Tag Archives: Brendan Ó Sé photography

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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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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June 9 Kilkenny V Wexford

 

Kilkenny versus Wexford

Everything about Kilkenny tells you you are in a hurling town. Shop windows are given over to full displays of Kilkenny hurling paraphernalia. The famous black and amber jersey of the cats is seen everywhere. There are even houses painted in the team’s colours. There is an air of excitement before the big championship clash with neighbours Wexford; a confidence that only Kilkenny fans can have. Sure, their team is not the great team of 2006 to 2015, but this is Kilkenny. They know how to win hurling matches. Again they won. Again they won when the odds seemed stacked against them. Wexford were at one stage nine points to the good. Kilkenny looked like they were going to suffer consecutive championship losses to their great rivals. Aided by the home support in Nowlan Park they rallied and hit Wexford for 15 points in the second half to win by a single point. Wexford had led going in at half-time by 6 but the toll of 4 games in 21 days took its toll as they tired in the second half. Davy Fitz pointed to this and claimed his Wexford team did not deserve to lose. Maybe so, but you cannot discredit Kilkenny. They know how to navigate tight games. They know they have it in them to stay the course of the battle and more often than not they come out on top.

Kilkenny move on to meet Galway in Croke Park in the Leinster decider on July 1st. Wexford will meet the runners up in the Joe McDonagh cup a week later.

Wexford were the last team for me to see in this championship. I met  two Wexford fans, Nickey Cash and Mick Roche, two men married to two sisters, sitting in a playground having a bit of a picnic before they headed into the game. The two have been going to games together for years. Usually they are part of a larger group but the rest of family were at a wedding, but they couldn’t miss the clash with Kilkenny. Nickey told me a great story. In 1957, just a 1 year-old little baby, his parents brought him to Croke Park to see Wexford take on Tipperary. “Who won?” I asked. Tipp did. But my parents, God rest them, told me not all Tipp fans were happy. No, there was one man who left Croke Park covered in my vomit. Apparently, I threw up all over him. 

Nickey Cash and Mick Roche,

Being on the road with this project means that I am getting to see some familiar faces. I first bumped into Patsy Murtagh on the pitch at Parnell Park when Kilkenny stole it at the death from Dublin back in May. Patsy was beaming that day. It was lovely to show him the photo I got of him on that occasion and to get chatting with him. Kilkenny people are passionate about hurling and I always find them to be very fair and I don’t think I’ve ever come across one who, despite all their success, gloats. Patsy had ‘Henry is still King’ on the back of his Kilkenny jersey. “I’ve been going to matches since the 50s, he said. I have seen them all – Ring, Doyle, Kehir, DJ, Sheflin. Who was the best? I asked. You cannot compare eras, he said. It’s impossible to imagine the players from years back playing now with all the advances and advantages thru have. And you cannot imagine the players of today playing in the conditions of the past. I loved Patsy’s honesty and enthusiasm for a game he has been following his whole life.

Patsy Murtagh

A little up the road from Patsy I came across a Kilkenny fan who was just setting out on his journey following the cats. Patrick Jr. Noonan with his father Patrick Snr. “He sleeps with his hurl, Patrick told me. “Dreaming of playing for the black and amber, I said.

Patrick Jr and dad, Patrick Snr Noonan

What’s following your county about lads? What does Wexford mean to? Going to the games together; what is special about it for ye? Mark Wallace, Kevin Doyle and Darren Murphy were the strong silent types; none offering an answer. Eventually Kevin said: it’s an excuse for pints. And all that goes with that, I suppose, I said. Ya, ya, all that, Kevin said.

Mark Wallace, Kevin Doyle and Darren Murphy

Tony Tierney was standing opposite me on the Main Street in Kilkenny, proudly sporting his Kilkenny jersey. When I approached him and told him about my project he started to list off the years Kilkenny has won All-Irelands under Cody. He told me he had not missed a Kilkenny final since 1963. We lost a lot too, he said. Not enough to Cork, though, I said. Tony winked and. smiled at me. What’s hurling? I asked him. A game of men in action, he said.

Tony Tiernan

The first game we went to was the 1996 All-Ireland final (Wexford beat Limerick), that was not a bad one to start with. Who brought ye? I asked. Our father did. 

