Author Archives: Brendan Ó Sé

All-Ireland Hurling Final 2018 Pt 2

Sunday’s All-Ireland Final was the 15th All-Ireland Final I have been to, but the first one that did not involve Cork. Back in May when I set out on this project the dream was that the Rebels would reach the final, win it and that there would be a glorious homecoming back to Leeside for Liam McCarthy after, what is for us, a huge wait of 13 years. Not to be. Not this year. No, this year was destined to be Limerick’s.

I got the Luas into town about 10.30. It was busy, even at that early hour. At each stop more and more fans got on. Hushed conversations about tickets, rumours of injured players and who had predicted what in the Sunday papers could be heard. Getting off at Stephen’s Green and heading down Grafton Street the green of Limerick  began to become very evident and outnumbered the maroon of Galway. Young families decked out in green pushing buggies, groups of young fellas caped in Limerick flags out looking for an early house to settle the nerves and elderly gentlemen with discreet greens walking alone, all killing time, trying to stay occupied until the throw-in at 3.30.

The Lyons family from Kilcormannan

“I’m a teacher. The kids in my class got me this t-shirt last year. It has brought me luck thus far. Let’s hope it continues today.” Vincent Brannelly told me.

Vincent Brannelly

“I flew in from Denmark yesterday, but I’ll tell ya, if we win today, it might be a long time before I get back.” Frank O’ Carroll (on left) told me. Here he is with his friends Tadhg Carey and Liam Horgan. The lads had tickets for the banquet after the match. I can only imagine the craic they had at that.

Frank O’ Carroll, Tadhg Carey and Liam Horgan having a few pre-match calmers

“The two Mannions. They’re my favourite players.” Young Darragh Monaghan told me. “Mine too!” said his brother Cormac.

Edel and Helen Monaghan with Darragh and Cormac Monaghan and Breda Gardiner

“We’ve a Cork lad with us! Look at him!” “Make sure you say I’m 9 years hanging around with these lads.” John Buckley from Cork told me. “I’ll be slaughtered!”

We’ve a Cork lad with us

Gas lads enjoying the craic of All-Ireland Final day.

From left to right: Rob Henehan, Laurence Hogan, Will Hayes, Darrach Skelly and John Buckley – ‘the Cork lad’.

“Don’t kill me now, but for the life of me I cannot remember your name.” I said. “That is Sir William O’ Dea.” his match day friend John Lillie told me. Willie was too young to remember 1973 but his two friends John Lillie and John Keating did. “What stands out for ye about the day?” I asked. “The bloody rain. The rain and the ink from the paper hats running down my face!” John Lillie said.

John Lillie, Wille O’ Dea and John Keating

“What do I remember from ‘73? The rain! It was torrential. That and the pitch invasion afterwards. It will stay with me forever but I hope today will be better.” Bill Chalk told me.

Bill Chalk

“They were asking me in check in in Gatwick if it was March 19th. No, March the 17th is Patrick’s Day and no, it’s the All-Ireland. Limerick are in it. Sure they didn’t have a clue.” David Lysaght told me. “How’d ya get your ticket?” I asked. “Would you believe I promised a Wexford man in London I’d buy 50 cases of his gin off him. I work in live music venues. Ya, he got me the ticket. 50 cases of Bonak Gin now. But it will be worth it if they win. “

David Lysaght

“Oh, we’re friends now, but come five o’clock we mightn’t be!” Breen Doris from Galway told me. “Ya, he might have to take the bus and I’ll get the train!” Colm Woods said.

Breen Dorris from Galway and Colm Woods from Limerick

Over the course of the past three months and sixteen games I’ve gotten to see familiar faces at the games.  Always been a pleasure to meet Galwayman John Ward at the games. Always up for a chat and to display the colours.

John Ward from Galway selling matchday colours

“OK. I am confused. That’s a Kerry jersey, but you have a Limerick flag and Limerick hat. What’s going on?” I asked. “Well, I wanted to get a Limerick jersey but they were all sold out. So, the only one that was left that was green was this one.”Luke Fox who was heading to Croke Park with his dad Ger told me.

Ger and Luke Fox

“I’ve been going to All-Irelands for every year for the past 20. I haven’t missed one in that 20 years.” “I’m a Kilkenny man.” Tom Corcoran told me. “So, you’ve seen great days here at Croke Park. What has been the best for you? “2010.” “Tipp won that.” I said. “It was a brilliant game of hurling.” Tom said. “But ye lost?” “Still, it was the best.” “What about 2009? The 4-in-a-row; that was a great game?” “It was, it was that.”

Tom Corcoran

“Galway girl!” Ji Jay told me. “Ye’re following Galway girl because of Ed Sheeran?” I asked. “Yes. Ed Sheeran. Galway girl!” he replied.

Ji Jay and Kelly Lo from China

“We won!”

Karoline McKeogh and Tommy Rehilane

“We lost!” “But we both saw them win last year, but it is still very hard!”

John and Aaron Fahy

“You got married last week? The All-Ireland is your honeymoon?” “No. We postponed when Limerick got to the final. We will go now in October. But this is better than a honeymoon.” “Where’s your husband now?” “Inside in Gill’s getting us drinks!” “That’s the way to have it.” I said.

Pat O’ Brien and daughter Martina Burke

“We did it!”

Joanne McCarthy Colbert and Kadie Colbert

Big gang of delighted Limerick supporters

And so it comes to an end. This has been the most wonderful experience for me. Sure, Cork did not make my dreams come true, but I am very proud of them. They played some magnificent hurling and won out in Munster. We will look to next year. I got a feeling it will be Cork’s year. For now, it is all about Limerick. So happy for the great people I met from Limerick over the summer that 45 years has been bridged. Congratulations again!

I cannot finish up here without thanking Bord Gais Energy, in particular Conor Barron who was so supportive in getting the project off the ground. Ellen Mackessy was fantastic to work with throughout and am really grateful to her. Thanks to Karena also and all at Bord Gais Energy.

To everyone who stopped and chatted and shared their stories with me – a huge thanks. I will never forget it.

Here’s to dreaming it all up again for 2019. Here’s to hurling!

The heart of hurling

 

 

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All-Ireland Hurling Final 2018 Pt 1

The pre-match parade

78 minutes and 38 seconds into Sunday’s All-Ireland Hurling Final and Joe Canning stands over a free in his own half under the Hogan stand. His Galway side that he has carried for the most part of this game find themselves trailing by 1 point. We are over time. A full 1 minute and 38 seconds of the 8 added on minutes over.  The 82,000 inside the stadium and the millions watching on TV and listening on the radio hold their breath. Could Canning level the match? A Galway side that looked dead and buried on 68 minutes when Shane Dowling scored Limerick’s 3rd goal to give them a 8-point lead somehow rallied to bring the destiny of the Liam McCarthy for 2018 to a 1-point game. Joe Canning has been in this position before. In 2012, not too far from the spot he is now standing on, he scored a free into the Hill 16 end to salvage a draw for Galway against Kilkenny. This time he is further out and facing the Canal end a full 100 metres away. But this is Joe Canning; no ordinary man, no ordinary hurler. This has been the season of the comeback in hurling. Sides have seen big leads clawed back. And in the back of every Limerick person’s mind is 1994. Could Limerick trip up when the end line is so close in sight again? Canning lifts and strikes. The sliotar soars and sails towards the Limerick goal. It is on target, but does it have the length? For 5 seconds it sails through the air before coming down in the large rectangle where 9 Limerick and 6 Galway players wait. The players tussle and swipe, desperately trying to get the sliotar. Then a green shirt breaks from the pack. Limerick’s Tom Condon bursts out with the ball. The referee blows the final whistle. And with that 45 years of hurt disappears. Limerick have won the All-Ireland Hurling Final of 2018. They have won, what many will consider to be the greatest All-Ireland of all time. They are champions. Liam McCarthy is theirs.

