Hurling

How Dessie Hutchinson Kept The Hurling Fires Burning At Brighton

How Dessie Hutchinson Kept The Hurling Fires Burning At Brighton

Dessie Hutchinson's performances for Waterford in this year's championship have belied it being his debut inter-county season.

Of the players lining out in this weekend's All-Ireland final, Hutchinson is the top scorer from play with 2-8. Only the Limerick and Waterford free takers - Aaron Gillane with 2-34 and Stephen Bennett with 1-44 - have scored more in total.

His exploits have been built on two high-scoring campaigns with Ballygunner in the Waterford championship: 4-27 in 2019 and 6-23 this year.

Those numbers are all the more remarkable considering Hutchinson spent five of his 24 years in England playing football with Brighton. He joined the Premier League club at 16, signed a pro deal at 18 and then returned to Ireland at 21 to play League of Ireland with Waterford.

"It's so cut-throat over there you wouldn't believe it," Hutchinson, who played in centre midfield, told Balls last year about his time in England.

"The lad sitting next to you is hoping you're injured for six months so he can get looked at more than you are."

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Hutchinson spent six months with Waterford, helping them qualify for Europe, but realised if he was going to make progress he'd have to head back across the water. "At the time, it wasn't for me," he said.

At just 22, he retired from professional football and embraced what had been on his mind all along: hurling.

While at Brighton, he'd listen to Ballygunner games on WLR FM as his brothers Wayne and JJ won county titles with the club. He also roped some Brighton teammates into pucking around in the back garden or on the beach.

Hutchinson arrived at Brighton in 2013 at the same time as Dylan Barnett, now with Bray Wanderers, and Manchester-born Ben Barclay, who plays for Accrington Stanley.

The three became close. Being away from home at such a young age united them. Hutchinson and Barnett lived together with the same host family and Barclay would call around on days off.

They moved out a few years later and into houses owned by the club. The two Irish boys lived together in one and Barclay was next door.

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Hutchinson had brought three hurleys with him. The actor wasn't on the stage, but he was still practising his lines.

"There was a shared back garden," Barclay tells Balls.

We were bored, I guess, and Dessie was always itching to play or had his mind on hurling or something back home. We just got the hurls out and had a puck in the back garden.

The three of us would stand in a triangle and hit it to each other. We'd make a few games out of it. Dylan didn't really play when he was younger. We were kind of equal.

We'd play red arse. You'd have three lives. If you dropped it, you'd be bent over the wall, shorts down and the others got a shot each.

Mercifully, they played with a tennis ball and not a sliotar. Hutchinson took the hurley with the loose band to give the others a chance.

Occasionally, Aaron Connolly and Jayson Molumby - both of whom came to Brighton after Hutchinson - would call around. Hutchinson made his Brighton senior debut in 2017 against Bournemouth in the League Cup alongside Molumby in midfield.

"Where we were was quite near the training ground," says Barclay.

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"Some days, lads would pop in on the way back home. When they came around, if we were playing in the back, they'd get involved.

"Jayson thought he was good, but he wasn't great. I think Aaron used to play. He's from Galway and was quite keen to play.

"You could always tell that Dessie [had skill]. Just his touch, it came a bit more naturally - he didn't have to think about it."

When he left Brighton in 2018, Hutchinson left the hurleys behind at Barclay's request. He'd puck against the wall but couldn't persuade teammates to play.

The two have remained close and are in regular contact. Barclay has tracked Waterford's progress closely this year. The quarter-final win against Clare - in which Hutchinson scored 2-2 - is the only game he's missed. Though, he did catch the highlights.

In the summer of 2018, Barclay travelled to Waterford and took in a club hurling game with Hutchinson. After someone got a slap of a hurley, a fight kicked off and the match was abandoned. "That was my first experience of a game," says Barclay. "We were laughing about that. No one was hurt."

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This weekend, he will be watching as Hutchinson aims to help end Waterford's 61-year All-Ireland championship famine. Looking back it's no surprise to Barclay that his friend will be at Croke Park rather than tuning in on TV.

"I don't think he didn't enjoy Brighton or didn't want to be there, it was more that he missed family," he says.

"Everyone did at times. Some times are harder than other.

"He definitely missed playing hurling. You could tell that he had a love for that more than football. He was always checking scores, getting streams up, watching games.

"It was always on his mind. Every time he went back for an international break, or got a chance to go home, he'd always come back and tell the story that he was playing in a little game, or having a puck with his mates. He was just always mad for it."

See Also: Limerick Selector Donal O'Grady Calls For Black Card In Hurling

donal o'grady limerick black card hurling

PJ Browne
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