Character built in the playground

Excellent article on John Power and Noel Hickey last week. That duo performed their duties on the field in a like manner – absolutely no dirt dished out - but no nonsense tolerated, writes Ned Egan.

Excellent article on John Power and Noel Hickey last week. That duo performed their duties on the field in a like manner – absolutely no dirt dished out - but no nonsense tolerated, writes Ned Egan.

I suppose that was always what appealed to me – their ability to hurl under the direst of circumstances - their ‘Horatius or Sarsfield on the Bridge’ attitude - their contempt for ‘show ponies’, sporting dilettantes, or ‘Hair Oil Harry’ posers. When Power and/or Hickey played, no fan ever sought a refund at the gate.

The Hickey name reminded me of a section of my life when I was hungry, smelly, filthy, flea-infested and weak. At school it was, in the late 40’s. And three bullies made a hard life even harder. A cruel nickname had been stuck on me, and when I would react to never-ending taunting, I’d be beaten relentlessly. Latent TB didn’t help my fitness level.

Anyway, I was packed off to Peamount Sanatorium for a long spell, where, for some reason, bullying didn’t seem to exist. And the food, though not exactly Ritz cuisine, was designed to put a bit of strength in and weight on.

Back without boils

I came back from there, minus the TB thingy (my two lovely older sisters had died from it.)

I also came back without boils, chilblains, ring-worm, constant blood poison – and fleas: DDT had arrived. And, of course, I no longer had the old debilitating weakness. What I also lacked when I returned to ‘The School from Hell’ was naivety. The crafty little Dubs – who treated me very fairly from day one -showed me many tricks.

Walter Lally – a complete young gentleman – of whom I write elsewhere – made two points to me: ‘never, ever start a fight you can’t win and always wait for your chance, it’ll come’. Walter was right. It did.

The bullies were waiting for me when I got back. We’ll disguise their names as Larry, Bill and Sean. All gone to their Maker now. Didn’t turn out bad lads afterwards; one of them actually became a close pal of mine. Anyway, I followed Walter’s advice – didn’t react to the taunting and name-calling, avoided confrontations, put up with being called a ‘cowardy custard.’ Not happy, but knew I had to wait.

Then, one evening when in the village shop, I heard that Bill was sick. Which left two: manageable. Next morning I was up early for school – almost causing my ma to have a heart attack! But I turned right, and went to meet Sean. When I stepped out of the bushes beside the road, he begged for mercy. Too late.

He went back home again, looking not quite as well as previously.

Issued the challenge

Down to school then, and issued the challenge to Lar. No fear in that lad – the offer was accepted. At lunch time a circle formed, and it was on. Lar, who had been to a few pictures in the Gaiety in Callan, had a heavy enamelled fob-watch chain which he wrapped around his knuckles. There was no referee available – and I had no chain.

What matter; no going back now. It was even-Steven for a while - then Lar caught me a real dinger on the cheek-bone with his ‘mailed fist.’ (As it turned out, the mark of the links stayed on my face for months).

The ‘loaded’ punch stunned me, and I went down. Quick as a flash, his cousin grabbed my arms from behind, and Lar came in ‘for the kill.’

But a big tall rangy lad, who’d never had a fight in his life, and who was to end up as the most well-liked person in our parish, stepped in and grabbed the ‘grabber!’

“Fair play for Egan, now lads,” he roared. “Fair play now - get back, Lar – get back until he gets up.” The brawl was short and savage after that, but I came out on top – thanks to the Peamount grub. And Walter Lally’s advice.

But mostly thanks to the tall peace-loving boy who stepped in to save my bacon, at a critical moment. Rest in Peace, Andy, you lovely, sound man.

Yes, it was one Andy Hickey, father of all the hurlers.