Limerick fans celebrate the final whistle

The roar from the Limerick crowd is deafening. The stand shakes and shudders such is the intensity of their celebrations. The stadium is awash with green. The Limerick supporters surrounding me are hugging each other. Tears of joy running down the faces of men who would have been but boys when their county last won. Down below some supporters burst on to the pitch. They have waited a generation to see their hurlers win. Now they want to acclaim them on the field. Much has changed since their last win in 1973 and one thing is stewards will not allow fans on the field after the game. They are shepherded back to their seats. On the big screen and over the loudspeakers John Kiely is interviewed: “”We were always the bridesmaids – but today we got over the line.” On the pitch the players are running from one to another jumping into each other’s arms, hugging tightly. They have done it. They’ve won. The Cranberries’ song Linger blasts out over Croke Park and the relief of finally getting over the line now seems to turn to joy; to enjoying and savouring this moment. Limerick’s moment.

Tom Morrissey scores Limerick’s second goal

Shane Dowling scores Limerick’s third goal

The match was not a classic. What it did have was a classic ending. Limerick were by far the better team, but so easily could have blown it in the end. They went 30 minutes in the second half without scoring a point. They had 20 wides. Galway were flat and never looked capable of reaching the standards they had set in matches like the Leinster Final replay and the 2 All-Ireland semi-final against Clare.

Man of the match Kyle Hayes scoring a point

My take on it is this. I feel the new format, while being a great success and giving us some absolutely classic encounters, was one that teams found hard to manage. The players are amateurs. They were asked to play so many high intensity matches at intervals they had no previous experience of. In seasons gone by teams have played as few as 3 games and won All-Irelands. Kilkenny won most of theirs playing 4. Galway played 9 this season. Limerick played 8. I saw evidence in Galway’s play that they were in decline from the Leinster Final replay. In that first 20 minutes they produced the best hurling of the championship blowing Kilkenny away and racing 9 points up. But in the 2nd half Kilkenny mounted a comeback and got within a point of them. The 2 matches against Clare followed a similar pattern. Galway could not maintain their momentum. The arrived to the final tired. Limerick on the other hand were that bit fresher, but not at their peak. Their score of 3-16 was their lowest of the championship. Placing 3rd in the Munster Championship created a path to the final which benefitted Limerick. They had a 3-week break from their defeat to Clare before playing Carlow. With all respect to Carlow, Limerick’s next real championship game came a week later to a Kilkenny side who would play their 3rd championship match in a row in the space of 2 weeks. Limerick then had a 2-week break to the semi-final against Cork and another 3 weeks to the final. Yet, while they were clearly the better side on Sunday and clearly the best team of the championship, I felt they were not at their very best in the final.

Joe Canning

Looking to next year, I think teams and the GAA will have learnt an awful lot from the new format this year. I would imagine the GAA will convene and from this there will be some minor changes to allow all teams a break in the round robin series to ensure no team has to play on 3 consecutive weekends. With no papal visit next year, we will probably see the final being pushed back to the first Sunday in September. For teams, the challenge will be how to manage players’ fitness and to manage the squad. With the games coming thick and fast it must have been hard to get those who did not make the first 15 to match–day levels of fitness with so little hard training possible with the quick turnaround of games.

All-in-all it has been a brilliant season of hurling. I have loved every moment of it, bar my beloved Cork hurlers losing to Limerick in the semi-final. I got to go to stadiums I have never been to. I saw some classic encounters. But what I will take away from it all is the sense of pride and identity the sport of hurling brings us. Over the 3 months of the championship I met with hundreds of supporters from all the participating counties and many with no allegiance to any side. I can literally count on one hand the number of people who walked past me or said no when I told them of my project. Invariably I was met with a smile and a warmth. People were quick to gloss over crushing defeats they experienced and tell me of the craic they had with their friends or family on the way to or from the match instead, or they would tell me with hope how this year would be different. I heard many the story of great rivalry, but none of bitter hatred you might get in other sports. Engaging with them, I have heard their stories and learnt what their county means to them; discovered how hurling lets them live off past glories and dream of ones to come. Hurling is something we all share and cherish. We may be selfish in our dream of glory for our own county, but hurling is all of ours. A national treasure passed down through generations. Its story tells of who we are.

Seán Finn block down without his hurley

Part 2 – with photos of the fans I met will be posted tomorrow.

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Galway v Clare, August 5

In this hurling season that just keeps on giving and giving, yesterday’s match may not have hit the heights of the two epic games of the previous weekend, but it did try to follow that script. Much like the drawn game between the two counties, Galway raced into a 9 point lead only to see their neighbours gradually claw it back. That is 3 games on the trot where Galway have led by 9, only to see the opposition pull back to within a point of them. But it must be acknowledged that even though they have left big leads slip, they have only been led once in those 3 encounters. When Johnny Glynn slapped the sliotar one-handed to the Clare net on 20 minutes it looked like Galway had learnt their lesson and would put the game to bed before the half-time whistle. Who could have predicted that they would not score again in the first half? Clare to their credit rallied and again like the match in Croke Park it was Shane O’ Donnell who stood up and led that Clare rally. The teams went in at half-time with 6 points in it. With the help of 2 fine goals from Shane O’ Donnell and Peter Duggan Clare made it a 1-point game by the 54th minute with the score at 1-14 to 2-9. The teams traded points over the next 13 minutes. 67 minutes into this replay and there was a point in it. Back in June, at the death of their match against Tipp, the width of the goalpost on the town end of Semple Stadium stood between them and an early championship exit when Tipps’ Jake Morris shot failed to hit the net, bounced off the upright and Clare went up the field and scored a goal of their own. With that momentum they went on to beat and eliminate Tipp and their season opened up for them.  Yesterday, on the opposite end Clare’s Aaron Shanagher had the Galway keeper beaten, but what looked like a simple tap in for him came off the upright and Galway cleared their lines. Had it gone to the left of the upright, Clare would have gone 2 points up with 3 minutes left in regulation time. An All-Ireland Final against neighbours Limerick beckoned. Instead, Galway won a sideline in the Clare half. The crowd settled as Joe Canning took his time over the ball. The Galway crowd rose and roared when he sailed the sliotar between the posts. Galway were now 2 points up and only 2 minutes were left to play. Games are won and lost on small margins. Clare got back to within a point of Galway, but that point was enough to see them through to the August 19th final against Limerick, and the chance to win back-to-back All-Irelands.

