Tag Archives: Kilkenny

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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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. 

Follow this project on Instagram. 

 

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TO THE HEART OF HURLING: A photographic journey discovering what hurling means to us

TO THE HEART OF HURLING

A photographic journey discovering what hurling means to us

It’s that time of year again. The All-Ireland hurling championship begins in Tullamore this Saturday, as Offaly and Galway face up. It is time again to allow yourself dream. To dream that this year is going to be the year that sees that Liam McCarthy trophy come home. The year that your beloved hurlers will conquer all-comers and emerge triumphant in August.

To the heart of hurling

This year I am dreaming it a little differently. Sure, with all my heart I want to see Cork win it outright, but I also have this passion project of mine. Two of my biggest loves in life are hurling and photography. Over the years, I have always brought my camera along to matches with me, capturing the craic with the lads and family, as well as scenes of the games.

This year I want to do something special. I have been to big sporting events around the world and while they are spectacles to behold and have great atmosphere, they lack a certain something that the GAA has.

What is it? It’s what our games give us: an identity, a uniqueness, something which is ours and ours to be proud of. It is what we do, what we do together. It brings us together, building bonds, giving us memories that live on and ones we live off as we continue to hope and dream that this will be our year. Hurling is alive in us, in our hearts and  I want to get to heart of it with my camera.

I am very happy to announce that Bord Gais are supporting this project and very grateful to them for it.

Follow me as the this year’s hurling championship evolves on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter and on the hashtag #totheheartofhurling

To the heart of hurling

To the heart of hurling

To the heart of hurling

Larry Mackey

To the heart of hurling

To the heart of hurling

To the heart of hurling

 

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