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Dave Guiney Wexford
Sunday, 10th August 2003

Winning on the rebound.
© Copyright The Sunday Independent.

Winning on the rebound.

Dermot Crowe
August 10, 2003

IT'S pure Wexford, really, the Dave Guiney story. A lesson in overcoming the odds and shining a torch through the darkness. In this homogenised day of single twenty-somethings he comes riding into town at 33, a family man, to launch his inter-county career. Beautiful.

We're in the rural idyll of Rathnure on a glorious Saturday morning, the sun beating down, where Dave is explaining how the local Blackstairs Mountains were named. There are a series of incremental peaks to be scaled before you reach the top. You think you're there but you're not. It's a test of will and patience.

"Ah, this place is just like Heaven for me," he says, breathing in the clear mountain air. He came here to live in 1994 and his twin brother Rod followed him a year later from Rosslare. But he'd been "around" for three years before that. Rathnure is his wife's homeplace.

In Rathnure, hurling is a way of life. He's spent the morning coaching local kids in Nicky Rackard Park, a medley of boys and girls between eight and 10 years of age. His son Jack, 10, was among them. Jack began hurling at six and Dave keeps reminding him how lucky he is.

Dave was 13 when he first hurled, but the sum of his hurling up to minor age, he reckons, was no more than six months. Effectively, he started at 18. "I had a lot of catching up to do." Rosslare Harbour, close to where the Guineys were reared, didn't have a hurling tradition.

As an added encumbrance he didn't possess natural flair. His twin brother Rod could leave the stick down for a year and pick it up again without looking gauche; he couldn't. But he loved it once he started and worked like a demon to improve.

Rosslare had a struggling junior hurling club then. Gaelic football reigned and in the Guiney household rugby was the main game. His Kerry father Jack represented Ireland in rugby after the second world war. His travels took him to Dunboyne where he lived for 20 years before resettling in south Wexford.

He and his wife bought The Welcome Inn pub in Kilrane, a few miles from Rosslare, and it was there the twins were born. When they were growing up former Wexford hurlers like Billy Rackard and Ned Wheeler would drink in the bar but the game didn't engage the Guineys' interest.

"Hurling didn't come into it. Our heroes were Ollie Campbell, Moss Keane, Phil Orr," explains Rod. "We went to two (international rugby) matches each year." If they had other heroes they tended to be Kerry footballers. Mick O'Dwyer and Pat Spillane would drop in, while in Dunboyne Jack Guiney had struck up a friendship with Seán Boylan.

But hurling - he didn't really get it. And never got the chance to. By the time the boys became teenagers Jack Guiney had passed away. He left a legacy though. "The world would have stopped when he died," says Rod. "He always encouraged us to be competitive, no matter how good the fella next to you was; (that) he was only human."

Jack Guiney had a fine athletic pedigree and a big personality. He won All-Ireland medals in track and field events but gained most notoriety as a rugby player for Leinster and Ireland who in 1946 roused controversy in a match against the British Army at Ravenhill. "He turned his arse to the British flag," says Rod. "Dad was very much a republican." Maybe because of that, or maybe not, he missed out on the 1948 Grand Slam winning team.

"I suppose we had to grow up quicker than most kids," says Dave. "He instilled in us a kind of a workmanlike approach to sport and at a very young age he would have had us competing against each other, at boxing, or running against each other, or playing rugby one-on-one and that brought out the best in us, the competitiveness in us."

At a very young age he had us competing against each other and that brought out the best in us.

Rosslare has changed since their day. The local club is now fervently chasing a Wexford intermediate hurling championship title, helped to a large extent by the crusading work of Liam Griffin, but when the Guineys were growing up it was, as Dave puts it, a "foreign" sport. They hurled at junior grade.

Both were green but fierce competitors who didn't take long to catch the eye of Wexford selectors. "I would never have been the type of player who believes you're born with a gift and blessed and all this kind of rubbish," states Dave. "Like, DJ Carey is the best hurler in Ireland at present because he hurls up against the wall every single day. And I keep coaching my young lads to do the same, the U-10s and U-8s. They'll set their own standards by themselves and not by someone else. It worked for me because I was told at 18-20 I'd never be any good at hurling."

But by 1990, three years after he took it up seriously, Guiney was on the county senior panel. Before that he had a tough learning curve. "I was getting knocked out, getting broken fingers, broken jaws, because I was going in all open, I didn't know how to protect myself."

Injuries would become synonymous with the twins. Dave came back from a cruciate operation in six months and has lost count of his injuries. "I've had seven operations," says Rod, "I think Dave has had three or four."

Dave has a stab at counting them. "Well," he starts, "the major ones would be broken hands, three or four times, broken arm, cruciate, bad groin tear, bad ankle tear, hamstrings - everything really - Gilmore's groin. Broken jaw, nearly lost an eye - hurling ball straight into the eye - when 18 and getting used to the game."

He explains: "I trained as hard as the body can go. That's probably why I got injured an awful lot: there's one gear in us (the Guineys) and that's high gear."

