The traditional ash hurleys
There are fifteen Tipperary hurleymakers listed in the Tipperary GAA website, but they won't be hanging up their bandsaws and sanders just yet, despite the launch of a new composite hurley.
The launch of a new composite hurley, which is being endorsed by Tipperary All-Star Seamus Callanan, will not force the fifteen Tipperary hurleymakers listed on the Tipperary GAA website to turn off their bandsaws and sanders just yet, The Tipperary Star can reveal.
The hurley which was described by the Drom-Inch man, as 'the future' was launched amid much fanfare this week by Antrim hurler Neil McManus, along with Kilkenny's Richie Hogan and Seamus Callanan, all of whom have been deeply involved in the research and development of a product that could in time eliminate the need to harvest ash trees for the manufacture of hurls.
Tipperary's Seamus Callanan in action with the traditional ash hurley.
Ash dieback disease has spread to every county in Ireland since its first discovery at a tree plantation in County Leitrim in 2012 and this has led to a race for a viable, and real alternative to be found. Cultec produced a hurley which has been approved by Croke Park, but the latest hurley by Reynolds Sports is being hailed by the trio as the closest thing to ash they have come across.
Given that upwards of 350,000 new hurleys are required in Ireland every year, the market is a substantial one, and up to now it has been, more of less, supplied by the traditional, hand crafted ash hurleys, coming in different shapes, sizes and weights.
Each composite hurley will be the same though, and while hoops can be applied and sanding is possible, one of the attractions is the fact that players can get used to a hurley and a replacement will be the very same.
Kilkenny's Richie Hogan.
However, ash hurleymakers are not too worried just yet. "We have seen a number of different non ash varieties coming onto the market over the years but players still want ash hurleys. I haven't seen the composite hurley and I would need to have one in my hands before I could make a judgement on them. I'm not too worried at this stage," one renowned hurley maker told The Tipperary Star.
Another said, "It is getting harder and harded to source good ash and there are very few young plantations in Ireland which means that there will be shortages in years to come. This is something which needs to be tackled by the Government but it is being ignored. As far as the new hurleys go, I still think hurlers will want what they have been used to. They can come to any hurleymaker and get exactly what they want, to suit their own preferences. That's the difference and for top player, small things make a big difference."
The ash tree with hurleys in their various states of production.
There are also a substantial number of hurley repair people in Tipperary who mend hurleys for clubs and individuals. Their skills could also be affected if the new composite hurley takes off in a big way. But, there is a long way to go before this happens. One repairman said, "Normally, if a person gives you a hurley to repair, it's because they love that hurley and they wish to continue using it - they don't want to discard it, just because it has been damaged. As long as players love their hurleys they will need to have them fixed at some stage, and as long as they are using ash hurleys, there will be a demand to have them repaired."
Tipperary people will watch with interest to see how Seamus Callanan gets on with his Reynolds composite hurley on Sunday against Offaly in the Allianz National Hurling League quarter final.