By Denis J. Croke
IT is like one of those obsolete questions you get at a table quiz – what well known Laois hurler has played in Croke Park but never hurled there? The answer is Willie Hyland who has represented Laois there at minor football level and Ireland in the Shinty series against Scotland.
“I’ve a bit of experience of it before so I’m fairly familiar with the surroundings I hope anyway,” says Willie one of Laois most experienced players. .
But to play so long for his county must surely involve a huge commitment?
“I enjoy it. It’s kind of a lifestyle choice. I suppose you build your life around it at times, you maybe sacrifice your own personal goals at home but look, it’s all worth it in the end. You search for days like this in Croke Park and hopefully we’ll get the reward at the end of the year,” he says.
“I don’t see it as a sacrifice either. It hasn’t held me back in life I don’t think, if anything it has kind of helped me in life. I got a lot of confidence in playing sport and that’s transferred into my working career.”
So does he prefer playing at centre-back or full-back?
“I pride myself on being versatile. I’ve played a lot of positions in the backs and what is required of lads nowadays is that you’ve to be comfortable with where you’re playing. You could be starting in a position but within five or 10 minutes you could be moved anywhere on the field so you have to be comfortable and confident enough in yourself to be able to deal with what comes at you.”
How has he found life under Eddie Brennan and the new back-room staff”
“They have their own approaches to it, they have their own new philosophies and ideas. They’re studying the game from a modern point of view and they’re trying to implement their style on us.
“They want the team to grow rather than them dictating to the team. They adapt their coaching techniques to some of our weaknesses, some of our strengths and build their game plan to what we do well; from watching us in our club championships to watching us play in the last few years with different inter-county teams.
“We’ve had a long road together so far this year and we’ve put a lot of tough miles in. We started off against Galway in the national hurling league in Salthill and we’ve come along way since then and I think we’re still developing.
“It’s down to the manager and the players that we’re still buying into what we’re working on and what we’re trying to achieve, which at the end of the day is to win the Joe McDonagh and get back into the Leinster championship.”
How does he feel about the challenge Westmeath will throw up?
“It will be a tough outing. They’ve been excellent this year. They won their own division in the league and they’re in good form in the Joe McDonagh. We’ve a lot of experience playing against them the last couple of years and there’s always been nothing between us.
“They beat us last year in our home ground so we’re under no illusions as to what we’re facing in Croke Park. The match the previous weekend gone by was only shadow-boxing really. That’s not really going to show us what they’ll be like on the day. It’s up to us to prepare as hard as we can to ensure that we come all guns blazing to fight fire with fire in Croke Park.”
Will Willie’s approach to the final be any different to any other game?
“I suppose I’m not really buying too much into the build up or anything like that, for me it’s another match and it’s a match to be won. But I think the crowd and the neighbours and the friends at home, they’re probably enjoying the build up more so, the opportunity to get on a train and go to Croke Park and support Laois.
“We (Laois people) have been guilty of following other counties come July, August and September at times, so it’s nice to be able to follow our own. Even last year with the footballers getting to the Leinster final, it gave the county a great lift and a great buzz.”