Tag Archives: All-ireland hurling championship

Down the Pairc

When Seán Óg Ó hAilpín gave that great victory speech in 2005 after Cork had won the Liam McCarthy for the second year in succession, little did Cork fans believe that it would be the start of the second longest period in Cork’s hurling history without winning the All-Ireland (1903 to 1919 was the longest). In 2013, Cork came within seconds of bringing the cup back to Leeside, only for Clare’s corner back, Domhnall O’Donovan, a hurler who had up to then never scored in the championship, to hit the equaliser and bring the game to a replay where Clare would win deservedly and distance Cork further from the dream of a 31st All-Ireland crown. This Sunday, we can allow ourselves to dream again as the Cork hurlers welcome Clare, down the Pairc, to Pairc uí Chaoimh for the first Munster championship match in this year’s new format and Cork’s first championship game in the newly-refurbished stadium.

Cork glory days

I fell asleep as a child in the hurling fields of the Mardyke, Thurles and Croke Park. My father would stand at the foot of my bed and bring to life the high drama of hurling. He was my very own Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh and my bedroom became my very own stadium. I would lie, head perched on my plumped up pillow, enthralled as he recounted the great games he had been to. Battling sleep, as the stories went on, I would try keep myself awake long enough to learn if the swing of Christy Ring’s hurley could suddenly turn a game where the blood and bandage of Cork seemed certain for defeat,  into a magnificent victory.

It was not only glorious Cork victories in those bedroom stories, though. No, I learned young that giving your heart to your county also meant enduring heartbreaking defeats, referees robbing us, crossbars denying us. Sport can be cruel, my father knew that only too well from following the Cork hurlers (and more so the footballers) through the years. I guess in telling me stories of Cork’s losses, he prepared me for it too. But who dreams of losing?

It was with dreams of glory I used to go to the matches with him. The first time I went to Pairc uí Chaoimh (the Pairc as we all call it in Cork) was for the official opening in 1976. I was 7 years old. All the family went. We got seats high up in the stand and I remember being confused as to how it was called the stand when we were all sitting. Cork invited the then All-Ireland champions Kerry and Kilkenny, and bringing delight, and much hope for the championships, to all our family Cork won both matches. I recall how dark it was where we were sitting high up in the stand, but the beautiful blood red of the Cork jerseys against greyness of the day shone for me. The black and amber of the Kilkenny jerseys and the Kerry green and gold were decidedly unappealing. Even at that tender age I knew that any team worth supporting had to be in red; not all red, mind you. Red and white.

The next time I went to see Cork play, again down the Pairc, was against Kerry in the Munster Football Final of 1976. Kerry were All-Ireland champions and had what would go on to be the greatest gaelic football team of all time. The match attracted supporters in their thousands from both counties. My father had made a little wooden seat for me to sit on between his legs in the stand. We sat near pitchside in the covered stand near the Blackrock end terrace and I remember the swell of the late crowd causing the stewards to open the gate on to the pitch to leave the public in. It scared me to see so many people rushing on to the pitch. I remember my father laughing and telling me it was OK, that we were there to see a football match and there was nothing to worry about.

Nothing to worry about except for those Kerry footballers. That match ended in a draw and a week later we were back down the park for the replay. A replay where a referee robbed Cork of a Munster football victory; that and a Kerryman,  Jimmy Deenihan who seemed to love the Cork jersey so much that he tried all he could to get it off Jimmy Barry Murphy every time Jimmy got near the ball.  It would be another 9 years before Cork would win a Munster Final. In that time, Kerry would dominate gaelic football and break my heart over and over again.

“There’s always the hurlers.” my dad would say in consolation as we streamed out of the Pairc after another loss to Kerry.

