"There are smarts to it. It isn't as simple as catch the ball and fire away" - Mackessy reflects on Poc Fada glory
Fionán Mackessy didn't have much heed for Poc Fadas when he competed in the Munster competition earlier in the year.
He only went that day, really, because of Ger McCarthy. He's a good hurling man in the Kerry county board and, having been nominated by him, Mackessy didn't want to let him down.
So off he went to Kerry Head.
Cold and inexperienced, he was a certified Poc Fada rookie who, aside from knowing that he had 'a good auld belt of a ball,' didn't really know much else.
But he knew enough to finish second that day and, somewhere high up in the Ballyheigue sky, he developed a bit of a taste for it.
Next up was the All-Ireland final, high up in the Cooley Mountains, and a caddie, a Cúltech and 48 long pucks later, Mackessy stood alone.
He was the first of his time, the only Kerryman ever to have been crowned King Poc.
There was a homecoming on Wednesday night for him, in his home parish of Ardfert and now his name is etched on the famous trophy, along with icons of the game like Brendan Cummins, Davy Fitzgerald, Pat Hartigan and Ger Cunningham.
Fionan Mackessy is the latest on the list.
"I couldn't believe my ears when they came up to me and told me that I'd won," Mackessy reflects.
"Going up, I just wanted to have the experience. I had nothing to lose. But look, I wanted to give it a right shot too and when I seen the cup, with all those names on it, it was unreal."
The Poc Fada is a great part of Gaelic tradition. The competition has been taking place in Louth since 1960 and as a test of skill as well as mental and physical strength, Mackessy loved every last bit of it. He can't wait to go back next year and he explains the whole thing to us just now.
"I was cold going down to the Munster edition," he tells us.
"You had a few good lads down there, Martin Stackpoole from Kerry, Colin Ryan from Limerick.
"But I was inexperienced. There are smarts to it, and you've to go around corners.
"Colin had all the antics down to a tee.
"It isn't as simple just catch the ball and fire away, you've to go around corners so you don't want to be wasting shots.
"And I wasted one or two. In fairness to Colin, he has an unbelievable belt of a ball and he bet me that day.
"But I was runner up and that got me through to the Cooley mountains last Monday."
And the final puck that won the cup for him pic.twitter.com/j1bP7oZ6nD
— Niall McIntyre (@NiallMcintyre) August 10, 2023
Mackessy drove four hours up the road from Kerry the night before to the Carrickdale hotel. He had a bit of craic with some of the referees and his fellow participants before going to bed, ahead of a 10am start the next day.
"So the course is five Kilometres.
"It's divided up into four parts. You start at the start-line going up the hill, there's a big crowd there, and there's rocks painted in yellow all the way up that you're aiming for.
"It's tough at the start, you're stuck in holes of water going up and you're just standing and bating it, because if you took a run up at that stage, you could fall over and break your ankle.
"Then you go around that cone and you're going across over a mountain, with a wind blowing in, and it's uphill and down-hill and sometimes you can't even see where you're going.
"So I brought my neighbour here Fionán Egan, I play hurling and football with him here in the club, as a caddie for me.
"He was acting as a target for me to hit. Everyone has their own gangs going around. And anyway he'd see the best place to land the sliotar, because you'd be hitting 110/120 metres so I'd aim for him. He was a great help for me all the way through," says Mackessy.
"A lot of it is about fitness, and footwork. It's a big mentality game too. Halfway through it, I was told I was two up so I just drove on from there."
Every participant has a ref following them, counting shots and ensuring they're all taken from the correct position. There are two ball-spotters to each competitor who find the ball, flag it - the process then is that you hold the hurley out left or right of the flag and strike from there.
Mackessy won the competition in 48 pucks, the same amount taken by second place finisher Colin Ryan - the fact that his final puck cleared the finish line puck by 62 metres to Ryan's 16 giving him the win.
"I got a Cúltech hurley last week off Mike Buckley," says Mackessy, "Because I seen Colin Ryan was using one in Ballyheigue so I said I might as well chance one.
"So I went to my local field last week and just hit 30 balls to get used to it. I said I might as well use this because I was hitting it an extra metre or two to my normal hurley.
"Everyone's kind of in the same boat really because you're hitting over bushes and stones and rivers. You'd be drowned. My socks and boots were absolutely saturated after the last day."
Those are the joys of it.
"With Crotta winning the championship on Sunday, Kerry hurling was gone mad for a few days there," adds Mackessy, who is doing a PHD in agriculture in MTU.
"We had a bit of a homecoming in the club, organised by by St Brendan's Hurling club, it was brilliant last night. Went down to our local club and had sandwiches and beverages so it was brilliant, and fair play to them for organising it."
For now, it's back to club football for Mackessy, who has previously won an All-Ireland minor football medal with Kerry, Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup All-Stars for MTU, as well as All-Ireland minor and under-21 b hurling medals for his county.
But this was a novelty he won't forget in a hurry.
"I'll have to be back next year," he adds, before paying a big tribute to Martin Donnelly, the competition's proud sponsor.
"He's a gentleman, he has an unbelievable interest and is very proud of the competition. So I really want to thank him. I enjoyed every bit of it."
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