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Dublin: 10°C Friday 16 April 2021

'I couldn’t judge my career based on medals or else what would be the point of doing it?'

Offaly’s Brian Carroll reflects on his hurling career after retiring this week.

Offaly hurler Brian Carroll retired this week.
Offaly hurler Brian Carroll retired this week.
Image: Cathal Noonan

LAST MONDAY MORNING Brian Carroll formally drew a line under his days as an Offaly hurler.

His senior championship days began in 2002 against Kilkenny and concluded last summer against Clare, yet his Offaly career stretches back to a Tony Forristal U14 debut two decades ago.

Retirement though won’t afford the opportunity to gaze at a treasure trove of medals. Carroll’s Offaly heritage was one of success.

His dad Pat was one of those who spearheaded Offaly’s hurling early rise in the 80’s before he passed away in 1986.

Brian grew up as a young fan whose hurling imagination was captured by an Offaly team that lifted Liam in 1994 and 1998.

The trouble was when it came to his own spell as a player, Offaly had regressed in the national hurling order.

In his school days, Brian Carroll hurled with future Kilkenny luminaries in St Kieran’s. But after Leaving Cert their paths diverged.

Between 2002 and 2015, Kilkenny’s trophy count reads All-Ireland (10), National League (8) and Leinster (11). Carroll didn’t manage to win any of those competitions, the closest he came was defeat in the 2004 Leinster decider.

His talent was not reflected in his medal count, a player commonly regarded as one of the best operating outside the elite counties. Yet he is not tormented by the lack of silver.

“Maybe that’s a defeatist attitude to some people but over time and maturity, I’ve come to realise that I couldn’t judge my career based on medals or else what would be the point of doing it?

“There’s a hell of a lot more to it than winning albeit that’s your ultimate goal.

“I got out of the game what I could and ultimately I got it back down to what it should be about, playing the game you love and being the best that you can be.

“I was very conscious of enjoying hurling with Offaly and realising the honour it is to be picked on your county team.”

Brian Carroll: 'I was very conscious of enjoying hurling with Offaly' Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

That theme of enjoyment was one he honed in on in 2015. He was fairly convinced at the outset it would be his last season and that helped provide a release.

“I was going to leave no stone unturned to try to enjoy my year and get as much out of myself as I could.”

“For the last couple of years, I’ve made a conscious effort to try and enjoy my hurling. I was probably too hard on myself and put too much pressure on myself to perform and because of that my performances could have suffered.”

That said, he still tossed the idea of retirement around in his head over the winter a fair bit before finally settling on the decision to depart.

Hurling has consumed him and the demands of the sport he leaves are unrecognisable to those placed on him at the start.

“The levels have gone through the roof. You’re in a cocoon when you’re in a county setup now. You do whatever it takes, 24-7 it’s on your mind.

“You don’t really see what’s going on around you, you’re so immersed in it. That aspect of it has hugely changed.

“There’s no such thing as going for a pint, if you’re even seen in a pub now, it’s (a case of) ‘what are you doing out?’. You’re supposed to be living the life of a hurler.”

Can he see a tipping point on the horizon with the professional standards that are applied to an amateur game?

“I think the nature of sport and the nature of our games, you would think what more can players give?

“But managers will always try to get more and more out of their players.

“I don’t think you’ll see in the foreseeable future that players will revolt to the fact that they want to be remunerated or anything like that.

“It has become by and large a younger man’s game. A lot of people choose their careers now based on their ability to play inter-county hurling. It’s hard to know where it’s going to stop.”

Brian Carroll under pressure Brian Carroll in action against Tipperary defenders Michael Cahill and Paddy Stapleton. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

His own county have fallen on hard times. When Carroll entered the Offaly dressing-room he was rubbing shoulders with heroes he had been cheering on from the terraces.

“I played with a lot of guys who won All-Ireland’s, legends for Offaly hurling, the likes of Brian Whelehan, Johnny Dooley, Hubert Rigney, Joe Errity. I learned a lot from those players.

“Offaly was probably in a much better place then than now, the mindset was there that we were one of the top counties.

“We wanted to stay there but unfortunately over time that has changed dramatically.”

He has an interesting theory pinpointing a reason behind the fall.

“I actually think we’ve lots of good hurlers in Offaly. I think what we really miss is probably our physical fitness.

“In Offaly the thinking is that the ball does the work. You watch club hurling, you watch traditional Offaly hurling, the ball does the work.

“But we haven’t been physically prepared for intercounty hurling the way we should be.

“That starts more so at underage level, we probably don’t have the athletes that other counties have. It’s very important to change that mindset.”

Ask him to pick a highlight and he goes right back to the start.

“It was actually the day I made my debut. Based on the fact that my dad played for Offaly, it was just a dream come true.

“I’d dreamed of that moment for a long, long time. Against Kilkenny that day to get a couple of scores as well because that’s what my job was.

“That sticks out as a really special day.”

The biggest regret is simple to select.

“Probably the Leinster final of 2004. That was the game that got away from us. Damien Fitzhenry was just inspired in the goal, we probably let that game slip.

“If we’d won that Leinster final, it could have changed the landscape of where Offaly hurling went. We dropped dramatically after that.”

David O'Connor with Brian Carroll Brian Carroll goes up against Wexford's David O'Connor in the 2004 Leinster final Source: INPHO

The reaction this week took Carroll by surprise. A bunch of celebrated Kilkenny hurlers sent well wishes as did his Offaly hurling heroes from the 80’s and 90’s.

“It’s hugely humbling and I suppose emotional as well. You just don’t expect that level of regard. The big thing for me was the respect of your peers was really heartwarming.

“It does ease the transition from intercounty hurling to normal life. A lot of guys got into contact with me. Joe Connolly even from Galway, he hurled against my dad in the 80’s.”

Brian Carroll lifts the cup Brian Carroll lifts the cup after Coolderry's county final win last October. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

He won’t be throwing the hurley away for good. It’s almost four years since Coolderry were Leinster senior champions and contesting an All-Ireland final. Last October they reigned in Offaly again. It’s a club brimming with enthusiasm.

“I can’t wait to get back training in Coolderry to be honest. We’re lucky we’ve a successful club, we’re always trying to get the best out of ourselves.

“I’m looking forward to going back to enjoying my hurling because inter-county hurling is very pressurised.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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