September 03, 1993
A Famous Name
Can Liam McCarthy the player steal the show from Liam McCarthy the Cup?
During the All-Ireland hurling final it is traditional that Liam McCarthy should remain immobile while the two sides lock themselves in combat. The Cup is an annual spectator at every final, be it Offaly versus Galway, Cork v Wexford, or Kilkenny versus Limerick. At the end of the game the captain of the winning side then lifts Liam gloriously into the air. This Sunday, however, there will be two Liam McCarthy's of note on display at Croke Park - and the second one is not surplus to requirements! Nor will Liam McC Part 2 be acting out the perfunctory role of the spectator. For Liam McCarthy is not only hurling's equivalent to Sam Maguire but it also happens to be the name of Kilkenny's prolific wing forward who is aiming to help The Cats lift his namesake for the second successive year. Liam the hurler hasn't got his head buried in the sand; he knows that Kilkenny have their work cut out if they are to piece together back to back All-Ireland triumphs. There, remains one formidable obstacle still standing between Kilkenny and end-of-season glory. "We're fierce wary of Galway," says the wing forward who is taking nothing for granted.
In recent years Liam has been one of the reigning All-Ireland champions' most consistent performers. Coming into this world on the second day of the third month of 1963, the Piltown clubman who shares his title with the most precious trophy in hurling made his Championship debut for the Noresiders against Offaly in the 1985 Leinster semi-final defeat. He played throughout the following League campaign and was injured for the duration of Kilkenny's 1986 Championship challenge. He hurled for his county in the '87 Championship but was dropped for the final in which The Cats were beaten, ironically, by Galway. The wing forward has been a regular in the Kilkenny set-up ever since.
As a proud descendant of the mighty Doyles from Moncoin (three of who amassed a total collection of eighteen All-Ireland medals between them in the early years of the century) it is hardly a surprise that the hurler from the Harristown area of the parish of Piltown has become one of the most vital cogs in the Kilkenny machine. Liam himself acquired his interest in the game from his father Andy who has a great love of the sport and always chauffeured the young McCarthy clan to training during their tender years.
In stark contrast to his many successes wearing the black and amber at inter-county level Liam has met with very little joy in the honours stakes on the competitive Kilkenny club front. In underage fare he did pick up an U-16 League and Championship and a Minor Championship but Piltown's Adult hurlers have hit upon hard times recently. They won the Junior Championship in 1981 and contested a number of Intermediate finals and semi-finals before slipping back to Junior status. They will play no more part in this year's Championship either, having lost out in the South area final.
Things have been different at county level thought McCarthy has tucked into his pocket All-Ireland Minor, U-21, Junior, and Senior medals in '81, '84, '86 and '92 respectively. It is worth noting that in the 1981 Minor final The Cats beat Galway on a scoreline of 1-20 to 3-10. Liam McCarthy lined out at right corner of attack in a team which also boasted the services of Ray Heffernan in the forward line. Playing on the losing side that day in the curtain raiser to Offaly's big breakthrough were such notables as Pete Finnerty, Michael "Hopper" McGrath, Eanna Ryan and Michael Coleman - some of whom will stand defiantly in Kilkenny's path once again on Sunday, this time with an even bigger prize at stake.
All they really care about in Kilkenny is their team's annual quest to bring All-Ireland glory to the county. The League to a Kilkenny man is something of a charade. A testimony to the fact that League honours aren't exactly held in high esteem in Leinster's hurling stronghold is that Liam McCarthy doesn't know off hand how many League titles he has won with the Black N' Amber steam-roller: "I know we beat Wexford in some home final or other and then went to New York but we're not too bothered about it. All they want in Kilkenny is All-Irelands". After winning the Minor title in 1981 Liam went on to play U-21 for the following three years winning a Leinster medal in '82, going out in the first round the next year and going all the way in '84 beating Tipp in the final by 1-12 to 0-11. Liam insists that winning the All-Ireland Minor final was the victory which gave him most joy in his career. "I was young at the time and I appreciated the big occasion. We were on before the Galway/Offaly Senior final and it was my first time in front of a big crowd," he recalls. Indeed, that game more than any signalled the coming of age of one of Kilkenny's most reliable sliothar bashers, the Harristown man grabbing the goal and point which ultimately made the difference between the two sides.
One thing which you definitely won't find in the Kilkenny camp no matter how long and hard you look- is complacency. McCarthy is only too aware that they'll have their work cut out to unlock the resolute Galway defence. "They are very strong, tough and physical and they have a very solid defence. Their left half back Padraig Kelly who'll be marking me is a fine player. Galway are going to be hard to beat. We're expecting a tough, hard match. We'd have been much more confident if we were playing Tipperary in the final," he concedes, adding that he was a little surprised to see the Tribesmen put a halt to the Premier County's progress. "Tipperary played so well in the Munster final we thought if they played like that again they'd win. But then, having said that, we were lucky to beat Galway in last year's 'semi'," he points out.
Liam, who says it broke his heart to miss the Leinster final with a wrist injury, is wary of Galway's great strength right down the middle - Tracey, McInerney, Coleman, Cooney and Rabbite forming a powerful backbone for the side. To counteract the threat of the Tribesmen the Piltown clubman believes that Kilkenny are going to have to raise their own game at centrefield and he points out the importance to The Cats of an injury free Michael Phelan in full flight. "To beat Galway we're going to need all fifteen players hurling well. Otherwise we're in trouble." Kilkenny have had a couple of scares en route to the final, notably in their first match against Offaly and in the Leinster final against Wexford. "Against Offaly we were lucky to get out", admits the wing forward.
"Offaly have a very strong defence and we always find it very hard to beat them." but what is it that always gets Noresiders out of jail? Liam McCarthy puts their never ending ability to pull through down to a bit of skill, a bit of craft and lots of self-confidence. "We don't panic anymore. We take our points instead of going for goals and never throw in the towel." While the public in Kilkenny are oozing with confidence Ollie Walsh and his team are keeping their heads screwed on. They know a difficult task lies ahead. McCarthy expects the game to be fast and furious for the first 15-29 minutes but says that he doesn't mind what type of game it is so long as Kilkenny emerge victorious. Which is a valid point - try telling a Dublin footballer that at least he was involved in the best game of the Championship in the semi-final against Derry and I don't think it would offer much consolation! A son of Andy and Peggy McCarthy, Liam has three brothers (P.J. Denis and Andrew) and two sisters (Siobhan and Kay). All three brothers hurl with the local club and Denis played U-21 and Junior for the county. Although football is certainly the poor relation in Kilkenny Liam has a bit of flair for the big ball code and helped his club reach last year's Junior Championship final. He tells us that when he retires from hurling and gets a bit more time on his hands he is going to do some serious golfing. An employee of two years at Waterford Stanley, he spends his working day assembling oil, solid fuel and gas cookers.
The success of Kilkenny's underage hurlers in reaching both Minor and U-21 finals would suggest a bright future for hurling Noreside. Liam, however, is quick to point out that the current Kilkenny side isn't exactly over the hill and consequently the youngsters coming through won't find it easy to break through: "The team is very young, Michael Walsh and myself being the oldest, so we could be staying together for another couple of All-Ireland." All that remains to be seen now is whether Liam McCarthy the player can steal the show from Liam McCarthy the Cup. Either way, the name is guaranteed to cross the lips of everybody in Croke Park more than once on Sunday.
Written by Hogan Stand Magazine
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