At training, the newly purchased sticks were shown to friends, teammates and trainers. The advantages of a hurley from a particular maker were expounded. And approval was sought. After the training session all concerned convinced themselves, and told others, that the purchase had improved their game. Who could disagree?
The most popular stick for 2016 came from Bourke Sports in Tipperary. The popularity was probably aided by the success of Tipperary in securing the biggest hurling prize on offer in 2016. In previous years the more popular purchases were made from Brian Walsh hurleys or Canning hurleys. They still featured. A nine-year-old who “knows his hurling” returned with a hurley embellished with the autograph of Joe Canning. He was convinced he purchased the best stick on offer. An O’Connor Hurley made its way to our house.
Once the stick is selected, the purchaser can select a foam grip that is professionally applied by the retailer. The choice of grip colour can be important. Some select club or county colours. When asked why he did not select the black & amber colours of his club, one 10-year-old purchaser of a Bourke hurley said that black & amber were the colours of Kilkenny. The commercial implications of an All-Ireland defeat!
This year was the first time I saw a Cuddy hurley arrive to training. The appearance of this stick in the training field prompted me check the list of exhibitors at the National Ploughing Championships. In addition to the makers listed above, there were others like TJ Larkin Hurls, O’Callaghan Hurleys, and Wall Hurleys. It was an Aladdin's cave of riches for those seeking a new stick.
The carrier of the Cuddy stick also carried a Lar Corbett sliothar. Other sliothar retailers included O’Meara and Cul Sliothars. And, of course, the dominate retailer in the gaelic games world were exhibitors. O’Neills were located in Block 4, Row 25, and Stand 637. It was the planned first destination for those who woke at 3.30am on a Tuesday morning and boarded a bus at 4am in the local village. A first-timer who was not aware of the advice, claimed she queued for over 35 minutes at the same stand. She should have listened to the kids.
Like the breaking of the ground with a plough, the purchase of a new hurley signifies a new cycle of investment, effort, and hope. The glint of white ash on a late September evening was a great sight.