Five weeks before the 1999 Wexford county final he suffered a serious hamstring tear. A local physio told him he would be out for a year and a half. "So he went to this guy in Carlow, Anthony Geoghegan," recalls Rod, "who told him to sit in the Boro River which comes down from the mountain in Rathnure - it's icy cold - and take poitín to avoid getting hypothermia. He played corner-back in the county final."

He made one championship start in 1995, and didn't begin a game again until this year.

While Rod made the Wexford championship team in 1993 and would captain the side to the Leinster title four years later, Dave had to subsist on league games, the Oireachtas and Walsh Cup. He made one championship start against Westmeath in 1995 and didn't begin a match again until this year's qualifier against Waterford.

Now he's on a roll, facing his third championship match on the trot, having vindicated his selection with pleasingly low-drama performances. The closest he ever came previously to sampling such feats was in 1997 when he came on at half-time for Ger Cushe in the Leinster final.

The joy was short-lived. In the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary Rod got injured after five minutes and had to leave the pitch. Dave felt he would be sent on to mark John Leahy but the selectors chose John O'Connor instead. That was probably his greatest kick in the teeth.

There was a reluctance to play both Guineys in the same team because they hurled with an abandon when managers sometimes preferred more measure and calm. Dave was also let down by his clearances, which weren't as rakish as those of his chief rival for a corner-back spot at the time, Colm Kehoe.

But he clung on regardless. In 2001 he was with the squad to within two weeks of the championship when he tore his cruciate. Bang went the next two summers. Then John Conran arrived and gave him a return option.

"After winning the (Wexford) club champioship, and I had a good season, guys would he throwing around your name a little bit. We sat down and I was a little bit apprehensive about going back at 33; like, I don't mind the training, but I thought what was the point if I wasn't in with a shot (of a first-team place)."

The backdoor has saved him, he admits, enabling him to win a place on the rebound. "I'd be fairly dedicated to my sport and keep chipping away. I'm not a believer that at 19 or 20 years of age you're the best you can be. I think the rugby model would suit me a little bit more where you work on your game, you develop your game, you develop your strengths, and you mature later on in your career.

"I had a ball against Waterford and I really enjoyed myself against Antrim as well. There were days (before that) when I felt tempted to run out on the pitch on my own just to get out there for myself."

He's trained "very hard" to be where he is today according to his brother Rod. "They didn't have much confidence in him in Wexford and maybe I'm biased but I don't think he got a fair crack. They felt his style of hurling did not suit the team.

"His facial expression when the final whistle went against Waterford I won't forget; it would bring a tear to the eye."

In a fitness test under Liam Hennessy this year he finished second with Rory Mallon despite the taunts of the younger players, some almost half his age, that he'd be left behind. Whatever happens from here on, he can reflect on a career well spent. Not having started hurling earlier isn't something he dwells on.

"I always said I'd never retire with regrets. I'll give it my all and when you give it your all in a game, or in your career, you can retire happy then. That's as good as you were, you put in as much as you could put in. There's a great satisfaction in that.

"So like a guy that drinks pints and doesn't look after himself and when he's 35 and he's finished hurling would he have regrets? I'm sure he would. But when I'm 35 I won't have regrets because I mind myself, I train hard, I'm dedicated to my sport. I'll be as good as I can be."

After the sliotar the kids scamper, the young boys and girls of Rathnure. They finish each session with a match. Near the end one boy remonstrates with another: 'Why didn't you pass, I coulda scored?' The accused retorts: 'Go away. You never score.'

I won't forget his facial expression when the final whistle went against Waterford; it would bring a tear to the eye.

Soon, Dave blows the final whistle and they all scurry back to their homes, excited about the impending match with Cork. "They love the game here," he says. "When we used to play in Rosslare it was a bit of a struggle getting guys out to play. Whereas you can take it the whole parish will be at the match here. And there would be a clash of philosophies; I believe in hard work whereas a lot of traditional guys would let the hurling do the talking."

This gets his mind away from it but after what he's been through why would he want to? So, to Cork. "I think on any given day we are as good as any other team but I think it's important we play with passion. Kilkenny can go through the motions; they're so skilful and big and strong.

"It's a big 'ask' but the Wexford guys know that the responsibility comes down to each and every one of them. Man-for-man, yeah Cork are probably by far a better team than Wexford but we have to go out and bridge that gap through hard work and persistence."

He looks back on his career, much of the time spent living in the shadows, and talks of small yet important contributions that sustained him. But there was more to it than that. "Ah, it was very frustrating. At times you'd wonder what is it all about but you keep coming back to the same basic thing: I love the game and love being involved."

There were messages of encouragement from his family and people like George O'Connor. Or Ned Power and Marty Barrett from his schooldays. But ultimately what he has today he's earned for himself. "I suppose I was always told to stay disciplined at something if you were interested enough, to keep plugging away at it. Like, I was told very early on that I'd never be much good at hurling.

"There's years I thought I was cursed, so when you get the run of luck you might as well go with it. Enjoy it while it happens."

He's entitled to that much.

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