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'Even in the darkest of days in hurling, she would have always said you'll have your day'

2018 was a year to remember for Tipperary hurling club Clonoulty-Rossmore.

Clonoulty-Rossmore players celebrate their Tipperary senior final victory.
Clonoulty-Rossmore players celebrate their Tipperary senior final victory.
Image: Ken Sutton/INPHO

ON THE HOME stretch on Tipperary county senior hurling final day, Timmy Hammersley stepped forward.

In the frantic finale on that October afternoon in Semple Stadium, Clonoulty-Rossmore trailed by a point to Nenagh Éire Óg, their momentum checked by the concession of a second goal.

Ending a 21-year spell in the wilderness requires big plays at big moments. Hammersley popped up with them. He thought of all the hours of graft he had put in during training sessions over the year in Dublin.

His free-taking technique had been honed in one-to-one work in Portmarnock with Cliodhna O’Connor, the ex-Dublin ladies football goalkeeper who collected All-Ireland and All-Star honours before switching codes to aid the successful hurlers of Cuala and is now set to pitch in with Mattie Kenny’s Dublin side in 2019.

Hammersley arrowed four frees over the bar in quick succession, bringing his overall scoring tally for the day to 0-12. Cathal Bourke applied the late grace note to secure a four-point victory and the Dan Breen Cup was heading to the west of the county.

“I looked up at the clock at 58 minutes and it was a draw and I had a free and I knew this was a big one. Genuinely I would have focused hugely on that element over the past year.

“Cliodhna was a big influence on me. I don’t know her hurling background but I just think you need to know sport and you can then coach any sport. She’s shown that anyway.

“We spent 75% of the sessions out hurling in Portmarnock is where she’s from. Would have taken 15 balls out on the pitch and away we’d go. I’d be saying are you not bringing me into the gym and she’d be saying we need to nail frees.

“She’ll be a huge asset to the Dublin hurlers. For someone who never played hurling before, she definitely helped me technically.”

It was a club breakthrough to personally savour. Part of that satisfaction for Hammersley was rooted in the hurdles he had overcome to get to that stage.

John O'Keeffe raises the cup Captain John O'Keeffe lifts the Dan Breen Cup.

He had been part of big hurling days before. In 2010 he was part of a Tipperary senior squad celebrating as they brought the Liam MacCarthy Cup home with them and thwarted Kilkenny’s five-in-a-row dream.

By 2013 his time on the senior scene had concluded but he would add another All-Ireland medal that year to his collection at intermediate level. He excelled in the Fitzgibbon Cup for Waterford IT and contested a pair of county finals with Clonoulty-Rossmore.

Yet there an upshot to that spell operating at an elite level.

“I would essentially say I got burned out from hurling. 2013 was my final year with Tipp but I would say I was gone before that. With my own journey, I remember being a sub on our club U16 team at 15, I was not a talented kid. For me to get from that to the stage where I was close to the Tipperary team, and the effort and commitment I needed to do for that was huge. I reached a certain stage where I could not go further.

“My main regret is if I had the approach now that I had then, it could have served me a lot better. It would have been physical and mental burnout, they would have gone hand in hand.

“It would have meant my relationship with hurling ended up not being healthy. I ended up neglecting my future due to my commitment to hurling, which is a mad thing to say but I think it happens a lot.”

Timmy Hammersley Timmy Hammersley in action for the Tipperary hurlers. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He finds he has a greater balance to his life now, comfortable in his working environment in Dublin as Engagement and Participation Officer with SpunOut.ie, Ireland’s youth information website. He has studied sports psychology and worked with teams in that regard. Three years ago he spent a month in Palestine’s West Bank, involved in a project and area he is passionate about.

“I’m at a stage now where I’m in a job that I adore. Life and sport is in a balanced place. I love my hurling now, I play and I coach it.

“Friends would ask me do I have regrets that you didn’t make it with Tipp with or you didn’t play in Croke Park but my answer that I have to appreciate the journey I had to give to get to there. I may have gone as far as I could with it. I’m definitely more balanced, content and easier to be around now than I was back then.”

Hurling remains at the hub of his life. For a time he worked in coaching with the Liam Mellows club in Galway and was thrilled to see their efforts rewarded with a first county senior crown in 47 years last December. This year he was involved with the St Oliver Plunkett’s club in Dublin as they contested a senior B decider.

His time with Waterford IT forged a relationship with Colm Bonnar and when the Tipperary All-Ireland winner took over the reins in Carlow, he drafted in Hammersley to do some performance coaching with their players. The wins and trophies flowed in 2018 with Division 2A league and Joe McDonagh Cup triumphs.

Through all that exposure to different hurling areas scattered around the country, Clonoulty-Rossmore had a magnetic hold that kept drawing him back. With a bunch of their squad accustomed to journeying home, he is not alone.

“That’s the eternal rural club challenge. I was coaching Oliver Plunkett’s this year, all of them have a two mile journey to training. How do you stay going in that context? We’ve all stayed playing for the last few years but will in ten years time everyone still be going home to play again or will they transfer?

