Extract from interview with Sambo McNaughton:
It started with bean cans and two ends of broken hurls.
“We used to cut a bean tin, and knock it flat with a hammer. Then wrap the tin around the broken bits, putting the nails right through to the other side to flatten them down so it was locked. If your hands slipped down the hurl you could cut the hands off yourself. But that’s the only thing we hurled with.
“I remember a Priest, Father White, telling me once, I used to walk up and down the line when I was a kid, more or less trying to nick a stick, he gave me a license to steal hurls for the rest of my life. He used to say, ‘If you take the odd stick, you’re not going to Hell for it!’”
Society’s changed, he sees it in the way his children have three inside toilets in their house and televisions in the bedroom. But still some things remain the same; as girls and boys walk up through the village, they still carry hurls, albeit ones with fancy grips and metal bands.
“They might have one or two at home, but they still will have a stick. Basically, it’s the number one sport in the area. Thank God, because it’s a great game.”
It took him all the way through early adulthood. When he was at school, he won his – and the club’s – first Antrim title when Ruairi Ogs put a halt to Ballycastle’s gallop towards the four-in-a-row in 1981.
When they got back to the village, he stood beside John Delargy, the recognisable hurling man from the town and watched all the bandwagon-jumpers congratulate him. Nobody said anything to him because they thought he was too young to be a hurler.
He won the north Antrim Hurler of the Year award on the back of those performances at the age of 16, but when the team repaired to the pub for the evening, he got himself a burger in the chip shop and went home to prepare for school the next day.
If you would like to read the whole story, buy the current issue of Gaelic Life – published February 9 – online or in your local newsagent