Galway and Clare teams

Clare shot 15 scores, but they also shot 19 wides, some really bad wides. Galway shot 13. Watching from the stand, I felt the 2 teams understandably found it hard to be at their best. The efforts of 90 plus minutes in Croke Park the previous weekend and the many games both sides have played this summer seemed to take their toll. In fact Galway’s scoreline of 1-17 would not have been a winning scoreline in any of the 23 championship games played except for the drawn Leinster Final between themselves and Kilkenny. It has been a long season. Both Limerick and Galway will play their 9th game of the championship season in the All-Ireland Final. Let’s hope they have time to recuperate and deliver us the match this championship season deserves.

Where’s the sliotar?

I find it hard to imagine regular day-to-day life going on in Thurles. Does it really? The town seems to be purposely designed for big match days. Walking into Thurles town square seeing the colours of the two teams playing on that day, hearing the banter being hurled back and forth from opposing supporters and sensing the anticipation of the untold theatre that is in store is something magical. Then when time has been calculated to arrive in time for the teams running out, the procession out of the square, up the hill over the railway bridge and the turn right for Semple Stadium begins. Then the real excitement starts. The stadium comes into sight. A roar from the crowd inside heralds a score in a minor match and the pace picks up. Through the barriers and you see it. Semple Stadium; Field of Legends. The queues of people making their way through the turnstiles. Tickets ready to be scanned. Little kids with their hurleys. Their fathers telling them to keep the sliotar in their hands now. The darkness of the turnstile and then the light. You’re in. You’re here. Thurles. Nothing like it.

We’ll be out there soon

There are many GAA traditions. One I love is that in Semple Stadium they allow the fans on to the pitch after the game. I met Frank O’ Dowd on the pitch in Thurles after the final whistle.91 years old and still wants to get up off his seat at the end of the game and greet his heroes on the field. Frank never misses a match. Not just Galway hurlers – their footballers too. And minors. And club. And he loves horse racing. And he does it all with his family. His wife, Phil, could not be with him as she was in hospital in Dublin. His daughter, Áine, showed me a photo of her in her Galway jersey watching the game. The GAA should honour Frank and his wife Phil. They are everything good about our games. 

91 year-old old Frank O’ Dowd and his daughter Áine

“God, that’s some commitment to the cause.” I said. What happened to you? I was going up for a ball last night. Came down without the ball and did this to my leg. Kevin McDonnell from Galway told me.  Fair play to you for coming. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Tell me what is special about going to the games with your brother, with family.  I asked. Well, I’ll put it this way. You know those awkward moments at matches? Awkward moments? Ya, like when your team scores a goal and you grab the fella next to him and start hugging him. Well when the excitement dies down and you see it’s your brother you’ve been hugging you’re grand. No awkward moment! No random stranger you’ve been hugging.

Kevin and Conor McDonnell and buddy Darren Moylan

This is our bonding time. No men. Sure both our husbands are from Offaly and what would they know? We leave them at home and enjoy the day out together. We wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ve been going to matches together since the 70s. Mary O’ Callaghan told me. Here she is with her good friend Anne McCarthy.

Mary O Callaghan and Ann McCarthy

“I do, I do. The first match I brought him to was the ’98 All-Ireland Football Final against Kildare. He was 5. I told him to stay next to me. I told him. Do you think he did? Course not. I lost him. Public announcement. Got him back. Still have him!” Gerry Burke told me about his son Darren.

Darren and Gerry Burke

“So you’re from Ballyboffey, living in Florida but home on holidays and here in Thurles supporting Clare? I asked Marcus Griffin. “Ya, come to think of it, I really should be in Ballyboffey supporting the footballers today, but it’s great to meet up with Thomas and see some hurling. “And you’re a Tipp man, Thomas? How come you’re supporting the Banner today? “We are both married to Clare women. There’d be hell to pay if we didn’t!

Marcus Griffin and Thomas Murray having a little picnic before the match

“Ah, we do enjoy it, but Mam gives out to me for getting too excited. But who wouldn’t?  Yvonne Connellan told me. “What was the best day? The best day is yet to come. Maybe today or in two weeks’ time.” Phil told me.

Phil and Yvonne Connellan

Can I get a photo, Tommy? “Sure, he says and comes to put his arm around my shoulder. “Not a selfie! I said. A photo of you.” “Sure, grand!” he says. “What’s a Meath man doing at a hurling match? I asked. “Galway for the shmall ball.” He says.

Not a selfie, Tommy!

And so we are down to two teams – Limerick and Galway. Down to one match – The All-Ireland Final of 2018. It has been an epic season and the most wonderful journey for me. I have met some wonderful people and you know I will be happy for either team to win it knowing the passion the supporters bring to the game and what it means to them all. I am really looking forward to Croke Park on Sunday, August 19th. Here’s to another classic. Here’s to hurling. The heart of hurling!

Galway crowds on the pitch after the game

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Cork versus Limerick, July 29

It is time again to allow yourself dream. To dream that this year is going to be the year that sees that Liam McCarthy trophy come home. The year that your beloved hurlers will conquer all-comers and emerge triumphant in August.

That was my dream as I set out on this photography project back in the month of May.

Cork and Limerick fans in Hill 16

Sitting in the Hogan Stand in Croke Park on Sunday with 7 minutes to go in normal time of the All-Ireland Semi-Final against Limerick I am dreaming. Dreaming of an All-Ireland Final in 3 weeks. Dreaming a gap of 13 years without Cork winning the Liam McCarthy being bridged. Then Limerick begin to claw Cork back; point by point over the next 10 minutes. With each of these points the dream is distancing. The momentum has swung. Limerick sense Cork are dead on their feet. The Limerick crowd in Croke Park sense it. Cork cannot get a hold of the game.

Daniel Kearney hobbling off

1 minute over the regulation 70 and Aaron Gillane pulls Limerick level. The score stands at 1-26 a piece. Anthony Nash pucks out. Cork’s Robbie O’ Flynn fields the ball and turns. Racing towards the Limerick goal he sees his captain, Seamus Harnedy calling for the ball. A hand pass in and Harnedy has to jump to control it, but he has the ball in his hand. He takes two steps and readies himself to strike the ball home and put the game beyond Limerick. Three Limerick players line the goal. The ball leaves Harnedy’s hand and he pulls his hurley back to lash it. The sliotar seems to stop in time and space and another hurley, that of Limerick’s goalkeeper Nicki Quaid in flight, stretches across from the right of the goal across Harnedy’s body and bats the sliotar away. Harnedy’s swing continues but there is no ball there to be met. The chance has gone. Limerick work the ball out and up the field to Pat Ryan. Damien Cahalane fouls him on the left-hand side of the square. Limerick have an easy free in front of Hill 16. An easy free to go 1 point up in the final minute of added on time. The dream looks dead. Aaron Gillane taps it over. Limerick lead by a point and there is 73.10 on the clock. Nash knows his puck out will lead to the last chance for Cork to rescue the game. He pucks out. Lehane gathers the ball for Cork on the 70 yard line under the Cusack Stand. The referee sees a foul and Cork have a chance to level the game. Pat Horgan comes out. Stands over the ball. Stoops and rises and in one movement pops the ball over the bar. The teams are level again. And we head into extra time.

I breathe.

