Tag Archives: GAA

Clare V Wexford, July 14

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

The Clare half almost as deserted as the city end terrace

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

Committed

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

Tony Kelly had another fine game for Clare

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

Tom O’ Leary and Louisa Conroy

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

Swords family from Wexford

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

John Mullane

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

Brendan Connick

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

Brendan and Silvia Connick

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

Ger Brennan and his lucky scarf

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Leinster Final: Galway v Kilkenny

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

Galway fans celebrate their win over Kilkenny

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

Joe Canning congratulates Johnny Glynn after the final whistle

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

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

Seamus Doyle

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

Young Kilkenny fans

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

Rory Moore and Olivia O’ Sullivan

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

John Nolan and Tom Foley

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

Frank and Phil O’ Dowd with their daughter Aine

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

Galway Kilkenny Semple Stadium 2018

 

 

 

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Munster Hurling Final: Cork V Clare

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

Cork and Clare fans having the craic

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

On the road to Semple Stadium

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

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

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

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

The pitch a sea of Cork supporters

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

Buff Egan and Alan Barry

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

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

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

 

William O’ Mahony and Diarmuid Mooney

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

O’ Sullivan family from Cork and Clare

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

Siobhan Long and Emily Muprhy

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

Baby Donnacha and mother Sinead McMahon

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

Seamus Harnedy and his mother

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

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June 17 – Waterford versus Cork

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

Is the ball over the line?

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

Cork and Waterford colours on a gloomy day in Thurles

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

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

Shay with his mother, Laura, and father, Myles

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

Billy Piggot and his nephew Pat Gallahue

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

Rory and JJ Darmody (same surname; no relation)

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

Humphrey Murphy with his match day buddy Micheál Martin

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

John Meyler and his sister Carmel McMorrow

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

Brick Walsh – 74 games!

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

Cork 1-23 Waterford 1-20

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June 10 Limerick versus Waterford

 

Derek McGrath trying to get the ref’s attention

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

Limerick’s Kyle Hayes pops over a point

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

Liam and Pat Phelan and their lucky charm

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

The Murphy family with Elle Fox (front left)

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

Jimmy Finn and his buddy Bowie

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

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

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

Noel Sheehan and sons James and Bill

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

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

Deirdre, Rhona and Helen Phelan

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

Michael Shanahan

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

Eamon Riall and his two kids, Clodagh and Daithí

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

Cyril and Justine with baby Beau

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

Limerick fans celebrate a goal

 

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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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May 20, Cork versus Clare

What do Irish soccer captains, carpenters turned bus drivers, young lads on the lash, and kids refusing to support the county they were born in have in common? The love of hurling.

With grey clouds hovering over the newly-renovated Pairc Uí Chaoimh the newly revamped Munster championship got underway yesterday with Cork hoping to take their first steps towards regaining their Munster crown and the hurlers of Clare looking to build momentum towards winning their first Munster championship since last winning it in 1998.

Cork and Clare in the pre-match parade

With the teams level for the ninth time and heading into eleven minutes of added time due to the injury Cork’s Robbie O’ Flynn picked up, Cork pulled away  thanks to Seamus Harnedy’s goal. The match was a real tit-for-tat affair and could have gone either way, before ending 2-23 to 1-21 in Cork’s favour. Clare will rue the chances they missed, but should benefit from the game and head into their clash with Waterford next week in better shape.

As you will know from following my blog here on hurling posts, I am first and foremost a Cork supporter. In no way, do I try to hide that. My dream scenario every year is Cork winning. Full stop! Sadly, it does not happen. Yesterday, was special for me. It was the first game of my project where Cork would be playing. I hopped on my bike at about 12:45 and made my way down the Pairc.

The minor match had a 2 p.m throw-in and when I arrived at the stadium there was a good crowd milling around. One of the first people I met was David Meyler, son of Cork’s manager John, and captain of the Irish soccer team. He was there with his buddy Peter Kelleher and good enough to stop for a photo and a quick chat. What does hurling mean to you? I asked him. I’ll tell you that at about 6 o’clock, he told me. 