Brothers Cathal and Denis Whelan

Jimmy played inter-county hurling for Wexford from 1978 to 1992, his wife Kathleen told me. When he was playing; did you ever worry about him getting injured? I asked. No, Jimmy was tough, she said. Hurling is what we do. It’s our way of life.” Jimmy added.

Jimmy Holohan with his daughter Liza and wife Kathleen.

In 1982, I went to my third All-Ireland final to watch strong favourites Cork take on an unfancied Kilkenny side. I remember the game turning in the space of about two minutes when Kilkenny’s full forward Christy Heffernan scored two might goals for Kilkenny. I was heartbroken that day. Walking a long the main street in Kilkenny I saw this tall, slim, red-headed young fella come towards me with his friend. Eoin Heffernan. Yes, a nephew of former Kilkenny great – Christy – and his friend Michael Boyle. Two great guys. I could have stayed chatting hurling with them for hours. Who do you like to beat most? I asked. Tipp! They both said.

Eoin Heffernan and Michael Boyle

We’ve made a deal to follow Fermanagh in football for Emma. But you said she’s a Wicklow woman, I said. Ya, but my father’s from Fermanagh. So, I follow them in football. 

Aido Tobin and his girlfriend Emma Fitzpatrick from Wicklow and their friend Rob Carty.

At half-time in the game Sky Sports laid on the entertainment when the three guys from A League of Their Own, Freddie Flintoff, Jamie Rednapp and Rob Beckett took penalties on Wexford’s Damien Fitzhenry. The three guys were trained by DJ Carey, but to be honest DJ could have done a better job.

DJ Carey signing autographs

It was past 11 before I got home on Saturday night. I was up early the following morning to head to Limerick for their clash with Waterford. Read about that in my next blog post.

 

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June 3, Waterford V Tipperary

What a weekend of hurling.

After Saturday night’s thrilling encounter between Cork and Limerick, I was treated to another game that will live long in the memory in Limerick. Tipp looked like they had forgotten what made them a formidable side as Waterford drove through them in a one-sided first half. 2 goals to the good at 35 minutes and Tipp a man down, things were looking good for this makeshift Waterford side. The Tipp bench seemed out of ideas as they subbed their big name players and fell 11 points behind a buzzing Waterford team in the second half. With 13 minutes to go they were 9 behind. 5 minutes later they were 1 behind and the game had swing incredibly in their favour. Even more incredible were the refereeing decisions that went against Tipp. The umpire who was right next to Austin Gleeson as he fielded a high ball on the goalline somehow saw fit not to argue his case against the umpire on the opposite side who raised the green flag for a goal. No Tipp player called for the goal. Gleeson had not caught or carried the ball over the line. The referee consulted one umpire, not the one who had best sight of it. The goal stood. Tipp were back in it. A few minutes later Tipp shot for a point. The umpire waved it wide. The referee overruled him. Games, championships, careers turn on decisions like this. This game did. Waterford’s championship might. Derek McGrath’s Waterford career may well do so too.

As with many GAA matches, a draw was salvaged with a pointed free. Waterford have every right to feel aggrieved. Credit to Derek McGrath that he did not complain post match about the ref’s decisions. They deserved more from the game. Tipp, for their part, need to play from the get go. They look flat. They look vulnerable. Clare will come to Thurles smelling blood. Waterford played some lovely skillful hurling, but tired at the end. They face a strong Limerick side next Sunday in their third game in 15 days. It’s a tough ask for these young players to raise their game again. But maybe next week will be Waterford’s turn for some good luck in this thrilling Munster championship.

Michael Ryan and Derek McGrath acknowledge each other before the game ends

This was my first time in the Gaelic Grounds for a few years. I got the train up from Cork, changed at Limerick Junction and was surprised at how few match fans were on the train to Limerick. Leaving the station I was unsure of how to get to the stadium. I stopped one of the few fans I saw, Frank McCann, recognisably a Waterford fan with his blue wooly hat. Establishing we were both heading in the same direction I began to tell him of my project. “Ah, the Cork match was great last year. My girlfriend is from Cork, so it was even better.” Did ye both go? We did, but were in different parts of the stadium. So, no arguments then? Ya, but there was a long journey back to Cork in the car later on with her brothers. It was great!”