Limerick’s John Kiely orchestrating things from the sideline

For me, the two 10-minute periods of extra time had an inevitability about it. I felt Limerick would not be beaten. Cork had seen their best players go off injured. Limerick’s subs made a monstrous contribution. And it came to pass. Limerick powered through Cork in the end and were fully deserving of their victory. The hurlers of Limerick and Cork left everything they had on that sod of Croke Park. Cork left their tears too. The roar of the Limerick crowd when the final whistle went is still echoing in the stands. Limerick had every right to rejoice. Cork will have a lot of questions to mull over in the dark winter months ahead. As Joe Cole, a Cork fan, said to me before the first Cork game of the championship: “‘Winter is sad until we get going again in summer.’  The summer of 2019 seems so distant now, but the dream goes on. For Limerick, the dream is alive. In a little over two weeks they will come to Croke Park again. This time they will play for the biggest prize in hurling. I believe they will win it.

Limerick and Cork teams

Sunday’s match was not the easiest for me. First there was the rain. A lot of rain. Not what you want when you were are not dressed appropriately for it and not what you want when you want to stop and engage with fans on their way to the game. At the best of times, stopping fans on their way to the stadiums is not the easiest of things to do. Usually there is a convoy of people making their way along the footpath or road to the game. Stopping them can result in holding up those coming behind. In fairness, the people I have met have all been so patient and supportive. Sunday was a little trickier. The rain was bucketing down for a good hour before the match. I didn’t feel comfortable stopping people in the rain to get their photographs. 

“I used to go to all the games. I’m De Chief. I used to have an Indian headdress.” “I’m not going to the match today. I just came up for the atmosphere. I’ll watch it with some buddies in The Shakespeare.” Cork super fan Ger ‘De Chief’ Feehan.

Ger ‘De Chief’ Feehan

These two neighbours go to all the matches together. “Pa loves to dress up and sure why not. He looks great. Look at those shoes.” Liam Goodwin told me. “Beating Kilkenny was like winning the lottery for me. Better! Everything is possible now. We got them off our back.” Pa Buckley said. 

The Dalton family from Limerick. “What’s the best thing? I asked. The buzz; the thrill of it all!” The father Paddy told me. “We always go as a family. Always have. It’s what we do.”

Two Cork supporters, Tom McCarthy and John O’ Connor. “We grew up in Millstreet. It was football all day long, but that’s changing now. Before there’d be no players from there on the Cork team, but now sure we’ve Mark Ellis.

Tom McCarthy and John O’ Connor

“I just live five minutes away. Ya, it’s great. I get discounted tickets and I can cycle to the games.” “Can we make the story that you cycled up from Limerick? I asked. “If you want to, ya.!” Local teacher Rob Griffin is a teacher who lives in the Croke Park area.

Rob griffin

Cork fans dressed for the rain

 

Limerick fans – No more about it!

Fans on their way to Croke Park

Fans on the way to Croke Park

Throughout this project I have never hidden the fact that Cork hurling means everything to me. I am not impartial in any way. I admire and respect all counties and am happy for the wonderful Limerick fans I have met on the way. When I was in the tunnel of the Gaelic Grounds in June I loved that they had murals depicting the greats of Limerick hurling down the years, but it really struck me that it was so long since they had won an All-Ireland. 45 years. Many fine Limerick teams and players have come and gone in that time and many times they got close to bringing Liam McCarthy Shannonside again, but didn’t. I have a feeling this is their year. I really hope that they have not peaked and that they can reach an even higher level in the final. They play a great brand of hurling. Dynamic, skilful and powerful hurling. It would be great to go to the Gaelic Grounds in 2019 and see new murals on the tunnel walls of this young Limerick team with the Liam McCarthy trophy.

I have loved following the rebels this year. There were some glorious days. Sure, last Sunday was a bitter disappointment, but I am immensely proud of the team and the management. They gave it all they had.  They played some blistering hurling along the way and while the manner of losing a 6-point lead on the home stretch will cause anguish, I am sure that will come back stronger, better for the experience. The dream lives on. Here’s to 2019. Here’s to number 31. Rebels Abú!

We’ll be back!

 

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Clare versus Galway: July 28

I arrive in Croke Park for Saturday’s Clare and Galway All-Ireland Hurling Semi-final with 30 minutes to go before the 5 pm throw in. 16 minutes past 5 Clare find themselves on the wrong side of a 1-7 to 0-1 scoreline. It looks like this game will be over by half-time. Fast forward to 22 minutes past 7 and the stadium is still full and an incredible scoreline of 1-30 each has been reached by the two teams after two ten-minute periods of extra time. How this happened I do not quite know. In that first 16 minutes an imperious Galway have one foot in the All-Ireland Final. Clare have one foot on the bus home to Ennis with the 2018 championship over for them. Then the Clare management team of Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor shuffle their pack. They pull Colm Galvin back as a sweeper and Clare steady. They see out the half well and the 9 points lead Galway had is cut to 4. We have a match. Clare seem to have learnt from their Munster Final defeat to Cork when the Cork team left Clare wait in the heat while they regroup at halftime. Galway are out on the pitch of Croke Park for a good 5 minutes before Clare reappear. 10 minutes later it looks like Galway can pull away from Clare again as they go into a 5-point lead, but this Clare side are resilient and within 4 minutes they have drawn level. With 20 minutes to play the game can go either way. Galway edge ahead a number of times as the game heads towards the final whistle, but each time when they look to be building up a lead, Clare come back. On 67 minutes Galway are 3 points up, leading by 1-23 to 0-23. The game reaches its 73rd minute and Galway are ahead by 1. Clare win a free. Could they possibly bring this game to a replay? Clare’s Peter Duggan makes it look easy. Galway 1-23 Clare 0-26.  A draw.

My ball!

Fans start to stream out of Croke Park. Where are ye going? Where are ye going? People shout at the departing fans. There’s extra time. No replay? No! Two ten-minutes of extra time will be played. Wow! 15 minutes later the teams are back out on the pitch. These two sides have given it their all and they are asked to do it again for another 20 minutes plus. Galway outscore Clare by 3 points to 1 in the first half of extra time. The score is 1-26 to 0-27. Again it looks like Galway will see this out and make their second All-Ireland final in a row. The second half begins and the sun disappears and the rain begins to bucket down. Within 30 seconds Aron Shanagher reaches high for a ball around the Galway square, catches it, takes a couple of steps back and sweetly strikes the ball home. Clare lead for the first time in the match. What can Galway do now? 3 minutes pass and the Galway crowd must be fearing the worst as their main man Joe Canning limps off. Clare lead. Galway bring it back to a 1-point game. There are 4 minutes left. 1 minute later it’s level again. We have 3 minutes of extra time. Will there be a winning score? Johny Coen of Galway thinks he has it won for Galway when he hits their 30th point of the game, but in the dying seconds Clare mount an attack and their final substitute Jason McCarthy knows he has the hopes of his whole county resting on his shot. The stadium erupts. The saffron and blue of Clare lights up the stadium. On the puck out the referee James Owens blows his whistle. I sit back in my seat, exhale and immediately my thoughts go to the game coming up tomorrow. Could it possibly be as good as this? It was, but that’s a story for another day.