“It’s grand when you come to August and September and October and you’ve big games. But to be a part of it, you need to be coming the whole year and it’s hard to do. I’ve moved into a house with my girlfriend this year in Dublin and that kind of changes it. But it’s not a simple one, it’s very hard to leave family at home.”

Clonoulty-Rossmore's players celebrate at the end of the game Clonoulty-Rossmore players at the final whistle of their county final victory.

Those at home shared in the disappointments. Clonoulty-Rossmore were the kings of Tipperary hurling in 1989 and replicated that feat in 1997 when Hammersley’s father Joe was a selector. That team captured his imagination with players like Declan Ryan, Joe Hayes and John Kennedy flying the club flag at county level as well.

In 2010 and 2011 he sought to emulate those sides but fell short, part of a side swatted aside by Thurles Sarsfields on the first occasion and narrowly overturned by Drom-Inch twelve months later.

“The ’10 final I never got over it genuinely. I’d won an All-Ireland medal with Tipp, I’d a really good campaign with Waterford IT Fitzgibbon that year and just the final crowning glory would have been to win a county final.

“But I just didn’t turn up at all that day, the team didn’t play well and I didn’t play well. My approach was very self-focused, if you’re a county player you’re supposed to play really well for your club on the big day and I didn’t handle that well at all on the day. It was a massive disappointment from all elements.

“I contributed a lot more to my club in 2011 and we beat Thurles Sarsfields in the county semi-final, that was atonement I thought. We went down well in the final whereas we didn’t do that the previous year. In sport if you down well, you have to take that on the chin. That is the game, you win or you lose.

“It’s tough when you don’t go down well, the aftermath is hurtful. I remember my Mam would have took it quite hard when she heard the things said. That’s where it goes from the sporting to the personal. That’s the pride of the club and the parish. It’s brilliant but people can go overboard.”

They slipped back from the grandeur of county finals after that, watching on like the rest of Tipperary as Thurles Sarsfields ruled the arena with an iron fist. The reigning champions saw their five-in-a-row bid falter in early October in a semi-final against Nenagh Éire Óg.

Clonoulty-Rossmore entered the decider under the radar. They progressed incrementally, coped with the long summer hiatus due to inter-county focus and felt they were building something after running Nenagh close in a group game.

Hammersley is full of praise for the coaching work of John Devane, the ex-Tipperary player who focused on quality training with his club this year rather than quantity and never demanded that those based in other locations travel home relentlessly. The leadership of captain John O’Keeffe, who retired last year from Tipperary, was also key as he guided the side from his centre-back post.

John Devane celebrates with his players Clonoulty manager John Devane celebrates with his players. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

And like all small clubs attempting to climb high, they were bolstered by a golden underage crop featuring the likes of Dillon Quirke who was part of Tipperary’s successful U21 side in August.

On county final day he resolved to embrace the occasion with one brother Conor, who works in Dublin, alongside him on the starting fifteen and another James, who is studying in Hong Kong, set to come off the bench when needed.

“I found my parents in the stands walking around the pitch before the game. In other county finals I would not look at anyone but I definitely said this year I was taking it in and I was going to enjoy the thing so after the game then I knew where they were.

“It was elation at the final whistle and amazingly the first person I met was my brother. After myself and Conor embraced each other, I went to find my Mam and my Dad in the stands. I picked up my mother and just gave the biggest hug I’ve ever given her.

“She has definitely been the rock through all our challenges, not just sporting. Even in the darkest of days in hurling, she would have always said you’ll have your day out there on the pitch. Her words definitely have given me huge encouragement, professionally as well. Any dream I’ve had, she’s told me to go for it so I owe her a lot.”

James Hammersley and Conor Hammersley James and Conor Hammersley celebrate Clonoulty-Rossmore's victory. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

The celebrations in the aftermath and the joy in their parish in the following days left an indelible mark.

“John Devane, the one thing he said all year was people only want to see you doing your best and just want to see you working hard for each other and playing well. That’s the vibe I’ve got off Clonoulty people. Clonoulty have won four county finals ever and won their first in ’89, so for 100 years there where there was no hurling success. A lot of the older people would have been through that.

“I just wanted to play well for my people. You’re talking about very humble rural people and to embrace it with them was very special. They don’t have high expectations in life and to make humble people happy was a nice thing.”

They went out in the Munster arena two weeks later and exited at the hands of a powerful Na Piarsaigh side from Limerick.

But there was to be a joyous footnote to the 2018 season. In late December a first Tipperary U21 hurling crown at the top grade was secured by three points, James representing the Hammersley clan on the Clonoulty side in the win over Thurles Sarsfields.

Two county trophies on the sideboard to look at this Christmas.

A perfect end to a perfect hurling year.

Murray Kinsella, Gavan Casey and Andy Dunne look back on a memorable year for Irish rugby.


Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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