AS a small but thriving hub of hurling, Fitzgerald Hurleys couldn’t be better located.
Stand outside the back of the workshop, turn left and puck a sliotar across the stream and it will land in a field in Tipperary. Opt for the right and drive it across the road and it’ll kiss the ground in Waterford.
The location is in Cork, of course, a house on the edge of the small village in Araglen, a few miles out from Kilworth.
The Araglen GAA club compete in the junior ranks in the Avondhu division but thanks to Michael Fitzgerald and his family their hurling reach extends far and wide.
Since setting up in 2001, the business has steadily grown to the degree that there are five regular employees and a constant stream of callers throughout the year. Even on a dreary Friday in March the phone rings intermittently and cars pull up to collect orders.
It helps of course that a clutch of the Munster-winning Cork squad use Fitzgerald Hurleys.
We just missed Cork panellist and Rearden’s county final Man of the Match with Imokilly in 2017 Ger Millerick when we visited last week. The Fr O’Neill’s club man had picked up a few fresh Fitzgerald sticks and his name was jotted down on a sheet to support the local club lotto.
High-profile Rebels like Shane Kingston, Mark Coleman and Seamus Harnedy will be seen in Semple Stadium or Páirc Uí Chaoimh this summer with those camáns in their grasp. That has an understandable impact on what hurleys youngsters across the county like to use.
“We’ve got busier and busier over the years,” explains Mick. The hurleys are popular because of their quality, but also because of the down-to-earth, no-nonsense service.
“If you treat people right, there’s a good chance they’ll come back. Everyone likes their hurleys a certain way so you have to listen to what they want.”
Most prefer the big bas style which is very much in fashion these days, though not everyone. Whatever the size of the bas, the weight can vary from hurler to hurler depending on their position or approach. They shape the hurley to each customer's preference.
Some like them single- or double-banded too, to limit the chance of them breaking, which obviously makes the hurley that bit heavier.
Fitzgerald’s are currently experimenting with a new type of hurley, which has a piece of laminate glued on to the bas. It's dubbed the ‘Lam-Hurl’. They produced an initial order of 500 last year and given the positive response have followed up with another batch.
When you pick one up initially it's hard to tell the difference from a regular Fitzgerald, the cut is seamless and the laminate blended through the bas smoothly.
“We came up with the idea because of the problem with the supply of ash, which is having an effect on hurley-makers across the country as everyone knows. There can too much of the ash wasted when you make a hurley. This way we’re using more of the ash tree.
“We’ve tried a few different types of glues but the only way you can test them is by getting hurlers to use them at training and in matches and listening to what they've to say when they come back in.”
They certainly got a seal of approval from Cork captain Seamus Harnedy last summer, when he opted for an experimental ‘Lam-Hurl’ for the bulk of the championship. While he didn’t get to climb the steps of the Hogan Stand last summer, he was Man of the Match in the Munster final against Clare and an All-Star.
“Seamus took one of the new hurleys off us during the league last year and he was delighted with it. He actually called in just before the Munster final to make sure it would be just right and sure he’d a great game afterwards.
"He still has a few regular hurleys as well but that's the one he used more.”
It worked a treat last October when he fired Imokilly to consecutive senior hurling titles, drilling a trademark goal in the county final in a majestic display.
Mick expects the modified hurleys to grow in popularity.
“We’re still working to improve them and get them just right."
The fact they feel the same as their main hurleys is a huge plus.
"They’re different to the new types of hurley out there because they’re still made of all ash.”
Mycro have introduced a popular carbon-fibre based hurley, used by Waterford’s Tom Devine, and former Dublin attack Ryan O’Dwyer swears by Cultec’s synthetic offering.
They're very much a viable alternative for the next generation of young hurlers and Myrco's sales are booming.
It’ll be interesting to see if the initiative by Fitzgerald Hurleys takes off as well. The timing is certainly right.
There's a vibe in a thriving hurley-makers that is as artistic, minus the pretence, as it is sporty. When a hurley has been touched up to suit the requirements of the hurler and broken in it takes on a personality.
You can appreciate why there's been a suggestion of an artist's tax exemption, which allows them to earn up to €50,000 per year before tax, given hurling's cultural importance.
There are plenty of respected hurley-makers on Leeside of course. Darragh Fitzgibbon utilises O’Connor’s, natural as it’s only a short spin from Charleville to Newtownshandrum and Ben and Jerry O’Connor were his idols growing up.
Midleton’s main man Conor Lehane calls out to Liam Walsh in Lisgoold for his weapon of choice while Cork senior Aidan Walsh has his supporters, and has made hurleys for Anthony Nash and Patrick Horgan. Denis Ahern in Rathcormac is also ultra-reliable.
Sweeney Hurleys, handcrafted by Eugene Sweeney in Kildorrery, have proved to be the perfect fit for Inniscarra's Seán O’Donoghue, who had an excellent debut season for Cork in 2018.