These guys will meet again next Sunday in Thurles

This was my first trip to Croke Park on this project. The recent heatwave had ended and the forecast was for rain for the weekend. Heading up O’ Connell Street at about 3 o’ clock, I bumped into two young fellas wearing their county colours. Cathal Lowry from Galway and Joe Costello from Clare. The two lads share a house in Limerick and have been giving each other hell leading up to yesterday’s match. “Will ye support whoever wins today’s match in the final? I asked them. Not a hope. No way. They replied. Limerick. Will support them if they get through tomorrow. Where are ye heading in the stadium? The Hill! Hill 16 is where the real craic is.’ 

Cathal Lowry and Joe Costello

Mary Haynes and Roger Carey must have thought I was crazy when I jumped out in front of them outside The Gresham Hotel on O’ Connell Street to get a photo. “What part of Clare are ye from? I asked. I’m not from Clare! I am a Galway woman. Mary told me showing me her Galway colours.  What will the house be like with only one side winning? I asked. Oh, it might be a bit quiet, Roger said. Then again, it mightn’t. ‘We’ve a 20 Euro bet on today’s match.’ Mary told me. I wonder will they double it up for next Sunday’s replay.

Roger Hynes from Clare and Mary Hynes from Galway

‘Lads, I think ye are a day early, no? “We thought we could get into this match and hide somewhere until tomorrow’s one starts, said Kieran Lowe from Charleville in County Cork. He was there with his buddy Colm O’ Shea from Bruree County Limerick. “We’d go to a lot of matches together, Colm said, but tomorrow’s is special. Anything to wind each other up and sure there’s nothing better than a local rivalry. ‘Will ye support each other’s team after tomorrow?  I asked. God, no! said Kieran. Damn right, agreed Colm, sure where’s the fun in that?”  “I’d love to see Limerick win it if we don’t I said. No, no, no!’ said Kieran.

Kieran Lowe and Colm O’ Shea

The first match I remember going to was probably the best one. I was at the 1980 All-Ireland final. The one with Joe Connolly’s great speech?, I said. Ya, that was the one. What a game to start with. I just wish all of them could have been like that.’ Steve McKieran told me. ‘We are bringing little Allie to her first match today. Hopefully she will bring us luck. Do ye think ye need luck today? I asked. You always need luck. Steve said. “What is it about going as a family?’ I asked. Ah sure it’s a great day out and it brings us all together. 

The McKieran family from Galway

“Oh we do hold it against her! We waited 28 years for Galway to win and she arrives on the Friday of the All-Ireland!” joked Tracey Gill about her beautiful little daughter, Orna.

Tracey Gill and her beautiful little daughter, Orna.

“Get that ball in our hand as quick as it’s thrown in and take the game to them. We need a good start. And a good end too.” Mick McNamara told me.

Mick McNamara

Tom McGrath, Michael Caslin and Noel Kelly

A Tipp man, a man from Roscommon and another from Waterford at the Clare Galway game last Saturday. The three friends – Tom McGrath, Michael Caslin and Noel Kelly – see the games as an opportunity to meet up during the year. “We might not see each other for months but when there’s a game on in Dublin we make sure to get together.”

And so it goes on. What a championship this has been. The next blog post will tell of heartbreak for me. I was absolutely devastated to see my beloved Rebels crash out to Limerick. But the project goes on; the championship goes on. I cannot wait to be in Thurles again this Sunday. I bet the hurlers and fans of Clare and Galway cannot wait either.

Joe Canning sideline cut

 

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Clare V Wexford, July 14

With 25 minutes gone in yesterday’s All-Ireland quarter-final  in Pairc Uí Chaoimh Wexford were 5 points down to Clare. They had 4 points on the board. I was sitting in the upper tier of the South Stand looking down on the Wexford keeper, Mark Fanning, as he was taking a puck out. I looked up to the end of the field Wexford were attacking. There was 1 Wexford player in the Clare half. The centre of the pitch resembled what you might see when a soccer keeper is kicking out: a congested middle. Fanning’s puck out was gobbled up around the centre of the field and Clare broke away with the sliotar. I do not get the sweeper system. For me is it anti-hurling. I would hate to be in a dressing room before a game and being told that 15 on 15 we cannot take the opposition and that we need to adopt a negative approach and, in essence, hope for the best. I would love to know what might have happened had Davy entrusted his players to take on Clare, to express themselves and go mano-a-mano with them. Sure, they might have lost, but would they have lost by more than what they actually ended up losing by yesterday – 7 points? Impossible to tell.

The Clare half almost as deserted as the city end terrace

This was the 12th match I have seen in this year’s championship and unfortunately it was the worst. Pairc Ui Chaoimh lacks atmosphere when it is not full. Only 10,255 turned up for the game. It is hard to fault the Clare and Wexford supporters. Cork is along distance for both sets of fans and it being a Saturday surely made it more difficult for those who work on Saturdays to travel. The game itself lacked sparkle. After 16 minutes there were only 5 scores on the board, but once Clare got ahead, they pulled away to lead by 16 points to 9 at halftime. When Conor McDonald got Wexford’s goal on 59 minutes it brought them within 5 points of their opponents. They got the next 2 points. With only 3 points in it and 4 minutes left on the clock, Wexford needed to make sure when shooting for points. They weren’t. Clare got the next 4 scores and ran out easy winners.

Committed

The better team won yesterday without doubt. Wexford can have no complaints. Clare had some excellent performances from their big men yesterday. Tony Kelly was prominent through out scoring 5 points and setting up some lovely scores for his teammates. For me, this was the best game I have seen Shane O’ Donnell play in a Clare jersey since he lit up Croke Park and burned Cork’s hopes of number 31 in the All-Ireland Final replay of 2013. I bet this is one Clare hurler who cannot wait to get back to the scene of his most glorious hour. Galway’s manager Micheál Donoghue was at the game yesterday. I imagine he saw enough from the Clare forwards to know they have a challenge on their hands in the semi-final, but I doubt he has lost confidence in his team to take on whatever challenge is put up to them and to come out winners.

Tony Kelly had another fine game for Clare

“My grandfather is from Douglas here in Cork, but I couldn’t support Cork. It’s Wexford only for me. I’ve no second team.” said Tom O’ Leary who was down in Cork with his girlfriend from Clare, Louisa Conroy. “No way, if Wexford lose, I won’t follow anyone.” Not even Clare? Louisa asked. No! Not even Clare.” Tom was a one-man team. “And don’t get too carried away with that team ye have either, he told. me. Ye are only any good because you have a Wexford man in charge.”

Tom O’ Leary and Louisa Conroy

It wasn’t too hard for us to come down to Cork. We live in Wicklow, but are Wexford natives. Des Swords told me. What is it about hurling that brings you out as a family going to games?” I asked them. We’re hurling people. Christina told me. It’s what we do. We go to all the game sand make a day out of it.” Hopefully we will have another one or two days out this year.” said Des.

Swords family from Wexford

I met John Mullane (yes, that is a hurling name and yes, he told me that the more-famous Waterford hurler was a distant cousin) waiting on his friend to arrive with the tickets for the game. “Not so sure, they are blowing hot and cold this year.” he told me when I asked about Clare’s chances. If they get over today we might go on to meet ye in the final. It could be 2013 all over again. 