Peter Kelleher and David Meyler

“Going on the piss together before the game.” “The banter!” “Winning!” These were some of the responses these five Clare characters gave me when I asked them what they enjoyed about going to hurling matches together. “Win or lose, we have the craic.”  These guys were in great form and reminded me of my younger days when I used to enjoy a pint or two (many) before (during and after) games with my own friends. Happy days!

Michael Curry, Cillian Gregan, Austin and his brother Evan McMahon and Eibhear Quilligan

What about in school; do your classmates try to wind you up about following Clare? I asked young Lewis O’ Gorman. A young man born in Cork, but who refuses to follow the county of his birth. “I don’t care, he said, making his father James proud. I’ll always follow Clare.”  Lewis plays hurling for St. Finbarr’s in Cork, but dreams of togging out for the Clare hurlers. I was really impressed by this young man.

Lewis and James O’ Gorman

“Oh, they try, believe me they try, but I keep them in line.” Gerry Costello, the bus driver for the Clare hurlers, a Limerick man, told me the lads try to wind up about being from Limerick but he gives as good as he gets. “Ah, they’re good lads, really, he said. They’re never any bother.” Gerry, a carpenter by trade, has been driving the bus for the Clare hurlers for 6 years. The highlight? “Ah, sure it has to be 2013.”  I heard a lot about 2013 yesterday. 

Gerry Costello. Bus driver to the Clare hurlers

“The excitement, I love it. There’s no other sport that has it.” Joe Casey, from Crosshaven in Cork, a steward for years loves hurling. “Where else would you get it?”

Joe Casey

I cycled from home to the Pairc yesterday. Took me about 30 minutes. Denis Joseph McClean flew in from Birmingham, England for the game the day before. He has been doing it for years. “I never miss them. Not once since 1966.”  he told me. Myself and my two brothers go to all the games together. Sadly, his two brothers, Chris and Noel, were unable to make the match, but Denis will continue to come for as long as he can. “My best memory of the Cork hurlers was seeing Joe Deane score the winning free in the 1999 All-Ireland final against Kilkenny.” The day it was lashing.” I said. “Ah, we don’t remember the rain at all,” Denis said. 

Denis Joseph McClean

Brothers Paddy and Donal Brassil get together for Clare games. Paddy lives in Carlingford in the north of Ireland and Donal in Blackrock in Cork. Paddy, the elder brother, told me the best goal he ever saw was Paddy Kenny for Tipperary against Cork in the 1952 Munster final. Donal listened patiently as he recounted the tale and with a glint in his eye and a broad grin he told me: Me, I don’t have a favourite goal. I have three of them! he said. As a Corkman, he didn’t have to say anymore. I stood in the Hill in 2013 as Shane O’ Donnell, in the game of his life, scored 3 goals in 18 minutes against Cork. If I were a Clareman, I think they’d be my favourite 3 also.

Paddy and Donal Brassil

In the end Cork came good and saw off the challenge of Clare. Tipp, who lost to Limerick, are up next for Cork in Thurles next Sunday in one of hurling’s greatest rivalry. Clare host Waterford in Ennis. In Leinster, Dublin fell short at the end again, conceding late points, giving Wexford their first win. Kilkenny beat Offaly as expected, but Kevin Martin’s men did put up a good fight before Kilkenny pulled away towards the end.

So far, this year’s championship has produced some cracking games and we are only two weeks in. A long way to go to the final on the third Sunday in August. Exciting to think of all that lays ahead.

Seamus Harnedy lining up for a pop at a point

 

#totheheartofhurling

 

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May 13, Dublin versus Kilkenny

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

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

Brian Cody looking pensive before the match

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

Mark Hender from Dublin and Sarah Brennan from Kilkenny

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

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

Rob and Gerard Russell

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

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


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

Kilkenny fans

Kilkenny fans watching Liam Blanchfield score Kilkenny’s goal

Kilkenny fans watching Liam Blanchfield score Kilkenny’s goal

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

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

Dublin Gerry and Peter Mulligan

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

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

James Fitzgerald

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

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

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