Frank McCann

After a long walk from the station I found both sets of supporters were gathered outside Woodfield House on the Ennis Road.  The first people I got speaking to were three Waterford supporters but not one of them were from Waterford. Kevin McNair and Lorraine Dollard from Tullamore had brought their Greek friend Eva Angeli to her first hurling match yesterday.“What do I know about hurling? It’s aggressive. It’s fast. And Waterford will win!” said a confident Eva. “We want to expose her to Irish culture and hurling is the best of Irish culture. Just look around here. Everyone together, having the craic and then the game. She loves it!” said Kevin. Being a language teacher, I had to teach Eva some useful phrases for the game and in return she taught me a Greek one: Pame Waterford, but I will have change that to Pame Cork! Come on, Cork!

Kevin McNair Lorraine Dollard and from Greece their friend Eva Angeli

Just behind them was a large and loud group of Tipp fans, enjoying a few drinks before the game. They welcomed me into their company and, in fairness to them, they were patient as I tried to get a shot of their colours. “Take a photo of our flag. We have a flag for our son, Eric. He died by suicide.” Eric’s father told me. I could not help but feel sorry for them, but at the same time I had admiration and respect that they would remember their son and brother in this lovely way.

The Smith family from Tipperary honouring their son and brother Eric

Just across from the Smiths was the Phelan family. Mrs. Phelan told me: “We would go to the games when my two children here were kids. In those days we might only get one day out in the year, so we had to make the most of it. We’d bring a picnic and stop along the way. It was great to have the whole family together. It’s different these days with the backdoor and this round robin, but it’s still all of us together going to games.” 

The Phelan Family

I’ve been bringing my niece, Patricia, since the 70s.”“Patricia, she’s my only niece.” Mick Duggan told me. “You’re going to games for years, what does it mean to you? I asked. “Oh, hurling is everything. Winters are long. We have to wait for the summer. “When we win, of course I celebrate. The homecoming in Thurles. Nothing like it.” Patricia told me it was her turn how to bring him to the games. Mick looked at his niece and said: Come on, will ya. I don’t want to be missing the parade.

Mick Duggan and his niece Patricia Byrne

With all the people who go to the games it is unusual to bump into the same people two weeks running, but that’s what happened when I ran into Tipp fans John and Robert Gunnell. I had seen them at half-time in the Cork Tipp match the previous week. “You were right!” John said. “You said it wasn’t over, and it wasn’t.” Unfortunately, I was right. Cork were not able to repeat their first half performance against Tipp the previous Sunday. I love how John and Robert Gunnell bring their hurleys to the match for a puck around before the game.

John and Robert Gunnell

He’s not my husband. He’s my match-day partner. My husband is at home.” Does he mind? I asked. Not at all. Does it take ye long to get ready? It takes me a few minutes, but Margot takes much longer,”  Sid told me.

Margot McGrath and Sid Ryan

Next up for me is a trip up to Nolan Park on Saturday to see Wexford, the only team I’ve yet to see, play Kilkenny. The winner will qualify to meet Galway in the Leinster Final on June 30. I am still not sure of what game I will go to on Sunday; back to Limerick to see them take on Waterford or to Thurles to see Clare play Tipp. Which should I go to?

To the heart of hurling

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June 2, Cork V Limerick

The sun came out in the second half of this match. It really could not have missed out on it. It was a cracker. As the clock ran down and got closer to the end of the three minutes added on, Cork found themselves in the same position they had been 6 days previously against Tipp: one point ahead and time almost up. Again, they could not hold on and with one of the last pucks of the game, Limerick’s Kyle Haye split the posts to split the points for both teams. The game was exhilarating. The lead changed hands several times throughout. 14-man Limerick, to their credit, brought the game to Cork in the second half and for much of that half they did look like they were going to do it. They had gone in 1 man down and 2 points down at half-time. 10 minutes into the second half they went behind to a Pat Horgan goal, but replied with 2 fine points almost immediately. From there they kicked on and heading into the last ten minutes Limerick held a 3-point advantage. Points from Horgan, Fitzgibbon and Lehane edged Cork into a 1-point lead at the death, but justifiably Limerick got the equaliser and took a point from the game.

Seamus Harnedy finding it hard to break through the Limerick defence

Five games in for my project and this was the most enjoyable game. The atmosphere was electric. 34,607 paid in for the game. Limerick people travelled in droves and were brilliant craic. The banter, the colours, the fans mixing together on a warm June evening.

