Wearing Rebel red again will be the biggest test of Brian Hurley's career

Wearing Rebel red again will be the biggest test of Brian Hurley's career

Tipperary’s John Keane tackles Brian Hurley of Cork. Picture: INPHO/Ryan ByrneLD

The Barry O'Donovan GAA column

STANDING behind the goal in Pairc Ui Rinn last Sunday afternoon the name Conrad Murphy drifted into our heads. 

We recalled asking Murphy several years back if he could remember his hamstring going for the first time and there was something in the way he recited the exact time, the place, the game, where he was on the pitch, who was running for the ball alongside him, that suggested it left something of an impression. 

It’s hard to recall now just how special Murphy was for a time there, how sure of a thing he seemed to become Cork’s next superstar footballer, only to point out that if a Cork minor gave a display of that raw speed, strength, ball-running, scoring power (0-5 from play!) in an All-Ireland final now it’s likely that social media and football forums might explode with expectation. 

But from that night out in Castlehaven in summer 2000 chasing a ball with Ray Cahalane when his hamstring snapped, basically it was never the same again for him. 

Murphy went from this promising wunderkind to the guy who could never shake off the hamstring trouble and though he spent the next decade contributing plenty big performances and moments for Clon and Cork and trying everything to cure the injuries, he never again got a clear enough run to sustain that terrorising speed and form to make the expected impact.

Cork’s Conrad Murphy linking up with David Burns, against Clare, in the Munster minor semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick, in July of 2000. Picture: Kieran Clancy
Cork’s Conrad Murphy linking up with David Burns, against Clare, in the Munster minor semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick, in July of 2000. Picture: Kieran Clancy

Murphy’s as exciting a young forward as we’d seen in Cork football - Goulding and Masters were scoring machines, O’Neill the most lethal finisher – until Hurley came along with that same ability to get bums out of seats whenever he gets possession. 

And that’s why the sight of Brian Hurley hobbling around the field on crutches last weekend resonated as the news began to sink in about this latest hamstring injury and that we wouldn’t see Hurley in red again for a terribly long time and that we mightn’t see him back at all and that either way there’s a very decent chance it won’t be the same Brian Hurley we get back. 

Think Brian Hurley and you’ll remember the genius goal in the All-Ireland minor semi-final in 2010 or one of the most remarkable individual performances in Cork club football in the county final 2013 against Nemo or the spark and promise of those first couple of years with Cork seniors. 

He scored from play in four from five games in his debut championship, including 0-3 from play against Dublin. 

That incredible seven points from play in Tralee in spring 2014 and 1-4 in losing to Mayo in that summer’s championship. 

And if 2015 saw a loss of form you still got the feeling he’d become Cork’s main scorer over the following five years and that Cork would need the possibility of him bringing that 1-3 or 0-5 to most games to produce a winning score against the top sides. 

Last year was lost to that horror hamstring mid-summer and what happened with this second injury is all the more heartbreaking given the intense rehab that Hurley has described just to get back the first time and the genuine difficulty the Castlehaven man had in not being able to play the game for so long. 

Back in November he spoke about stretching and then pool work and four/five nights a week physio work, gym work, boxing, jogging and that was a few months before he got back on the pitch.

He also said that 16 hours without kicking a ball was a long time for him, now it’s looking like close to 16 months before he might be able to play again and you’d have to ponder the serious amount of GAA players who spend an incredible amount of their time in recovery from various injury. 

It’s certainly a cruel sort of reality, silently working away behind the scenes as the players go about the normal training schedules and we recall one former inter-county player telling us of the embarrassment of going to training regularly while being injured and that terrible sense of separation and not being able to contribute in any form.

It’s natural also in Hurley’s case to look for reasons as to why such a savage injury might have happened him twice. Hurley spent a fair amount of time away from the game previously with a back injury that he attributed to doing too much heavy weights at that age. 

The initial hamstring happened on a week where Hurley admitted he’d been doing a lot of leg weights on his own and his muscles had become so fatigued that an injury like that was on the cards. It’s also a little jarring to go through the players on the Cork squad who’ve been through some serious long-term injury setbacks. 

From the squad last weekend alone, Ian Maguire missed most of a year with back difficulties, Ruairi Deane had long spells out and returning to fitness with cruciate injury, Colm O’Neill has had three of them, Stephen Cronin missed the bones of a year with a leg-break, Barry O’Driscoll has only had one good year with Cork out of the injury routine, Tom Clancy and Kevin Crowley have both struggled to get a run of games together for two or three years, Conor Dorman missed all last year’s league campaign, and outside the squad, Eoin Cadogan has been out for long stretches now. 

That really is an awful amount of years gone just getting ready to be able to train or play again and it must take a sort of mental toll eventually. Paddy Kelly retired last autumn on the back of a few years of constant injury work. 

Conor McCarthy, who’s in the backroom team now, wrote previously about his experience with a persistent injury eventually forcing him to retire. In his book Kieran Donaghy details the amount of work he did one summer on his own for the chance to be involved in an All-Ireland final. 

Only recently we got a text from a senior player who cancelled plans to meet that day as he was too depressed after picking up a knock in training.

For now Hurley will only look at the daily details of making another go at a comeback and if it looks a desperately tough challenge now, you’d imagine Hurley has the stomach to take it on if it’s actually doable. 

Hurley at peak 2013/2014 form could genuinely turn Cork from a 1-14 to a 2-17 team. 

For Castlehaven it’s a complete game-changer, as he’s quite possibly the most irreplaceable player in any club in the county, the difference between say reaching a quarter-final and reaching a final. 

It’s just about possible things won’t be the same again though; Conrad Murphy would tell him that.

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