Ash men with a sure touch: Cork hurley makers are back in business

Ash men with a sure touch: Cork hurley makers are back in business
Hard at work in Fitzgerald's Hurley workshop at Araglen: Michael Fitzgerald and Tom Browne.

APRIL and May are always among the busiest months.

If summer is the best time of the year to hurl, then spring is when you gear up. As the pitches harden and championship looms, the phone rings regularly at hurley makers around Cork and there’s a steady flow of players and parents dropping by for repairs or to pick up new hurleys.

This year there was only the sound of silence. Hurlers might have been staying sharp against the garden wall but the hurley makers were closed with no official activity and travel restrictions in place.

They’re now re-opened for the past two weeks and business is booming again.

Camáns are sized up before being sanded down to get the weight just right. When it comes to the ideal hurley, how it feels is crucial.

Many players will get their favourite hurleys copied. The ‘big bas’ style ala Patrick Horgan is still in fashion, as are white grips, also like the Cork captain.

Fitzgerald’s Hurleys, in Araglen village beyond Fermoy, hemmed in by Tipperary on one side and Waterford on the other, used the downtime to upgrade their shop. They extended the area housing their new hurleys, though they must be picked wearing plastic gloves for Covid-19 safety.

A selection of hurleys on display in the revamped Fitzgerald's Hurleys workshop.
A selection of hurleys on display in the revamped Fitzgerald's Hurleys workshop.

The extras they offer are also displayed more prominently, from Cooper helmets to catching gloves and Fitzgerland Hurleys branded socks. Still, the main attraction is the quality of their hurleys; the range includes their Lam-Hurl innovation where a piece of laminate is cut into the bas to increase its durability.

“We’re starting to get busy now but it’s just great to be back,” explains Michael Fitzgerald, “and we’ve improved the shop over the last few months. Last summer there would have seven of us working so we’re hoping to get up to that now again.”

They have safety measures in place but the personal service remains the same.

Established in 2001, Michael’s hurleys are now the most popular among the Cork panel. Seamus Harnedy, Bill Cooper and Niall O’Leary are among the Rebels who have been looked after in recent weeks.

Bill Cooper drives the sliotar downfield using his Fitzgerald's Hurley against Westmeath. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Bill Cooper drives the sliotar downfield using his Fitzgerald's Hurley against Westmeath. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Tom Browne is another familiar face when you make the trip to north Cork. As well as being a hurling craftsman, he helps out with the underage section in Araglen, joined with Kilworth up to U21 as Kilara Óg.

“That’s been a great success for both clubs in the last few years. We’ve been very competitive, U12, U14, minor, across all ages, and for Araglen we’re going to have few coming out of minor now every season.

“Everyone just can’t wait to get back training now. Even with the rules that’ll be in place young lads just want to be down on the pitch pucking with their friends.”

Head the down the road from Fitzgerald’s towards Rathcormac and Denis Aherne is also relieved to be open again. A qualified mechanic, the Bride Rovers club man started making hurleys 20 years ago has been at it full-time for five.

In truth, his grá for hurleys goes back to his youth.

“I’d say I was 12 years of age when I made my first hurley. I was always messing around with them.”

Hurley maker Denis Ahern in his workshop outside Rathcormac.
Hurley maker Denis Ahern in his workshop outside Rathcormac.

On the road out towards Ballynoe, Denis Ahern’s workshop is behind his house. He was able to pass the months in sporting lockdown by building up his stock.

“Normally in June, you’d nearly be making hurleys as they’re needed. I’m grand and busy now again but we’ll still sell a lot less compared to other years. A lot of Cúl Camps are off and usually there would be boys and girls getting their first hurleys around then.”

Alan Cadogan and Colm Spillane are among his regular inter-county customers while altering the size and weight of Daniel Kearney’s hurley in 2018 saw his scoring returns rocket.

Daniel Kearney with a Denis Ahern hurley. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Daniel Kearney with a Denis Ahern hurley. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

“When I was playing you just pulled a hurley out of the bag and off you went. No one had a second hurley or anything like that.”

That’s all changed of course. It’s not strange on a Saturday evening before championship Sunday for a player to call up to Denis to get a hurley fixed.

“Most lads know what they want now. And sure if you’re happy with your hurley you’re going to play better.”

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