Nine-time All Ireland winner, Noel Hickey, is well used to gracing the field in Croke Park but he is facing a new experience when he does so in a Dunnamaggin jersey.
The Kilkenny champions face Castleblayney in the All Ireland Junior Club Championship final on Sunday in what will be their first outing in GAA HQ.
The stadium itself adds a further layer of anticipation to an already nerve-wracking All Ireland Final and Hickey has been quick to impart some knowledge on his teammates so that they are not over-awed by their surroundings.
“I played here on many a big day but to come back up here now with the club it’s brilliant. Even just looking out around the pitch, it’s just unbelievable to get out and play there, it’s a fantastic achievement.
“Even just looking around now, you could spend 10 minutes looking around the place and taking it all in. I just say to the lads, ‘look, get out, and have a look around, but once the game starts, tune into it’. You try and pass it on any little bit of help or information you can to the lads.”
Hickey collected his first senior All Ireland medal back in 2000. At 38, he knows that this might well be his last opportunity to win another and it would be all the more special to do it for the club he has represented for almost three decades.
“When I won All-Ireland with Kilkenny, I’d say ‘Jesus this is great, this is the best All-Ireland ever’ but if we could win this with the club now, it would be fantastic because you are playing with lads who might never get the chance to play in Croke Park, and here we are now with the chance to represent the parish.
“I’m hurling with lads there since I was 10 years of age, so to get up to Croke Park is fantastic. If we get over the line, it’ll be a great buzz for all the young lads in the parish. It’s going to be fantastic and we are really looking forward to it.”
Dunnamaggin have been on somewhat of a rollercoaster ride over the past number of years. They were relegated from their senior status in 2012 and dropped down to junior level two years ago.
Hickey is keen to see the club return to the success they enjoyed in the ’90s and though he knows that they are quite a bit away yet, he is glad to see them on the ascendency once again.
“I was 16 when I won the senior championship, it is the only senior title we’ve won. The full-back line that day was myself and my two brothers. It was great to win it but I think it went over my head a bit.
“You’d appreciate [the success] more now. Back in the 90’s we would have been up in senior, we were on a decent run then, but the last few years we got relegated from senior in 2012, then relegated from intermediate in 2017 and the club was kind of on a downward spiral.
“It’s great to get back on winning ways. The underage structures are strong at the minute so things are looking up for Dunnamaggin and long may it continue.”
Noel Hickey of Dunnamaggin was speaking ahead of the AIB GAA All-Ireland Junior Hurling Club Championship Final taking place at Croke Park on Sunday, February 10th.
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