Tag Archives: heart of hurling

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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