John Mullane

I was passing the Idle Hour bar down by the Cork docklands when the purple of door caught my eye and I knew it would look great with the purple of the Wexford jersey. I ventured into the bar and among all the Clare jerseys I found Brendan Connick waiting to be served at the bar. “Would you mind? I asked. “Not at all.” He replied and came out to the doorway. “The first final I went to was in 1976 against you. We lost that. And we lost the next one too to ye.” “77 was the first final I was at. I said. I remember the great players Wexford had like Tony Doran. What a player he was.”

Brendan Connick

We found Brendan’s daughter Silvia waiting in the bar for her dad. “Dad alway told me following Wexford would bring more disappointment than the opposite, but we have great days out. My mother used to come with is, but it’s not so easy for here anymore.”

Brendan and Silvia Connick

“I got it done before the ’97 final and I’ve worn it to every game since. It’s my lucky scarf.” Ger Brennan from Clare told me.

Ger Brennan and his lucky scarf

I wonder what the Clare management and players made of Davy Fitzgerald coming out and giving his take on the Clare hurlers saying: “let that team play the way they should be playing.”

Davy Fitzgerald giving the big thumbs up to the Clare crowd after the game

As I am writing this it is half-time in the Kilkenny Limerick game. Limerick lead by 3 points and there are 35 minutes of ferocious hurling to come before we learn who will face Cork in the semi-final in two weeks.

 

 

 

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Leinster Final: Galway v Kilkenny

Galway came good yesterday in Thurles. For long periods they were better than good. And yet somehow with 15 minutes left to play and after being 12 points down at one stage, a Richie Hogan goal made it a one-point game. Galway should have been out of sight. Kilkenny had only 1 point on the board after 21 minutes of hurling. Galway had 1-9. By the 33rd minute they were 12 points up. Ger Alyward goal put some respectability on the half-time scoreboard, leaving it 1-16 to 1-7 at the break. Kilkenny did what Kilkenny are famous for. They battled. They harried. They never gave up and with their supporters roaring them on as the game entered its final 15 minutes who would have bet against them? Only for a few bad wides they might have lost by much less than the 7 points which separated the sides at the final whistle with a score of 1-28 to 3-15. Credit must be given to Galway. Kilkenny of old would have smelt blood, sniffed fear and ruthlessly ripped the heart out of Galway as they powered through them. This Galway side is different. Winning last year’s All-Ireland has made them confident in their own ability. They didn’t panic. They kept doing what they are good at and in the end they pulled away from Kilkenny.

Galway fans celebrate their win over Kilkenny

It is easy to see why Galway are everyone’s favourites. They play a fast and powerful brand of hurling. The days of them relying on Joe Canning are gone. They now have hurlers who step up when it matters. They have a few weeks off now until the semi-final on either July 28th or 29th. For Kilkenny, they have to do it all over again in Thurles next Sunday against Limerick. They won’t have the luxury of staying at home to watch the quarter final on television followed by the World Cup Final. Tipp might be out of this year’s championship, but I doubt the pub owners of Thurles care. They have done great out of this new format and have had the bonus of a replayed Leinster Final. The match next Sunday has a two p.m. throw in. This means there will be plenty time to get to a pub in Thurles after the game to watch the World Cup Final on television.

Joe Canning congratulates Johnny Glynn after the final whistle

It was strange driving up to Thurles yesterday for the match. Usually, the road would be busy with Cork fans making their way to the game, but this was a Leinster Final. A Leinster Final replay. One played outside of Leinster, contested between one team from Leinster and another from Connacht. The town square in Thurles was quiet. By now I have gotten to know some of the traders on match day. “It’s fierce quiet, isn’t it? I said to John Ward, a Galway man. “The Galway crowd’ll be coming in the other side on the Nenagh Road from Galway, he said.  Getting to meet the fans before the game took a bit of trekking, more than normal.

Seamus Doyle from Kilkenny takes pride in dressing up in the black and amber of Kilkenny for matches. “No, it doesn’t take that long really. He said. I keep all the gear in the one place after each game so it’s just a matter of finding it and throwing it on. I’ve picked up bits and pieces through the years. Do have a ritual putting it all on? I asked. No, no, I wouldn’t be that way at all, he said. 

Seamus Doyle

How old are ye? I asked. 18! shouted one guy back. No, we’re 19 said another. That means, I said, that ye have been growing up in the very best time ever to be a Kilkenny fan. I know, said one of them, and it’s not over yet. Might be over today, I said. It might be over for today, but we’ll still be in it. We’ll always be in it, said another. That’s the truth. Kilkenny will always be in it. 

Young Kilkenny fans

Oh, we absolutely slaughter him. We give him terrible grief. But he deserves it for being from Kilkenny. Olivia O’ Sullivan from Cork may be married to Rory Moore from Kilkenny, but it does not stop her from winding her Kilkenny husband up. I’m from Cork and I am wearing Galway colours today. 

Rory Moore and Olivia O’ Sullivan

We work hard and these days out make it worthwhile. John would drive one day, and I’d do it the next. Today it’s his turn for a few pints. Next day will be me. Era, of course we would be confident. They’re a fine side. We’ll have lots of days out with them. Lots. 

John Nolan and Tom Foley

I’ve met many fans over the past 7 or 8 weeks. Heard some great stories and been really impressed at the passion people have for their county and what the game of hurling means to them. I have to say meeting Frank and Phil O’ Dowd and their daughter Áine was one of the most inspiring. Frank is 91 years old. Phil is 83, she was in a serious car crash last year and is waiting on a hip replacement. They go to all the matches. Not just inter county. No, club games too. And I go to all the horse meetings I can too, Frank told me. I wouldn’t miss it. What I love about it is the excitement. It’s thrilling, said Phil. I’m delighted Galway won for ye last year, I said. I bet you loved it. I did, I did, he said, as his eyes looked off. I did, he repeated and smiled. Do they get excited during the games, I asked Aine their daughter. You wouldn’t want to be from the opposing county sitting next to them, I’ll put it that way, she said.

Frank and Phil O’ Dowd with their daughter Aine

I bet Frank and Phil are planning their trip to Croke Park in three weeks time, and after that they have the Galway races and I would not bet that they will be making a return trip to Croke Park for August 19th.

Galway Kilkenny Semple Stadium 2018

 

 

 

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Munster Hurling Final: Cork V Clare

Yesterday, Thurles town square was dressed in the red and white of Cork and the blue and saffron of Clare. Crowds spilled out on to the streets from the pubs and the banter between the fans was electric. Walking up past Lar Corbett’s bar I came across a group of young fans from both sides standing opposite each other chanting. Chanting songs you would not want your mother to hear. Many had their tops off in the sun. They belted out their chants, punching the air with their fists. The drink spilling from the plastic pint glasses. I stood there taking photos, thinking this could get ugly. Then suddenly one guy lit a flare. Red smoke filled the air. The Clare lads ran at the Cork lads and to my absolute amazement they jumped into each other’s arms, hugging each other as they jumped up and down. A blast of The Fields of Athenry broke out and they danced and sang together until the guards arrived and dispersed them.

Cork and Clare fans having the craic

They moved on and joined a procession of fans making their way to the stadium. Looking behind as we headed up the hill to the railway bridge all I could see was a river of red with a few clusters of yellow. In front of me it was the same. It was Cork versus Clare on Munster Final day. There was 70 minutes of hurling ahead.

