Tag Archives: Hurling to the core

All-Ireland Hurling Final 2018 Pt 1

The pre-match parade

78 minutes and 38 seconds into Sunday’s All-Ireland Hurling Final and Joe Canning stands over a free in his own half under the Hogan stand. His Galway side that he has carried for the most part of this game find themselves trailing by 1 point. We are over time. A full 1 minute and 38 seconds of the 8 added on minutes over.  The 82,000 inside the stadium and the millions watching on TV and listening on the radio hold their breath. Could Canning level the match? A Galway side that looked dead and buried on 68 minutes when Shane Dowling scored Limerick’s 3rd goal to give them a 8-point lead somehow rallied to bring the destiny of the Liam McCarthy for 2018 to a 1-point game. Joe Canning has been in this position before. In 2012, not too far from the spot he is now standing on, he scored a free into the Hill 16 end to salvage a draw for Galway against Kilkenny. This time he is further out and facing the Canal end a full 100 metres away. But this is Joe Canning; no ordinary man, no ordinary hurler. This has been the season of the comeback in hurling. Sides have seen big leads clawed back. And in the back of every Limerick person’s mind is 1994. Could Limerick trip up when the end line is so close in sight again? Canning lifts and strikes. The sliotar soars and sails towards the Limerick goal. It is on target, but does it have the length? For 5 seconds it sails through the air before coming down in the large rectangle where 9 Limerick and 6 Galway players wait. The players tussle and swipe, desperately trying to get the sliotar. Then a green shirt breaks from the pack. Limerick’s Tom Condon bursts out with the ball. The referee blows the final whistle. And with that 45 years of hurt disappears. Limerick have won the All-Ireland Hurling Final of 2018. They have won, what many will consider to be the greatest All-Ireland of all time. They are champions. Liam McCarthy is theirs.

Limerick fans celebrate the final whistle

The roar from the Limerick crowd is deafening. The stand shakes and shudders such is the intensity of their celebrations. The stadium is awash with green. The Limerick supporters surrounding me are hugging each other. Tears of joy running down the faces of men who would have been but boys when their county last won. Down below some supporters burst on to the pitch. They have waited a generation to see their hurlers win. Now they want to acclaim them on the field. Much has changed since their last win in 1973 and one thing is stewards will not allow fans on the field after the game. They are shepherded back to their seats. On the big screen and over the loudspeakers John Kiely is interviewed: “”We were always the bridesmaids – but today we got over the line.” On the pitch the players are running from one to another jumping into each other’s arms, hugging tightly. They have done it. They’ve won. The Cranberries’ song Linger blasts out over Croke Park and the relief of finally getting over the line now seems to turn to joy; to enjoying and savouring this moment. Limerick’s moment.

Tom Morrissey scores Limerick’s second goal

Shane Dowling scores Limerick’s third goal

The match was not a classic. What it did have was a classic ending. Limerick were by far the better team, but so easily could have blown it in the end. They went 30 minutes in the second half without scoring a point. They had 20 wides. Galway were flat and never looked capable of reaching the standards they had set in matches like the Leinster Final replay and the 2 All-Ireland semi-final against Clare.

Man of the match Kyle Hayes scoring a point

My take on it is this. I feel the new format, while being a great success and giving us some absolutely classic encounters, was one that teams found hard to manage. The players are amateurs. They were asked to play so many high intensity matches at intervals they had no previous experience of. In seasons gone by teams have played as few as 3 games and won All-Irelands. Kilkenny won most of theirs playing 4. Galway played 9 this season. Limerick played 8. I saw evidence in Galway’s play that they were in decline from the Leinster Final replay. In that first 20 minutes they produced the best hurling of the championship blowing Kilkenny away and racing 9 points up. But in the 2nd half Kilkenny mounted a comeback and got within a point of them. The 2 matches against Clare followed a similar pattern. Galway could not maintain their momentum. The arrived to the final tired. Limerick on the other hand were that bit fresher, but not at their peak. Their score of 3-16 was their lowest of the championship. Placing 3rd in the Munster Championship created a path to the final which benefitted Limerick. They had a 3-week break from their defeat to Clare before playing Carlow. With all respect to Carlow, Limerick’s next real championship game came a week later to a Kilkenny side who would play their 3rd championship match in a row in the space of 2 weeks. Limerick then had a 2-week break to the semi-final against Cork and another 3 weeks to the final. Yet, while they were clearly the better side on Sunday and clearly the best team of the championship, I felt they were not at their very best in the final.

Joe Canning

Looking to next year, I think teams and the GAA will have learnt an awful lot from the new format this year. I would imagine the GAA will convene and from this there will be some minor changes to allow all teams a break in the round robin series to ensure no team has to play on 3 consecutive weekends. With no papal visit next year, we will probably see the final being pushed back to the first Sunday in September. For teams, the challenge will be how to manage players’ fitness and to manage the squad. With the games coming thick and fast it must have been hard to get those who did not make the first 15 to match–day levels of fitness with so little hard training possible with the quick turnaround of games.

All-in-all it has been a brilliant season of hurling. I have loved every moment of it, bar my beloved Cork hurlers losing to Limerick in the semi-final. I got to go to stadiums I have never been to. I saw some classic encounters. But what I will take away from it all is the sense of pride and identity the sport of hurling brings us. Over the 3 months of the championship I met with hundreds of supporters from all the participating counties and many with no allegiance to any side. I can literally count on one hand the number of people who walked past me or said no when I told them of my project. Invariably I was met with a smile and a warmth. People were quick to gloss over crushing defeats they experienced and tell me of the craic they had with their friends or family on the way to or from the match instead, or they would tell me with hope how this year would be different. I heard many the story of great rivalry, but none of bitter hatred you might get in other sports. Engaging with them, I have heard their stories and learnt what their county means to them; discovered how hurling lets them live off past glories and dream of ones to come. Hurling is something we all share and cherish. We may be selfish in our dream of glory for our own county, but hurling is all of ours. A national treasure passed down through generations. Its story tells of who we are.

Seán Finn block down without his hurley

Part 2 – with photos of the fans I met will be posted tomorrow.

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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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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 27: Tipperary versus Cork

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

Cork and Tipp in the pre-match parade

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

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

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

Is ground hurling dead?

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

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

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

Joe Cole, Austin O’ Hara and Gene McCarthy

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

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

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

Eamon Murray from Armagh

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

Adam and Alex Finn

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

Louise Beecher and Louis Everard

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

 

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

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

To the heart of hurling

 

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May 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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