And in those days there always was. A few weeks later we were back down the Pairc to see the glorious Cork hurlers light up the stadium with a magnificent win over Limerick. The roars meeting each Cork goal (they got 3) shook me to my core, and I left there dreaming of players like Ray Cummins and Jimmy Barry-Murphy. That team would go on to win 3-in-a-row All-Irelands. Those days for a young boy from Cork  it wasn’t so much of a dream for his county to win the All-Ireland. It seemed easy. I recall in 2013 when Domhnall O’Donovan spilt the posts for Clare and the referee blew up the match on Nash’s puckout, that the dream was so, so close and yet so distant all in one instant.

But that is long gone too. We are all back down the Pairc on Sunday and Cork and Clare fans will allow themselves to dream again.

Bring it on!

 

Follow my hurling photography project on Instagram. #totheheartofhurling

 

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May 13, Dublin versus Kilkenny

I made the mistake thinking Dublin hurlers would play Kilkenny in Croke Park last Sunday. Thankfully it was pointed out to me in time. Parnell Park is actually the home ground of Dublin GAA. It is a small stadium, not unlike Pairc Uí Rinn in Cork, and a stadium which was perfect for the thrilling spectacle the two teams served up on a sunny early summer’s day. As many had predicted, Kilkenny prevailed, but not before getting the most almighty fright from a promising Dublin side. Truth be told, the Dubs deserved more from the game, but they can take many positives from the encounter.

The sat nav did its job for me, getting me from Tullamore to Parnell Park in ample time before throw in. With the help of a friendly Garda I found a parking spot close to the stadium, got my gear, applied my camera settings and off I went to meet some hurling fans and see Dublin and Kilkenny in action.

Brian Cody looking pensive before the match

So, who is bringing who to the match, I asked. Well, I suppose Sarah is. I’d be more of a football supporter, said Mark Hender from Dublin. And, of course, you’d be a hurling supporter, being from Kilkenny, ya? Is there such a thing as a Kilkenny football team?, I asked. Very funny, very funny, she said. What’s an ideal 2018, so? I enquired. Dublin for Sam and The Cats for the hurling, and we are all happy said Mark.  Not all, I said. Not all of us!

Mark Hender from Dublin and Sarah Brennan from Kilkenny

I wonder if in places like India and Pakistan do they allow kids to bring to their cricket bats into big games. I am always fascinated to see young Irish kids bringing their hurleys to hurling matches. Where else in the world could this happen; allowing supporters bring in, what is for all intents and purposes a weapon to a high-tension, high drama sports match? It is both crazy and beautiful at the same time.

Doing a loop around Parnell Park I came across a father and son pucking a sliotar against the wall of the stadium. The young lad, Gerard Russell, had a lovely swing. I got talking to the pair of them and his dad, Rob, told me Gerard played both hurling and football with his local club. If you had to choose, I asked him, if you had the chance to play with either the Dublin footballers or hurlers, which would it be? Just the shortest of pauses and he replied, the footballers. Pity, I said, you’ve a fine swing, you know?

Rob and Gerard Russell

The match itself was a cracker. Dublin raced into an early lead and led by four at half-time. Kilkenny were kept in much to the thanks of their goalkeeper, Eoin Murphy, scoring long range points from frees.

I took a wander around the stadium at half time, looking for characters, looking for stories. Just like in Tullamore the previous night I found a young father, Kieran Groarke, with a baby. Kieran’s 6-month old baby boy slept soundly on his father’s chest. It’s in us, Kieran said. I was brought to the games by my father, not as young as this little fella, but maybe at around 3 or 4 years old. He’ll probably do the same with his son. Give him a love it. 


