“IT is not the destination but the journey that is often more important.”
A very apt choice of words this week from Stephen Lucey as he brought an end to 17 years wearing the green of Limerick with the senior footballers and hurlers.
In total 67 championship appearances - over 30 in each code for the dual star.
The 35 year old certainly enjoyed his time in green but wasn’t blessed with the silverware he would have wished.
He made his first senior hurling appearance for Limerick in the league of 1999 and he last played inter-county hurling championship in 2011.
He was involved with the Limerick senior footballers from 2000 to this past season, although was dogged by injury throughout 2015.
The defender played in the 2007 Munster and All Ireland SHC finals - losing both. On the hurling field, he won Munster and All Ireland U-21 titles in 2000 and 2001 and in 2011 a National Hurling League Division Two title.
As a footballer, he played in four losing Munster SFC finals. He won National Football League Division 4 titles on two occasions and was a McGrath Cup winner. In 2000 he won a Munster U-21 football title, but lost that year’s All Ireland U-21 final to Tyrone.
The Croom man also played both hurling and football with Munster in the Railway Cup.
“We had a lot of ups and down - there were a few dark days but you have to take the rough with the smooth. You don’t really enjoy it unless you get over the line and we were so close - losing to Cork in 2006 by one point in the All Ireland quarter final, extra time to Tipperary in 2005 and let blew an opportunity against Clare in 2008 in Munster. I beat Cork in minor, U-21 and senior football but didn’t get over the line in finals but they were still great times,” recalled the Roxboro based GP this Wednesday lunch-time.
Of his many attributes Lucey’s passion was always like a beacon on the field of play.
“I can think back to when I was 14 and staying up until one in the morning the night before the 1994 All Ireland hurling final. I had a straw hat and cut pictures of all the players out of the paper and then had a cornflakes box and with two balls of red and blue string I hung all the players down off the side of the hat for the game. That’s what the game means to people because we just love it,” he laughed.
This week was he happy that his decision to retire is correct?
“The time has come to call it a day in the Limerick colours. I have represented Limerick since U-16 and have been part of Limerick Senior Hurling and Football teams for 17 years, since I was brought onto the Senior hurling panel by Eamon Cregan in 1999. It was an honour and a privilege to have represented Limerick for so long and I was lucky enough to have played championship 67 times, over 30 times in each code,” he explained.
“When you get a bit older you begin to wonder will I or won’t I but for the last few years I knew I wasn’t ready but now the time is right - last year was a write-off because of a recurring calf injury.”
He added: “I’ve fantastic friendships - all the U-21s, the senior hurlers and footballers - and they are golden to me”.
There were many tussles and debates over the years about the dual role but it was simple for the Lucey.
“I always just wanted to play.
“It was very nearly rugby for me until I was about 13-14 and then it was off to Cistercian College Roscrea and it was nothing but hurling for four years with John and Paddy O’Brien (Toomevara and Tipperary) in the two massive hurling alleys in the school. With Croom we were winning U-14, U-16, minor and U-21s and it was all dual the whole way up so I knew nothing else,” he explained.
“Hurling would probably have been no 1,” he said, when pushed for a choice.
“When I think back to the U-21s we really were riding a crest of the wave in those years. While I was watching this year’s Limerick U-21s they reminded me of us - such passion, energy and a will to win. A very close and tight knit team from players to management.”
In 2007 Lucey was selected at full back in the GPA Team of the Year.
“2007 was a great year and those three Tipperary games took on a life of their own. We had played them so many times since about 2000 and everyone just became enthralled in 2007 and there was an out powering of emotion when we finally beat them,” he said.
Juggling hurling and football for so long Lucey appears to be among the last of a dying breed.
“The demands of inter county hurling and football have escalated dramatically, and I would like to thank my girlfriend Fiona for her understanding and the sacrifices she made to support my hurling and football career. There is now way more demand - you can hear of five or six sessions a week in November and that’s not to mention in-putting information into an app all day long. I think you could try it (dual players) for a few years - and definitely if you were an established player - but it really depends on things like kids, wife, jobs and where you play on the field - there are so many factors but it’s definitely more difficult now,” he said.
For now he is enjoying some free weekends and playing with Croom.
“I’ve never had an extended run with Croom so I’m looking forward to that - even playing challenge games is something I rarely got to do.”