Having the match on a Saturday evening lends itself to a great atmosphere. Cork was buzzing yesterday. Cork Harbour Festival was taking place in the city and drew big crowds. Add into the mix the colour the Cork and Limericks fans bring and it makes for a great spectacle.

Limerick fans on the way to the game

Some people dream of wearing the blood and bandage of Cork when they are kids. For Kevin McMahon it was “a bit of a nightmare.” Kevin was down in Cork for his stag and his buddies, Trevor McInerney and Dylan Rees thought “it would be good craic to dress him up in a Cork jersey and a camogie skirt; to show off his fine legs.” Kevin is getting married to “a Limerick lass” on July 5th. “I hope you be wearing this then, I said. “Will ya eff off! he said.

Limerick fans Kevin McMahon, Trevor McInerney and Dylan Rees

Show’s what’s under the dress, I asked. Coyly, Kevin lifted his skirt to show a lovely pair of frillies. Fair play, Kevin. Thanks for being such a good sport.

Kevin McMahon

David Dooley was standing outside the pub with a long face when I saw him. “Why you looking so sad? I asked. “My buddies left me. I got stopped in a bar up the road for over 23s, I’m only 22. I had to come down here on my own.” “You’re missing out on the craic with them? I said. “Ya, but they said they’ll be here in a while.” True to their word they turned up later and by the look of them they were having great craic before the game.

David Dooley

David Dooley and his friends who came back for him

Walking past The Idle Hour pub down by docks in Cork, I could not help noticing the exuberance of these five lads. Banging the bodhrán, singing songs and having a few pints together before the match. “We’re Corcaigh on Tour, Donnacha Seeward said. “You can find us on Facebook. We go to all the matches.”  Donnacha introduced me to his friends Shane Healy, Craig Murphy, Gavin O’ Donovan and their honourary Corkman, from Poland, Michal Koziol. It was great to chat with Donnacha and his buddies and see the fun they were having before the game. I loved the fact that they brought their Polish friend along to the game.

Corcaigh on Tour – Donnacha Seeward, Michal Koziol, Craig Murphy and Gavin O’ Donovan

Speaking to Michal, I asked him what it was about hurling that attracted him. “I started to go to the games with the lads and I love it all. The game is so exciting, so fast.” What about the craic before it, I asked, would you get that in Poland?No, he said, not at football matches, maybe volleyball. Ireland is special. It is brilliant with all the fans together.”

Michal Koziol, an honourary Corkman

How ye getting back to Limerick tonight? Driving. After pints? I asked. No, no. My brother is driving us. He’s down at the game already. We’re having the pints.

Limerick fans Kieran and Brian Hannan and Tim McMahon

I said to myself: What am I doing supporting Kerry? I’m a Corkman! Liam Long told me he was 14 years old before he “copped on to himself.” He used to go to the games down the old Athletic Grounds with his father, who was a Kerry man. “It brought me long years of suffering though, he said. “I know all about that and the Kerry footballers, I said. “The first match I went to with my father, Andrew told me, was the 1999 Munster Football final against Kerry. We won that one.” Ya, but we lost out on a double later in the year”, I said. “Ya, but we did win the hurling.” And we also beat Kilkenny. In the rain too. And they say we can’t play in the rain. said Liam.

Andrew and Liam enjoying a drink before the game

Will I take off my top for you?, Aisling O’ Brien asked me. “Jesus, no! What kind of photographer do you think I am? “I mean my jacket, to show my Limerick jersey. Oh, God what have I said!” “You’re grand, you’re grand. Don’t worry. I know what you mean. Aisling and her friend, Eimear Fogarty were kind enough to stop for a photograph on their way to the game. The two friends love hurling and while they were supporting opposing sides, they were still out to enjoy the occasion.

Eimear Fogarty and Aisling O’ Brien

In a couple of hours I am on the train to Limerick for the Waterford Tipperary match. This is a crucial match for both sides. Lose and it is almost certain your summer is over after the round robin series. Waterford have been unbelievably unlucky with injuries and withdrawals from their squad. I have a feeling, though, that they will bring the game to Tipp this afternoon. With Wexford losing to Galway in yesterday’s Leinster championship we now know that Galway will contest the final. The match between Kilkenny and Wexford next week will decide who faces them.

Cork Limerick, June 2

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