On the road to Semple Stadium

This Cork team has heart. In the five matches they have played in this year’s Munster hurling championship they have entered the final ten minutes with the game in the balance. In each of the five games they had it in them to pull away from the opposition in the closing moments. Sure, they were pegged back by last minute equalisers by Tipperary and Limerick, but on those two occasions it was unforced errors from Cork which allowed the opposing side to draw level. Yesterday’s game followed the same pattern. In the searing heat of battle, when the game was still to play for, Cork’s leaders stood tall and drove the team on to claim victory and back-to-back Munster championships.

For long spells in the first half yesterday it looked like being Clare’s day. The appeared faster, fitter and more determined than Cork. Tactically they had the upper hand. They pulled Cork out of position in the centre and the first of their two goals came as a result of this tactic. Tony Kelly saw the pitch open up for him as he raced to the Cork goal before passing off to David Reidy who took his goal well. Shortly after a long free from Clare goalkeeper was met with a sweet flick to the net by Peter Duggan and when they added another point shortly after that, Clare found themselves on the verge of half-time and 8 points up. Cork were there for the taking, but in hurling things can swing so swiftly. In the space of two added on minutes Cork cut that 8 point deficit in half. A well-won ball by Seamus Harnedy was laid off to Luke Meade who slotted the sliotar home. On the puck out the ball went out over the sideline and Mark Coleman, from all of 65 yards, sailed the ball between the posts. The referee blew for half-time. What was a bad 35 minutes of hurling for Cork had just been rescued by a solid two minutes of added time. They say the worst time to concede a goal is just before half-time. For Clare it proved to be.

The heat was unforgiving yesterday. The air conditioned dressing rooms must have been so welcoming for both sides at half-time. Maybe tactically Clare had it over Cork in the first half, but Cork won the half-time tactical battle. They stayed in the dressing room for a good five minutes longer than their counterparts. The sun beat down on the Clare hurlers and within seven minutes of the restart Cork drew level. One minute later they led and Clare never recovered. A goal from man-of-the-match Seamus Harnedy in the 58th minute put them 3 points up. With three minutes to go of added time they were five up and although Clare got a goal in injury time it was too late. Cork had staged a remarkable comeback in the second half to win successive Munster Championships.

Within seconds of the whistle the pitch was a sea of red as Cork fans stormed the pitch.

The pitch a sea of Cork supporters

“I was born in Galway, but I support the Kerry hurlers. I move around a lot.” Buff Egan told me. “This is your first Munster championship match this year, ya? I asked. It is. How come? I like to support the lower level teams.” he said

Buff Egan and Alan Barry

“He came all the way from Philadelphia to see this match. And he’s a yank, not even a Clare man. Well, he’s married to a Clare woman. So that counts. Tommy Kearney told me of his brother in-law Michael Macateer. “What is it about hurling you like?” I asked. “Well, it’s fast. It is so exciting and I guess it is a cross between ice hockey and lacrosse. And it allows me to bond with my father in-law. He loves to talk hurling. He lives in New York and we get him a gift of GAAGo to watch the games on.” “We’ve been training him not to shout ‘Go Clare!” and Score!, said his sister in law Maria Flanagan.

Maria Flanagan with her two brothers Tommy and Ray Kearney and brother in-law Michael Macateer

“William is not the best when Cork lose, not the best at all.” Clare fan Diarmuid Mooney told me. No, I get very bad.” confirmed William O’ Mahony from Cork. The two lads met when working in Harvey Normans in Limerick and still meet up to go to matches together.

 

William O’ Mahony and Diarmuid Mooney

It was gas craic during the week queueing up in Newmarket. I was the only Corkman in the queue with all the Clare people. Danny O’ Sullivan from Cork told me. “Do you get grief at home when Cork beat Clare? I asked. I am still getting it for 2013, he said. Aren’t we all!” I said. They will never let us forget that one.

O’ Sullivan family from Cork and Clare

“We had to come out to get something to eat.” Siobhan Long said. Out of where? I asked. The game! You were inside watching the minor match and came out because you are hungry? Ye going to go back in? I asked. Oh ya. But eat first!

Siobhan Long and Emily Muprhy

He’s only two months old, but we had to bring him. Hurling is in us. It’s who we are. His uncle is Seanie McMahon. The Clare hurler? I asked. Ya! Sinead McMahon told me. Little Donnacha didn’t look too happy at half-time yesterday. Maybe he knew what was coming from Clare in the second half.

Baby Donnacha and mother Sinead McMahon

Here’s another mother with her son: Cork captain and his mother on the pitch after the final whistle. Maybe someday Sinead will be on the pitch in Thurles congratulating her son.

Seamus Harnedy and his mother

Cork go on to another All-Ireland semi-final, hoping to go one better this year. They need to wait to discover their opponents. Most likely Clare will encounter Wexford in the quarter final. What a summer of hurling it has proved to be thus far.

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June 17 – Waterford versus Cork

On this day last year, June 18, 2017, Waterford played their first game of the season against Cork in the Munster Hurling semi-final. Cork beat Waterford by 5 points that day and sent them on the scenic route via the back door, as they call it, to another meeting with Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final on August 13. Waterford beat Cork that day and their summer of hurling extended into September and an All-Ireland final against Galway. This year their summer of hurling ended yesterday, one day earlier than it had started the previous year. The new round robin for the provincial championships has provided some cracking games, but for the likes of Waterford, Tipp, Dublin and Offaly that is little consolation. They want to be hurling. They want to be hurling when it matters. A long wait for them until championship 2019 starts in 11 months time. For Cork, they have 2 weeks to prepare for their fourth Munster Final in 6 years. The second year running that Clare will be their opponents after their comprehensive victory over Limerick in Ennis yesterday.

Is the ball over the line?

Thurles lacked something yesterday. The square did not have its usual atmosphere. The Waterford fans did not travel in their numbers. There was little blue and white to be seen in Semple Stadium, but that did not stop Waterford from putting it up to Cork. Cork appeared nervy, almost casual in their approach. Their passing was sloppy and Waterford converted many of their turnovers into points before Cork eventually pulled themselves over the line thanks to their strong finish when they outscored Waterford by 1-4 to 2 points in the last ten minutes of the game. Cork will be happy in that they are in another Munster Final, but there must be lingering doubts. Have the team improved over the four round-robin matches? Their opponents Clare certainly have. They will go into the Munster decider full of confidence after two big wins over Tipp and a very much-fancied Limerick side.

Cork and Waterford colours on a gloomy day in Thurles

“We used have him supporting Waterford, but we can’t change his mind now. He’s all Cork now. ” Myles Tobin told me. “He loves Conor Lehane. He’s his favourite player.” “We tried our best, believe me. said his mother Laura. Little Shay is a proud Corkman now.

Little Shay Tobin with his mother, Laura, and father, Myles

Shay with his mother, Laura, and father, Myles

“I won €41 on the lotto last night so I am feeling lucky. It’s a sign!” Billy Piggot told me. I think this Cork team will go on to do great things.” “What is it about going to hurling matches together? I asked. “For me, it’s the rivalry between the teams. We live in Mitchelstown, so the rivalry we have with Tipp is unbelievable.”

