Denis Hurley pays tribute to the late James Milner who passed away recently
JAMES Milner knew that sport, and life, could be unfair, but he never stopped trying to do the right thing.
A short illness meant that Bandon native James died at the age of 32 last Wednesday, October 4th, but he fitted a wealth of sporting achievement and involvement into that short lifespan, responding resolutely to any setbacks encountered along the way.
Most heavily involved in GAA and golf, he also played rugby and soccer and would likely have further developed a growing interest in cycling but for injuries. However, while he loved sport, he was not a slave to it. He had wide-ranging interests far beyond the sporting sphere and always kept a healthy sense of perspective, having lost his father Richard at the age of eight in 1993.
The inner strength which resulted was shown most obviously in how a broken kneecap in 2006 meant a long time out of action. He made sure he remained useful to Bandon’s teams by undertaking water- and hurley-carrier duties as he worked back to fitness.
Having won West Cork U21A hurling and football medals before his injury – as well as hurling titles coming up through the grades – he helped Bandon to Carbery junior A championships in both codes after his return.
As a student at Hamilton High School, he was part of a talented group which reached four Munster finals during his six years there. While naturally a better footballer – during a semester spent away from UL studying in Prague, he returned home for games to help Bandon win a first Carbery U21AFC title in 2005 – his levels of team ethic ensured he was a most valued member of hurling teams too.
He continued to play hurling up to 2011 and football until a year later, but a niggling foot injury meant that he retired early from playing. There was no self-pity though, as he got involved on the management teams of Lilywhite sides, first at U21 level and, at the time of his death, minor and junior.
Winning the right way was important – he lamented an opposition at minor level playing a blanket defence in a hurling game which Bandon won anyway – but development of players was utmost in his mind.
He made sure that he spoke to players to make sure they knew and understood why they were picked or dropped or why they were playing in a certain position. Imbuing confidence, and encouraging players to enjoy time on the ball, not to panic or be afraid of trying something, were also central tenets, as well as keeping them involved in sport, no matter their level of ability.
He detested the lazy analysis of pundits in simply putting a victory or defeat down to which team showed the greater desire or heart, while his eye for satire made for great impressions of the archetypal GAA ould lad saying ‘A town the size of Bandon should be senior in both codes’, or the post-league game salutation between players: ‘Best of luck in championship, best of luck in championship,’ as he shook hands with everyone in sight.
The arms race among clubs to match each other with shiny new set-ups also left him cold – he advocated the pooling of resources so that three or four clubs would share facilities, but perhaps that’s one area where he was too far ahead of the curve.
Bandon GAA Club afforded James a guard of honour last Wednesday, and so did Bandon Golf Club. Having taken up the sport in his early 20s, he developed an aptitude for it very quickly and his handicap tumbled – he was down to 12, having never received a shot back once he lost it.
As he put it so well, in golf the ball won’t move unless you address it, so you’ve no excuses. He represented Bandon in the Pierce Purcell Shield in 2014 and reached play-offs in the club’s President’s and Captain’s Prizes. In the latter of these, in June 2015, he came to his ninth hole in the play-off feeling he had an outside chance of victory and was on the green in two shots. An easy par would have guaranteed a top-five finish but he went for glory and while it didn’t come off, he wasn’t left wondering.
In addition to his playing, just as with the GAA, he opted to become heavily involved rather than sitting around complaining, and at the end of 2016 he was elected treasurer, the youngest member on the committee.
His last round of golf was the Lady Captain’s Prize to the Gents at the end of July (he shot one under par nett) and even when he was admitted to hospital, he was looking forward to getting out in time for the President’s Prize in August, with some short-game practice pencilled in.
Unfortunately for him, he found himself involved in a contest where he was playing up the hill, into the wind and against an opponent who had the referee paid off.
He never got a break, yet he never complained and never gave up. Just as he gave his all on the playing pitch or the golf course.
He is survived by his loving wife Sharon, mother Maureen and brothers Michael and Richard and will be greatly missed by his many friends and extended family.
Rest in peace.