF WICKLOW’s FINEST HURLER
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.