Tag Archives: Brendan Ó Sé to the heart of hurling

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.

Posted in Brendan Ó Sé. Brendan Ó Sé photography, GAA, To the heart of hurling Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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

Posted in GAA, photograph posts, To the heart of hurling Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

May 12, OFFALY VERSUS GALWAY

Tullamore was a town I had not been to before. I arrived there about an hour before throw in and made my way towards the pubs where the fans were hanging out. The first guy I met was Denis Duggan. Denis told me the first GAA match he ever went to was the football final of 1982 between a Kerry side gunning for a record five-in-a-row and an Offaly side hoping to avoid back-to-back final losses. As first matches go, I said, there cannot be betters ones that. 100%, he said. It was magic! When defeat looked certain for Offaly, up popped Seamus Darby to break Kerry hearts. I’ve lived off that moment whole life, he said. And we beat ye in 2000, he said, reminding me of 2000 when Offaly beat another reigning champions: the Cork team of 1999, and then to add salt to the wounds he would not stop laughing. What’s so funny, I asked. It’s your accent. I think it’s hilarious. They say you always remember your first, and for me, Denis was a gas man, and just look at that smile.

Denis Duggan

The great thing about Tullamore is that the Bord na Mona stadium is in the heart of the town and a short distance from the pubs where the fans congregate before the game. Walking up from the main street I met with more fans. John Daly and son Stephen who were excited to see the start of another championship year and told me they were hoping to see Galway in Croke Park together again. Did you see them do it together there last year,  I asked. We did and with the help of God, it won’t be another 28 years before we see it again. 

John and Stephen Daly

Hanging around the bridge as the crowds began to stream into the stadium, I stopped and got chatting to a few Offaly fans on their way to see their hurlers entertain Galway. No, I don’t go to all the games, Padraig Mahon told me, but tonight I have to come out and support the lads. 

Padraig Mahon

Making my way over the Grand Canal bridge I was stopped by a member of the local GAA club. There was a raffle for a heifer in their prize draw. What would I do with a heifer, I told them when they approached me. You could take the cash prize instead, they said. But that’s a fine looking heifer, I said.

A Pedigree Limousin Heifer

Just before I could put pen to paper and to get my chance to win the heifer, one of the Faithful County’s most famous supporters caught my eye: the former Taoiseach, Brian Cowan. Not wanting to miss out on the chance of my first celebrity portrait for the project I asked him if I could take his photo. I asked him who he was going to the match with and he said Tony. Get Tony in for the shot, I said. Do you always go together to the games? We always do, the former taoiseach told me.

Ex-Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Tony his friend

Tom Kilgarriff’s son Paul was born in 1988 when Galway were reigning champions. He would be 28 years old before they would become champions again in September last year. Did you go together, I asked. We did and it was special. Really special after all these years. I asked Paul did it mean more because you got to share it with your dad? Oh, yeah of course, he said.

Tom and Paul Kilgarriff

I got into the stadium just after throw-in. Galway eventually made light work of it, but Offaly were still in contention at half-time. I spent most of the match looking for photo opportunities. One of the beautiful things about sport is that we want to share the passion we have for it; to pass it on to our children, to keep it alive. This is so evidently beautiful when you meet people like Joe Clancy. Joe brought his little boy JJ to his first championship match. No, he told me, it’s not his first game. He’s been to two league games already. Why is it important to bring him, I asked. Well, he said, it was 28 years. It could be another 28 years before he sees them as champions again. Joe told me the first match he was at was in 1985. An All-Ireland hurling semi-final between Cork and Galway. A match Galway won to defeat the then All-Ireland champions Cork. I could begin to see a pattern emerging in the stories people were telling me. I had better start telling some of my own.

Joe and baby JJ Clancy

At half-time Galway led by ))))))). The crowd spilled out of the stand and out to tunnel below to use the toilets, calm the nerves with a cigarette, or if you are Martin Lawlor and Tom Errity it was time to for a few pucks of the sliotar while the teams had their break. Both Martin and Tom are in the Offaly development hurling squad. Do ye dream of playing for your country?, I asked. Of course, Martin told me. Why? It’s the pinnacle of everything, he said.

Tom Lawlor and Martin Errity

The second half started and with that Galway went through the gears and began to pull away from Kevin Martin’s men. Still the crowd enjoyed the spectacle. After wandering around the stand I came near the sideline and decided to take a rest and take in the remainder of the game. Galway were on the attack and narrowly missed a scoring chance which was met with loud exclamation of disappointment from the elderly lady sitting next to me. Surprised at her intensity, but at the same time intrigued, I introduced myself and told her about my project. What followed was gold.

I’ll tell you, she said, last September, who were in the final? Galway were, yes. And I was due to fly to New York to meet my brother on that Sunday, but did I go? No! No, I cancelled it. I was not going to miss the final. Did you go to Croke Park? I asked. No, I didn’t. I watched it here in Tullamore. And they won. And you cancelled your flight to  your brother in New York for it? I did and I would do it again.

This information took a while for delivery, as it was punctuated with Mary giving her Galway team encouragement and appraisal to every puck of the ball. Mary told me she was originally from Athenry, but had come to Tullamore many years ago, but had never lost her love for her home county. When the final whistle sounded, she let a little yahoo out of her and with a big smile and fist raised, she said goodbye to me. 

Mary Horan

With the evening slowly beginning to darken the match ended. Galway had eased past Offaly and secured their first two points of the new format championship. As is customary, the fans, mainly kids,  ran on to the pitch at the end to greet their heroes. I followed. I found the star attraction, Joe Canning, in the centre of a huddle signing autographs on sliotars and shirts and hurleys and posing for photos with young fans. Soaked in sweat he stood there for ages without a hint of impatience as the light faded and the wind picked up. I imagine Joe did the same thing himself as a kid. I was tempted to ask for his autograph too, but settled on shaking his hand and telling him I was delighted he won his medal last year. He thanked me and nodded in appreciation.

The great Joe Canning

I left the stadium with a warm glow after the first match of my own journey to Croke Park. I had been a little apprehensive about how this first weekend of my to the heart of hurling photography project would go; would I be able to get good shots, talk to strangers and get their stories? To be honest,  there’s not a lot to it. I love talking hurling and I love photography. Put the two together and I am in my element.

Come back tomorrow for my blog on the dramatic Dublin and Kilkenny match.

Follow this project on Instagram.

 

 

Posted in Brendan Ó Sé. Brendan Ó Sé photography, GAA Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |