The final chapter of this year’s All Ireland Hurling Championship is almost upon us. Tomorrow, Kilkenny and Galway will battle it out in Croke Park in a match of passions that will be watched by hundreds of thousands all around the world.
Yesterday, by chance I found myself with an hour of so to spare in Thurles, Co. Tipperary and it was like the pages of hurling history, both national and personal, were being blown open in a mix of vibrant county colours. Sitting in Hayes Hotel, I was back to the famous meeting there on November 1, 1884, when the Gaelic Athletic Association for the Preservation and Cultivation of our National Pastimes was was founded by seven men whose names are now carved deeply into hurling.
For me, Michael Cusack, is the name that stood out most as I thought of my first visit to his native Carron in Co. Clare a couple of years ago. Way up in the wilds of the beautiful Burren, I was awestruck by the idea that a young man from that isolated area could possibly have left such an indelible mark on Irish sport. The Michael Cusack Centre which has been built to honour this man is an absolute must for anyone who would even think about taking a seat in the Cusack Stand tomorrow.
Another highlight of that visit to to the West in 2010 was talking with Ivan Canning while he was making a hurl for my son. That afternoon, I could feel the extent to which hurling runs in the blood of Galwaymen and especially through the veins of the Canning family who have been so siginficant in Portumna and Galway hurling in recent years. Ivan Canning talked of ‘brothers’ that day and he wasn’t just referring to his own brothers including Galway star, Joe Canning, (‘Joseph’ to Ivan!) but to the brotherhood that is involved in making a great hurling team.
Yesterday also brought me to Lar na Pairce in Thurles, which is an interpretive centre about the GAA. So much to see, so little time, but I felt the true hands of hurling history through the evocative collection of hurls from the greats of the 1930s onwards. These worn hurls have so many stories to tell of big days in Semple Stadium, Croke Park but also training grounds right around the country ~ clash of ash, blood, sweat, tears of victory, defeat, injury retirement, goals scored and saved, penalties, extra time, personal, family, club and county memories.
The towering figure of Henry Shefflin ran into my mind as I thought of Waterford. That emotional homecoming on the Quay in Waterford after our defeat to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland in 2008; and just a couple of days later watching Henry Shefflin walking along the very same ground where we had sung ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ for our greats like Ken McGrath, John Mullane, Brick Walshe ….. While King Henry was stepping on our collective Waterford wounds that sunny September day, I couldn’t but think how fortunate I was to be to living in the same era as arguably the greatest player of them all.
So may the best team win tomorrow as yet more history is made and memories created.