Born! Not Made!
West Tipperary Hurling Final Program, Aug 22, 1999
How often have we heard it! Sure, why shouldn't he be a fine hurler when all belonging to him were soaked in the tradition of the game? Or, the opposite side of the same coin. Sure, what could you expect? There wasn't a hurler to be found on either side of the family!
I'm beginning to doubt this wisdom and the player who put me thinking was Sean Óg Ó'Hailpin. How could he possibly be a hurler? Sure his father was a Fermanagh man and his mother a native of Fiji, and he himself spent ten years of his life in Fiji. Did you ever hear of a Fermanagh man or a Fijian getting on a hurling team?
So, how come that Sean Óg made it in hurling, and in football also for that matter? I believe the big culprit is environment and in his case it was the environment of North Monastery secondary school, where hurling was a second religion. There he found an opportunity to express his natural athleticism through hurling.
There are many such examples. Take the famous Bonnar brothers, all three of whom got All-Star awards in hurling. Why should they have been hurlers when both parents came from Donegal and the father played football with Gortahork? The answer is simple: they went to school in Cashel C.B.S. where Brother Noonan taught everyone how to hurl and made a damn fine fist of it as well.
And, staying in Cashel, another example are the O'Donoghue brothers. There's nothing in their pedigree which would suggest hurlers. What, with the father from Kerry and the mother from Meath, sure 'twas far from hurling they were bred. But, they grew up in the environment of hurling and all five have given sterling hurling service to the Cashel King Cormacs.
Most of us have heard of that great Cork school, Farrenferris, a great nursery of hurling. It may come as a surprise to learn that over half the boarders there come from west Cork, which is exclusively football country. They arrive in Farrenferris at the age of twelve years hardly knowing the shape of a hurley. And, what happens to them? They became great hurlers like Jim Young became, or Terry Kelly or Tim Crowley, to name a few. Had they stayed at home hurling would have been the loser.
There are other dramatic examples. Jack Lynch's father was a footballer from Bantry. We know that Jack never lost that part of his inheritance and won a football All-Ireland in 1945. But that success was squeezed in among five hurling AlI-Irelands, which I would hazard a guess, Jack would have never seen had his father not moved his tailoring talents out of the west of the county and into Cork city, where the young Jack fell into the environment of hurling in North Monastery and was snapped up by Glen Rovers at the age of eleven years.
And, what about the great Eddie Kehir? What would have become of him had his father remained in Roscommon. Would Eddie have made as skilful a Roscommon footballer as the skilful Kilkenny hurler he became?
Of course, the reverse is also true. Look at the fate of Ger Power. Why should the son of a great hurler like Jackie Power become a great Kerry footballer. And, the answer has to be because he left the hurling environment of Limerick for the football world of Tralee and Kerry.
So, the moral of the tale has to be, not to scoff at anyone's attempt to wield a caman because his father or mother or anybody else belonging to him, never caught a hurley in his hand. The environment's the important thing. I've said before that had Pierce Bonnar emigrated to some English village, rather than migrating to Cashel, his sons would have become the best cricketers in the area!