‘We need one hell of a performance’
‘No pressure on Carnew’ says Hickey
FOR three years now James Hickey has made the journey from south Carlow to the town of Carnew where he has fallen in love with the local GAA club but most importantly the group of players he will send into battle on Sunday in what is the biggest game of their hurling lives.
Facing them is a Bray team who have recovered from that early defeat to Glenealy and have dismantled every team they’ve played with stunning second-half performances.
This will be Hickey’s third county final with the club. Defeat to Glenealy in 2018 and to Tinahely in the IFC decider are what the records show so a victory on Sunday would both heal the hurt of those losses but also being an end to a drought that is keenly felt just below the surface in the hurling mad town.
From very early on there’s been a different feel to this Carnew side, and in more ways than one. Positionally, personnel wise, attitude and endeavour are just some of the elements that seem to have shifted in a positive sense in 2020.
The lockdown affected Carnew the same as it did every other team but James Hickey says that the honesty of the players in his group meant he had complete confidence that they were doing their programmes and that the evidence to back that up was abundantly clear when they arrived in the club for their first training session.
‘We didn’t get to play anything. On September 28 last year we got beaten in the IFC semi-final and our first match this year then was a challenge hurling and football matches in the space of a week. I think we were nine or 10 weeks short of a year playing our next game.
‘In fairness to the players they were doing their programmes during the lockdown and as a group I knew that there was fierce trust within that group and I knew the programmes would be carried out and I suppose we seen that in the flesh the first night we went back training. The lads were really in good shape. I have to give huge credit to the lads. Theyb took leadership there and they were going to be ready when something happened.
‘Three years ago, I went in there and I didn’t really know the county or what you’d be facing. It took a year to figure it out but we got to both finals (hurling and football) and we made a bit of progress. And then last year we played one challenge game in hurling and one in football and we played 38 games in 40 weeks. The football league doubled up. We went to both quarter-finals, both semi-fi
nals. It was a long year. We lost Robert Lambert, a huge loss to us. He was a great man around the set up. Ian Clancy was one who was going to be coming as well, and we lost him as well. Through no fault of anyone it should be said. It’s just the way it worked out. They went home and their own club put in a team and that’s great for Aughrim.
‘This year there’s a great group there. There’s after being a bit of rebuilding going on. We’ve got to the county final. I think we’ve done well. I think we’ve hurled well. There’s great honesty as I said before. There are no tags with these lads. There’s no ‘they must win for x, y or z. We’re gone beyond that; we’re gone a different route. This is a new era. These are new players. None of them have baggage. They’re just a good group of players who want to push on now and that’s what they’re doing. Sunday will see where that takes them.
‘We’re like family. I don’t say that lightly. There’s none of those players who I’ve had an issue with. There’s very strong mutual respect there. I believe in what they’re about and they believe in what I’m about, and the process. I think there’s a great bond there and over the last three years there’s been a huge rebuilding process. We’re going into this county final with six or seven of the team who started in the final three years ago gone, and maybe 10 in the squad overall.
‘But there are young lads coming through there. We got six lads from the Minors last year. They’ve stepped in and it’s an absolute credit to the juvenile structure in Carnew for the work that they’re doing. You got John Doyle and Paudi (McGing) in the last few years and now you’ve got six lads, Corma (Redmond), Conor (Wafer), the two Youngs (Eoin and John), Eoin Kavanagh and James McGing and they’re ready made.
It’s not like they were average players. They’re good players. They all have Minor medals and it will just tell you the work that is going on that you can just produce six players. The future is looking good for them.
‘I consider myself blessed every time I drive down there. It’s such a great group to work with. Anything you ask them to do, it’s done. There’s huge admiratiuon from my side. And anyone we’ve brought in for a session, they always remark on the huge respect within the group. It’s a brilliant environment,’ he said.
Hickey and his management team selected Jack Doyle as their captain this year. Doyle is a hugely respected club and county hurler and a real leader on and off the field.
‘When I arrived in Carnew three years ago I was told that these lads had hurled Senior for long enough and that it was time for them (to deliver). But we still had a gap. There was a decade missed where lads emigrated or what not.
‘When I look back on it now there was pressure heaped on those young lads, the Endas (Donohoe), the Waynes (Kinsella), the Padraig Dorans. They’re still relatively very young. And in that group, you had Jack (Doyle). And Jack for me over the last three years, just year on year getting better and better. He’s a privilege to be around. He’s a privilege to watch him work. His father (Jim Bob) is a big part of Carnew hurling. He’s fighting his own battle at the moment. Even before we thought of giving Jack the captaincy, we wondered if it would be too much pressure on him. Since we’ve given him the role he’s just ploughed on and every day you go out there’s trust you can put in players and you can put any amount of trust in Jack. And finals can take on a life of their own and sometimes it’s the lad you don’t expect who delivers in a lot of these finals, but there’s one thing about Jack Doyle, when he puts on that Carnew jersey he delivers, that means something to him,’ said James Hickey.
Bray Emmets are coming. Paul Carley has a squad littered with hurling talent from Jim Doyle in the goals to Davy Maloney in corner-forward. Hickey is expecting what everyone else is, a serious battle.
‘I’m expecting a huge battle. It is what it is. They’re county champions, they’re there on merit. They’re a nice team, they’re filled with nice hurlers in lots of areas. It’s like any great team, though. Somebody has to try and chop them down and that’s our job on Sunday. We know what’s on front of us. There’s a train coming down the track but all year... where we will spend time thinking about Bray and what they’re going to bring to the party, you can get lost in that and you end up not playing your own game and lads can get worried about an instruction than going out and playing their own game.
‘I think Sunday you’ll see a Carnew team who will take the field and irrespective of whatever jersey is in front of them the instruction they’ll have is to play with freedom. At the same time, we’re not delusional. This is a fantastic set up, a fantastic team that we’re facing, right through from their goalkeeper, right through John Henderson, Padraig Doyle, Christy (Moorehouse), Masterson, Boland, they have them all. But, at the end of the day, they’re names, and they’ve delivered on numerous occasions for Bray but Sunday they’ll have to deliver no more than we’ll have to deliver and it’s whoever delivers that performance will win the game.
‘Work is massive. We know that. These Carnew players have been in the business end of this championship for three years. Sunday will be their third final in three years (hurling and football) but they’ve also been in six semi-finals. Yes, they haven’t won anything but they’re pushing hard and I think that gets lost a little bit.
‘All I know is that this Carnew squad is a great squad. They do whatever they have to do for their jersey. They love what it’s about. It means a hell of lot to the them to go down and once they go in through that gate it’s all business for them. There’s no pressure on Carnew, absolutely no pressure on Carnew, no pressure on them boys going down to Aughrim on Sunday. It’s all about Bray, they’re the champions. We know that. For us to beat Bray we’re going to have to deliver a hell of a performance. Is it in us? It is, yeah. It’s there, but you have to get it out on the day.
‘Come 4.30pm on Sunday, that’s when it starts.’