Tag Archives: heart of hurling

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 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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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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Down the Pairc

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

Cork glory days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring it on!

 

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