Cork forward Brian Hurley has been through the mill with injuries in recent seasons. At one point the Castlehaven man feared his career was over. But now he’s back and eager to make up for lost time, as DENIS HURLEY discovered
CORK’S 21-point Munster SFC win over Limerick may not have been heralded with too much significance, but for one man it was an affirmation that hard work is paying off.
Brian Hurley played for Cork in 2018 as he returned from two severe hamstring injuries, but it was not a year to remember for him or the team. However, after further rehabilitation, the Castlehaven star scored two early goals against the Shannonsiders and is keen to continue the upward curve in Saturday night’s Munster final against Kerry.
After so many knocks and dark days, Hurley is making the most of every day back in the red jersey.
‘Without a shadow of a doubt,’ he says.
‘I couldn’t say it strongly enough – when you think your career is over and to get another chance at it, and to come in at a more mature level, it’s like a new start only you’ve been here before.
‘I feel like a young fella with an older head. You see things happening and you give advice to younger fellas and they take it on board and you see them doing, that gives you a little kick then, “These boys want to be here as well and they’re pushing themselves.”
‘Without a doubt, you take something from a kid and he’ll want it back and I’m the same, you want what you can’t have.
‘Sitting up there for two years or down in Killarney watching it, you want it and when you get back you make sure you grab it with two hands. You don’t let anyone else grab it in front of you because the amount of work you do to get back and the sacrifices you made were frightening all along.
‘The amount of work you put in with the medical team, nobody sees that but, for me, I want to do my talking on the field.’
That was evident in Páirc Uí Rinn three weeks ago, but the two-goal haul wasn’t the end of the journey.
‘If I was being honest, and I’m not coming across big-headed, I think there’s more in me,’ Hurley says.
‘The real test is going to be Saturday night to see where I’m at. I’ve felt good the last month or two in training, I’ve been sharp and stuff like that but you’re only as good as your last game.
‘I wouldn’t it was say a relief and I’m not being smart. A relief means there’s pressure on, there’s no pressure. If you’re here every night, fellas are hopping, they’re knocking on doors everywhere.
‘Michael [Hurley, his brother] and [Stephen] Sherlock are only itching to come in. Johnno [O’Rourke] didn’t get a look-in the whole league, he started against Armagh and then Limerick, everyone’s pushing each other.
‘If fellas are on about a relief getting over Limerick, I think it’s nonsense, to be honest. We were always favourites going into the game, we blew them out of the water in 15 minutes and that shows that the intensity from training is there.
‘There’s a bit of a spring about us.’
To be talking about Cork football in such positive terms might seem incongruous, given that the league campaign ended with relegation from Division 2.
Hurley accepts that the external perception of the team may not tally with that within the camp, but he’s happy to try to sway the argument.
‘The Cork public are fairly demanding always, hurling or football, no matter what you play – soccer, look at Cork City,’ he says.
‘When you’re doing great, you’re the best team in the world but you see this year with Cork City, it’s easy for things to swing a different way and it’s the same with football and hurling.
‘You can’t leave that bother you – you’re here to do a job, to train and to get the most out of yourself and everyone else beside you and that’s happening.
‘It’s as simple as challenge games, trainings, you see the championship performance, things are very good and positive.
‘I believe if you work hard and push each other in training, you’re going to get performances. Hopefully that will come on Saturday.’
Hurley came on as a sub in last year’s final, when Cork scored two early goals but only managed a total of 2-4, well short of Kerry’s 3-18. The campaign ended with another heavy defeat against Tyrone and Hurley was left frustrated.
‘I would say, if I was being honest, I was there 120 percent mentally but, physically, the body wasn’t following the head,’ he says.
‘Things I wanted to do, I couldn’t, the body wasn’t moving as well, it wasn’t as sharp. I did trim down but it just wasn’t happening for me.
‘We did a lot of work this winter, early pre-season, I even missed a lot of the league as I was doing extra work. I believe that the body is in good nick, I’ve leaned down nearly five kilos, I feel lighter on top and the legs seem to be moving better.
‘It’s a case of hard work paying off and here we are.’
However, even being back on the field was a victory.
‘When you’re told you wouldn’t play at this level again and they wouldn’t operate on you, it’s a fairly frightening experience, even for a fella that tries to be a bit of a hard man,’ he says.
‘That’s not easy, and that’s putting it fairly softly. The thing that gives you the most enjoyment in the world and the thing you want to play most and you can’t have it, it’s scary.
‘It’s hard to describe if you haven’t been in that situation but fellas who have had similar injuries who I’ve talked to, they understand it 100 percent.
‘I came out of a brace the second time after nine weeks, 90 degrees, my left leg was a third the size of my right. That gave me a fair fright, trying to say to myself, “How am I going to get back here, this is impossible.”
‘I suppose you never say the word impossible when you have a serious team of guys around you to push you. There’s a very good medical team, Dr Con [Murphy], Aido [Aidan Kelleher], Brian O’Connell, Colin Lane, all these guys with top-class expertise and top-class contacts to get you in the right places.
‘They put you on track and it’s up to yourself then to go. My employers Abco Kovex were brilliant too, they never put too much pressure on me. I’m there five years in September and I love my job.
‘I did have lows, I’m not going to lie to you, but there’s a determination I have in me, I’m not sure where it came from, maybe I was born with it, you just keep pushing yourself. People doubted me and said I wouldn’t make it back and that just gave me more appetite to drive on.’
That drive will be needed if Cork are to win what would be a first Munster title since 2012. There is a view that this is a free hit and that the round 4 qualifier game, and a chance to make the Super 8s, is the key fixture, but Hurley doesn’t subscribe.
‘Not a hope,’ he says, ‘not a hope.
‘If you think we’re going to back down from any opposition, especially Kerry, you’re interviewing the wrong man or the wrong lads around here.
‘That’s being straight-up, I don’t paw off questions, I love challenges, I love big games.
‘This is what I thrive on and I can’t wait for it. There seems to be a lot of talking Kerry up but it’s a two-horse race, you see Liverpool against Barça, 3-0 down and came back to win it.
‘You look at Anthony Joshua against [Andy] Ruiz, Ruiz knocked him out even though Joshua was supposed to be unbeatable.
‘You work hard enough, you put it in, you believe in it, you won’t be far away.’