Billy Piggot and his nephew Pat Gallahue

Over the past five weeks I have been to 9 hurling matches and I can say without a doubt the ones I enjoyed the most were the ones that Cork were not playing in. It is just too nerve-wracking watching your own. You live and breathe every puck of the game. I get so caught up in it all, and I suffer! “You can enjoy the games your own county are playing in much more.” JJ Darmody from Wexford told me. I have to agree with him. JJ was there with his Limerick workmate Rory Darmody (no relation). “Why didn’t you go to Ennis to watch Limerick? I asked. “Couldn’t get tickets. So we came to Thurles to see this match. That and a few pints.” Rory said.

Rory and JJ Darmody (same surname; no relation)

Sure you know the answer to that question. There’s only one team a Corkman dreams of beating. Kilkenny? I said to Micheál Martin. Of course! he said. “Ya, but we don’t do it half enough.” I said. The Fianna Fáil leader was there with his match day buddy Humphrey Murphy.

Humphrey Murphy with his match day buddy Micheál Martin

One of the great things about the GAA is being able to get on to the pitch at the end of the matches. As the match neared its end I was making my way towards the barrier to get on to the pitch. There I bumped into Carmel McMorrow, sister to Cork’s John Meyler. She asked me to take a photo of herself and her brother after the match. Naturally, I was happy to oblige.

John Meyler and his sister Carmel McMorrow

74 championship matches. That is the record Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh made yesterday in Thurles. It is some record. Who knows he might be back next year. It was lovely to see the crowds gather around him at the end to acknowledge his contribution to Waterford and to the game of hurling.

Brick Walsh – 74 games!

The first year of the experimental round robin has passed. I have loved it. We all want more games. Sure, there are things which need to be addressed like giving teams a break at the midway point, but all in all there have been some cracking games with people flocking in big numbers to see the games. I have loved it. I am meeting some wonderful people and the reaction has always been positive. I am hearing some great stories. Excited to think about how the rest of the championship will unfold.

Cork 1-23 Waterford 1-20

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June 10 Limerick versus Waterford

 

Derek McGrath trying to get the ref’s attention

June 10th and Waterford are out of the All-Ireland championship. Same day and many people’s favourites Tipperary are also gone. It is a long summer ahead with no hurling for these two counties. In Limerick yesterday, Waterford looked tired. Their snappy hurling that had Tipperary on the ropes the previous Sunday was missing. Passes went astray, shots wide and Limerick seemed to harry them with ease as they moved into a commanding lead early in the game. It was a lead they never looked likely to lose. Their play, in contrast, was sharp. They took their scoring chances well. When opportunities for goals came early in the first half, Gearoid Hegarty and Graeme Mulcahy took them. By half-time they were 2-14 to 0-7 up. It was too much to ask of Waterford to mount a comeback in the second half, and Limerick ran out comfrotable winners racking up 2-26 to Waterford’s 1-16. Limerick were impressive, powerful and precise. In the other game, Clare sprang a surprise and a late comeback to put Tipp to the sword. The game turned when Jake Morris’ attempt on goal hit the post. The ball broke and Clare were swiftly up the field and a Podge Collin’s pass set Ian Galvin on his way to score a fine goal. Had Morris’ shot gone an inch to the right, Clare would have been 7 points down. Instead, their goal brought them to within a point of Tipp. Tipp replied with a point, but Clare drove on in the final minutes to grab the game from Tipp and end their summer on June 10th.

Limerick’s Kyle Hayes pops over a point

Outside Limerick station I met Liam and Pat Phelan. Liam was sporting a blue and white mohican, which his son told him he had on sideways and carrying an oak tree sapling in his hand. “What’s going on with that? I asked. “Oh, that’s to bring good luck. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” Well, ye could have done with that luck last week, I said.

Liam and Pat Phelan and their lucky charm

The Ennis Road is a long, wide and straight road leading up to the Gaelic Grounds stadium. In contrast to last week there large groups of fans making their way to the match. Few people seem to be leisurely in their approach and asking people to stop for photographs and a chat about hurling can be challenging, particularly as when a group stops it invariably causes a hindrance to those following. The Murphy family, with Elle Fox, were obliging and stopped for a quick group photo. So, a big Up Waterford so, I said to the kids. No! They shouted back. OK. How about an Up Cork. A bigger and louder No! came back.

The Murphy family with Elle Fox (front left)

Jimmy Finn and his friend Bowie were sitting on a wall outside the pub on Ennis Road having a drink before the game. I got chatting to them. “I’m chasing Liam McCarthy all my life. I go to all the games. I thought last year was the one, but no. But we will keep on going, said Jimmy. It’s a lifetime dream. 

Jimmy Finn and his buddy Bowie

We’re big Johnny Logan fans“, said John Crotty. “What do you mean? I asked. “Well,  If we don’t do this year, we’ll do it next year. So what’s another year.”

Stephen O Brien Mike Meaney, John Hannan and John Crotty.

Four children born in Cork, but only Bill supports the rebels. His brother James and two sisters all support Waterford. “He brainwashed us. We were given no choice.” said James. We were born in Cork, but we have to support Waterford. Cork are too cocky, said Noel, the father. So, next week against Cork you will be on your own, I said to Bill. Ya, all on my own.  Don’t worry, I said, I’ll be with ya, Bill! 

Noel Sheehan and sons James and Bill

Great thing about the GAA is how freely the fans mix at the games. I had met Paddy Phelan’s family at the Tipp Waterford match the previous week. Here he was talking hurling with Limerick fan John McGrath. Pat Phelan  was at the All-Ireland hurling final in 1959 when Waterford best Kilkenny. “It’s been a lifetime since.” he said.

On my way into the stadium on Sunday I saw the Phelan sisters all dressed up in Waterford colours. Deirdre, Rhona and Helen. Rhona is the only one still living in Waterford. “We’re the three sisters for the 3 ships on the Waterford crest.”, Deirdre told me. The three sisters have been going to the games together for years. Their earliest memory was when Rhona was at a Waterford Cork match and was knocked off her seat when Cork scored a goal.

Deirdre, Rhona and Helen Phelan

It was a pleasure to spend a few minutes talking with Michael Shanahan. Michael’s father was a Tipperary man and his mother a Limerick woman.“What was the house like when either Tipp or Limerick lost to each other when you were growing up? I asked. “It could be a bit sour for a few days. ”On July 7, Michael is getting married to a Tipperary woman. “This is the 94 and 96 jersey.” My wife-to-be has her Tipp jersey from the same time.”  “I’m lucky Limerick beat Tipp before the wedding.

Michael Shanahan

Eamon Riall bringing these young Limerick fans, Clodagh and Daithí Riall to their second Munster Championship match. “They haven’t seen them lose yet.” Eamon said.

Eamon Riall and his two kids, Clodagh and Daithí

Cyril and Justine Kelly, a Canadian, bringing their 10-week baby boy, Beau, to his first Munster Hurling Championship match. “It’s important for him to know about his Irish heritage. His culture. His traditions.”“But he won’t remember it”, I said. “We will tell him of it.”

Cyril and Justine with baby Beau

And so this wonderful summer of hurling continues. Next weekend I am up in Ennis to see Clare take on Limerick. There are lots of permutations as to who can qualify for the July 1st Munster Final. Cork, Clare and Limerick all know a win will put them there. Cannot see any side settle for anything else.

Limerick fans celebrate a goal

 

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