Do Kilkenny fans know how blessed they have been in Brian Cody’s reign? Sitting among them for parts of the game, you could be fooled into thinking they have been starved of success. They are league champions for 2018, and have won 4 All-Irelands already this decade. That is the same number that their two biggest rivals Cork and Tipp have each won in near on 30 years. As the game edged closer to its conclusion you could sense their anxiety. Looking to the sideline and to the man who has lorded for years over all comers, Brian Cody, there was not the same sense of impending doom. Now, he was not the picture of calm, as he moved up and down the line shouting his charges on, but I did sense that he knew his team were still in it, and still capable of doing what his Kilkenny team does best: winning. And that they did. Trailing by five with five minutes to go, by the time the four minutes of added time had passed, the referee’s whistle signalled a one-point victory for the Cats. I am sure Pat Gilroy will look back at this game and wonder how they let such a lead slide, but there were a lot of good things his team did that will stand to them as this new format of the hurling championships moves on.

Kilkenny fans

Kilkenny fans watching Liam Blanchfield score Kilkenny’s goal

Kilkenny fans watching Liam Blanchfield score Kilkenny’s goal

And it is all over. Kilkenny win at the death.

Amidst all the scenes of relived and jubilant Kilkenny supporters I came across two downbeat, but very friendly Dublin supporters, Dublin Gerry and Peter Mulligan. Ya, we were almost there, but you can never write off the cats, Peter told me. Where you from? Gerry asked me. Cork, I said. From his inside pocket he produced a laminated memorial card of Michael Collins. Here, he said, keep that. I am sure the two lads will have many better days this year as they follow the dubs in football, and most probably some better ones with the hurlers too?

Dublin Gerry and Peter Mulligan

Leaving the stadium, I was greeted by James Fitzgerald, a Kerryman, who has handing out posters of the Roll of Honour for All-Ireland victories. Where are you from? he asked. Cork! I replied. He then proceeded to quiz me about Christy Ring. Now, I grew up falling asleep to stories of the great Christy Ring. My father would stand at the foot of my bed and bring to life stories of how Christy won matches for Cork single handedly. How many All-Irelands did he have? How many railway cups? How many counties? How many Munsters? James shot at me. I got them all right except for the counties. 14, he told me. That is 14 counties to go with his 8 All-Irelands, 18 Railway Cups and 9 Munsters. James then walked back to his bags and got me a photo of the 1960 Munster team, and a laminated poster of the Roll of Honour.

I’m on Facebook, he said. My video has been seen thousands of times. He handed me a scrap of paper with his name handwritten on it. James Fitzgerald, Tarbert GAA. I can recite all the All-Ireland winners from memory, he said. And he can! It’s amazing. Check it out here.

James Fitzgerald

James continued to hand out the posters and I made my way back to the car. Tired and with a long journey back home to Cork before me, but exhilarated and excited about the first steps I had taken over the weekend on the road to the heart of hurling.

Bring on next weekend. Clare come to Cork. Should be a right cracker. See you there. 

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TO THE HEART OF HURLING: A photographic journey discovering what hurling means to us

TO THE HEART OF HURLING

A photographic journey discovering what hurling means to us

It’s that time of year again. The All-Ireland hurling championship begins in Tullamore this Saturday, as Offaly and Galway face up. 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.

To the heart of hurling

This year I am dreaming it a little differently. Sure, with all my heart I want to see Cork win it outright, but I also have this passion project of mine. Two of my biggest loves in life are hurling and photography. Over the years, I have always brought my camera along to matches with me, capturing the craic with the lads and family, as well as scenes of the games.

This year I want to do something special. I have been to big sporting events around the world and while they are spectacles to behold and have great atmosphere, they lack a certain something that the GAA has.

What is it? It’s what our games give us: an identity, a uniqueness, something which is ours and ours to be proud of. It is what we do, what we do together. It brings us together, building bonds, giving us memories that live on and ones we live off as we continue to hope and dream that this will be our year. Hurling is alive in us, in our hearts and  I want to get to heart of it with my camera.

I am very happy to announce that Bord Gais are supporting this project and very grateful to them for it.

Follow me as the this year’s hurling championship evolves on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter and on the hashtag #totheheartofhurling

To the heart of hurling

To the heart of hurling

To the heart of hurling

Larry Mackey

To the heart of hurling

To the heart of hurling

To the heart of hurling

 

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