Cummins Sports having a ball since 1971

The All-Star sliothar - named in honour of Ray Cummins' unique achievement - is more popular now than ever
Cummins Sports having a ball since 1971

Brendan Cummins (left) and his father William selecting the sliothars to be used in the 1976 All-Ireland SHC final - in which Brendan and his brother Ray represented Cork.

Having focused on Cummins Sports’ retail arm yesterday, today we look at the sliothars made by the firm.

If one were to compile a list of the best products Cork has given the world, the Cummins All-Star might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but it would certainly warrant inclusion.

In 18 of the last 21 All-Ireland senior hurling finals, it has been the ball of choice of at least one of the competing sides, often both. The logo, featuring the signature of William Cummins above the Cork coat of arms, is instantly recognisable, while the name is around for as long as sliothars bearing the family name have been made.

The reason for the use of ‘All-Star’ is obvious once you realise that what was then Cummins O’Leary, now Cummins Sports, began in 1971.

“It was All-Star from the start,” Kevin Cummins says.

“The All-Star Awards began that year too and Ray was named at full-forward on both teams, he’s still the only fella to get it in both codes in the one year.

“It was to acknowledge that we did it and we stuck with it and my father’s name is still on the ball.”

While Ger O’Leary, Brendan Cummins and Kevin Cummins were focused on the retail side, the Cummins’ father William – a two-time All-Ireland minor winner – was given the responsibility for the sliothars.

“He had just retired from Dunlop’s, so it was opportune for him,” Kevin says.

“We couldn’t get sliothars, so we gave him the job – ‘Dad, would you ever go away and get sliothars for us?’

“In those days, they were made by the local shoemaker – O’Neills made a few and there was a fella, McAuliffe, in Limerick – but they couldn’t meet our demand.

“He was able to get a few other fellas who had retired from Dunlop’s to come on board. We had a men’s shed out the back of our house before a men’s shed was ever thought of!

“He’d bring his buddies in and the neighbours and they’d all be inside, stitching balls away. We’d deliver the bits of figure-of-eight leather and the core and they’d sit at home stitching the ball, watching television or whatever.

“You could make a ball in an hour that way – now, they’re done in four minutes!”

Production takes place nowadays in Pakistan, with developments in technology ensuring far greater consistency than a half-century ago.

“We worked hard at that,” Kevin Cummins says.

“At the start, my father used to make them from whatever he could get his hands on. The sliothar was a leather outer and the core then was a golf ball-sized piece of cork, wound around with twine or wool or thread or anything, there was no consistency. Now, it’s a synthetic core, so each one is the same.

“When I was playing, you’d come across soft balls and hard balls, round balls and ones that were nearly square-shaped. When Patrick Horgan hits a free for Cork now, it’s with a ball the same as he’s been pucking around the Glen Field for years.

“We still use a leather hide – the trend now is for a synthetic outer but it doesn’t feel the same – and lower rims so it’s easier to handle.

“I’ve been out to the factory in Pakistan on numerous occasions. There was a big scandal a few years about child-labour in different parts of the world but we have been rigorous about that.”

Having won a minor All-Ireland as captain in 1964, Kevin is well-placed to assess the evolution of the sliothar.

“People say the ball is lighter, but it’s not,” he says.

“There are parameters around weight that the ball has to adhere to. I can show you a ball that my father made in 1971 that’s exactly the same weight and size as the one that’s made today – it’s the composition is different.

“Back then, the ball might get a bit soggy in wet weather but nowadays it’s totally consistent and that has helped skill levels. I’m always amazed when I’m at a match and I see the subs pucking around at half-time time, it’s incredible what they can do with it.

“You hear the debate in golf too, that the ball should be made heavier or deader, but why should you punish fellas for their skill?”

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