With every plaudit, every metaphor, every verbal trumpet of acclaim, every denomination of admiration having been used over and over again to laud the achievements of the two nine times medal winning All-Ireland hurling champions, Henry Shefflin and Noel Hickey, it is scarcely possible to imagine that any new verbal creativity can be structured to add to the lustre of both.
But needs must when needs demand. And you can never say enough about greatness, great achievement, great people. So on we march.
“I was very new to Callan CBS when I first encountered Noel Hickey,” explained Bro Damien Brennan when we asked him for his view on the teak tough Dunnamaggin defender.
“He was shy, very serious about any job he had to do, but I formed the opinion early, that this boy was a winner. He was an integral part of a very successful school team at the time, which went on to win the Leinster colleges final by beating a terrific St Kieran’s College team. I came to know him as a man of character, integrity, a man of honour, a real man.
“What you see is what you get. He was a terrific leader, who led by his deed, his commitment, his courage and bravery. He never opened his mouth, but his dedication to duty said more than words could ever hope to express.”
We located Tom Walsh, the retired teacher, who was closely associated with the many great hurlers that played under his stewardship over a very long number of years in Coláiste Eamon Ris. A great many of those former students went on to wear the black and amber with pride and distinction.
One can rattle off names like John Power, Denis Byrne, Noel, Jim, Canice and Tom Hickey, James Ryall, Adrian O’Sullivan, Paul Cahill, Declan Roche, Damien Cleere, David and Colin Herity, John Paul Corcoran, Ger Ronan, Sean Millea, Keith Doheny and Jason Corcoran.
“That is a fair body of great lads,” Tom reminded, “ and it would be completely disingenuous of me to single out any one from another. They each in their own time made a major contribution to the status of our school, and they each brought great honour to our small school.
“But with regard to Noel, the Hickey family made a magnificent contribution to Coláiste Eamon Ris, starting with Jim. But I would offer that the greatest supporter of the school was their mother Anne, whose dedication to her maternal duties in the face of terrible challenge - her husband Andy was taken from her side when all the lads were still small - was exemplary by any measure. She above any other is an extraordinary lady.”
At 32 years of age, with his five foot eleven inch frame carrying a thirteen and a half stone solid block of muscular menace for any who wished to test, Noel Hickey from Danganmore has taken full-back play to an inconceivable level thus far of acclaim. His nine Celtic crosses rests easily in his pocket, booty from his battles in All-Ireland senior winning finals.
His journeys have taken him into the arenas of a variety of differing challenges. From Galway to Limerick, from Clare to Wexford, from Cork to Tipp, Noel Hickey has manned up to the tests, filleting many more of his opponents than ever bested him.
He was one of those athletes who knew what he wanted. He knew what it would cost, and he was prepared to pay the price......unconditionally.
Brendan Fennelly was fortunate to have Noel Hickey on his under-21 panel when Dunnamaggin won the under-21 title in 1996. Noel was playing as a corner-back, an extremely young corner-back, at that stage.
“At the time he didn’t stand out as anything special,” said Brendan, the former Laois and recent times Carrickshock manager. “However, after we played Dicksboro in the senior championship semi-final in 1997, we had a challenge against Mullinahone in which I gave him about 10 minutes as a corner-back. He was so focussed, and so sure for that few minutes that I said to the selectors that we need to see a bit more from this lad.
“The following week we fired him in against the Waterford inter-county star, Billy O’Sullivan in another challenge against Ballygunner. I just couldn’t believe what I was looking at. He totally dominated O’Sullivan, showing composure way beyond his years. He was still only 16 years of age.
“Our minds were made up, but we kept the team under wraps until Sunday morning. We knew that we were facing a tough encounter against Carey, and Carter and Youngs Irelands of Gowran. We put the three Hickeys, Noel at two, Jim at three and Tom at four to take on D.J., Charlie and the other corner-forward. All three knew what was expected, and we won.
Never looked back
“But Noel was outstanding. He was on his way. The under-21 captaincy in 1999 showed his blossoming potential as a leader when Galway were put to the sword, and he has never looked back since.”
Was he the best full-back you have seen Brendan?
“Whilst I never thought that medals were reason enough to make a judgement call on such issues, nonetheless, Noel has nine, and how can anyone argue with that? He was the best that I have ever played with or seen.”
No argument from this quarter on the matter either.