Tag Archives: GAA fans

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 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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May 27: Tipperary versus Cork

The Field of Legends. Semple Stadium, Thurles on a Sunday afternoon in late May. The Cork and Tipp hurlers. 70 plus minutes of hell-for-leather hurling. 134 years of tradition. Two teams with the one dream.

Cork and Tipp in the pre-match parade

Sure you can travel to Barcelona, to Glasgow, to Liverpool or Manchester, or even Buenos Aires to see great rivals in action but are any of those a match for the blood and thunder of a Cork Tipp Munster hurling clash in Thurles? For me, the answer is a definitive no!

Tipp coach Michael Ryan and Cork doctor Con Murphy after the game

Cork headed into yesterday’s game on the back of a good win over Clare the previous weekend, while their rivals Tipp had suffered a bad loss and a worse fallout after their match against Limerick. The pressure was all on Tipp to perform. I had expected them to be raring to go from the get go, but it was Cork who powered into the game racing into a 7 point lead before Tipp put their first score on the board in the form of a goal. Within a few minutes of that they reduced Cork’s lead to just one point, only for Cork to take off again to put another seven points between them, before finishing the half 9 points to the good. In hurling a 9-point lead is not an insurmountable one. Look back over the history of these two teams and you can find many’s the match where either side looked dead and buried only to stage a great comeback. Yesterday’s match was your classic a game of two halves and a draw was probably a fair result. Both sides can take positives from the game. Cork might count themselves unlucky not to have closed the game out, but Tipp could even have won it had Anthony Nash not been on form in the Cork goal.

Is ground hurling dead?

I was on the road to Thurles with two buddies yesterday, cousins Kieran O’ Connell and Jimmy Lonergan. We left Cork early, driving to Thurles at a little before ten beating the match-day traffic. The skies were grey and the clouds did not part. I sat in the back of the car listening to them telling me stories of their Uncle Ted who passed away in 2016. Ted, a proud Dunmanway man, used to bring them both to Cork matches when they were kids. Jimmy told me of one match they went to in Dublin when he was young fella. They travelled up by train from Cork. In those days you could get off the train in Connolly Station in the heart of the city centre. Ted and Jimmy left the station on their way to Croke Park to see Cork play, stopping outside to buy a match programme. Before the game they had a bite to eat in a cafe. Sitting across from each other, Ted opened his programme to read it as he eat his chips. “All I remember is this roar, Jimmy said, He flung the programme out of his hand like it was on fire and in doing that he also swiped his plate of chips and sent them flying. The programme wasn’t for the Cork match at all. There was a soccer match on in Dalymount the same day, and Ted had bought the soccer programme. He was disgusted, more so about having something to do with soccer in his hand, than losing all his chips.”

Jimmy Lonergan and cousin Kieran O’ Connell (my two buddies)

The square in Thurles before a game can be electric. There is a sense of anticipation in the air quelled by banter and pints as both sets of supporters mingle freely. At half-past ten yesterday morning when we arrived the square was quiet. The trains carrying Cork fans had yet to arrive and the Tipp fans with shorter distances to come were still at home reading their newspaper predictions of the game to come. Outside Hayes Hotel, where the GAA was founded in 1884, was Joe Cole dressed from head to toe in red and white. “The winter is sad, he said, until things get going again in the summer.” Joe has been going to matches all his life and for the few moments I was chatting to him, it seemed like everyone who passed by knew him by name. Two who stopped to chat with Joe were Austin O’ Hara and Gene McCarthy. “What is it about the hurling that brings ye together, I asked. “We might go months and months without seeing each other, then the hurling comes around and we can meet up and get together again, Austin told me.

Joe Cole, Austin O’ Hara and Gene McCarthy

We’re here to see our teacher play.” Who’s yere teacher? I asked. Colm Spillane (Cork’s corner back). And in a few years you will be here to watch us play for Cork. You got to love their cockiness.

Leon Doocey Harry Draper Dan Roche Dinger Collins Ben Nodwell and James “the toast” Hayes

Among the red jerseys of the Cork fans and the blue and saffron of the Tipperary jerseys Eamon Murray’s bright yellow jersey of his Armagh club, Cú Chulainn’s, stood out. Eamon was having a bite to eat when I approached him. He put his food to one side and told me he was down in Thurles for the weekend. “I told the wife I’d got us a hotel for the weekend. Where she said. Thurles. Thurles, never heard of it. Where is it? she said. He told her he was going to the match when they arrived down. “What about football? Do you prefer that? I asked. No, there is no comparison to hurling. Hurling has everything.

Eamon Murray from Armagh

I have yet to bring either of my kids to a game. I am half afraid Cork will lose and the experience scar them for life. I used to think they are too young but seeing supporters bringing babies to matches makes me think I should get my act together and bring them along. I met Adam and Alex Finn having some chips in the main square before the game. It was Alex’s first game. “Do you play hurling, Alex? I asked him. No, he’s a retired hurler like his Dad, Adam told me. That’s three of us so, I said.

Adam and Alex Finn

Is this your first game together? I asked Louis Everard and Louise Beecher (the two Louies as they told me). It is. A type of a first date so really, I said. A helluva of a first date. What about the game, what are you hoping for? They looked at each other, raised their eyebrows, waited for the other to respond before both saying: A draw.

Louise Beecher and Louis Everard

One of the things I have really loved seeing in the games I have been to is parents with their little babies with them. At half-time in yesterday’s game I came across three generations of the Darcy family: little baby Emily dressed in yellow for Tipp, mother Helena and grandmother Meta. “Did you bring Helena to matches when she was this age?” I asked. No, she was probably a little older. Meta told me. Look at that smile Emily has! I bet she knew the Tipp hurlers would come good in the second half.

 

Then on the pitch at the end of the game I bumped into Gemma Dwyer who was carrying baby AJ. I stopped her, told her of my project and asked if I could take some photos. “Why is it important for you to bring the baby to the matches? I asked. Well, her uncle was playing today, so he had to come. How did he find it; was he OK with all the noise? I asked. He was grand. He slept right through the first half and then woke up for the second half. “A bit like Tipp so! “, I said.

In Leinster, Wexford had an easy win over Offaly, and Galway showed their class and intent getting the better of Kilkenny. It looks like the Kilkenny Wexford match in two weeks’ time will be the one to decide who plays Galway in the Leinster final on June 30th.
Next weekend in Munster will see the summer opening up for some teams and closing off for others. Waterford and Tipp meet in Limerick with either side knowing a defeat could very well spell the end of their summer. Down in Cork, Limerick come to visit fresh after their weekend off and they will be confident after beating Tipp. Cork will be looking to build on their good start, but might find it hard against this coming Limerick side.

To the heart of hurling

 

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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 liived 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.

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