Co. Waterford ABC ~ H is for Hurling

Co. Waterford ABC is a feature here on Social Bridge where I am identifying my highlights of  this diverse county in Ireland where I was born and which has been ‘home’ for the last 26 years. There will be just 26 posts ~ one for each letter of the alphabet and I hope you will join me in discussing your views about the places, people,  events, things that I select. Would you have chosen differently? In a county with such natural beauty and diversity in terms of history and heritage, one could quite easily identify 26+  highlights for each letter! 

See all previous posts in this series

Map of Co. Waterford (Click to Zoom)
Map of Co. Waterford
(Click to Zoom)

Championship Hurling is arguably the most unifying force in Co. Waterford and it evokes extraordinary pride, passion and sense of ‘belonging.’

I grew up hearing  all about the great Waterford Teams of 1948 and 1959 from my father who was working in Waterford City at that time. These were the years when Waterford won the All-Ireland Championship and the legendary  John Keane is the name that is very much associated with that golden era. It is so fitting that  Walsh Park in Waterford, which is the main hurling ground in the county, is situated on Keane’s Road.

The next golden era in Co. Waterford hurling started in 2002, the year that I happened to introduce my young son of 7 to the game here in Tramore.  So many great names and players including, Paul Flynn, Ken McGrath, John Mullane Eoin Kelly, Tony Browne …..

Hurling 2

The Waterford Team, under the management of Davy Fitzgerald, reached the final of the All-Ireland Championship in 2008.  The whole county was in a frenzy of excitement as our hurling heroes squared up to the might of neighbouring Kilkenny.  Even though Waterford lost, the homecoming for the team in Waterford was a night that will live long in the collective memory with Don’t Stop Believin’ echoing right along the Quay as the open top bus made its way through the thousands of supporters who turned out for the momentous occasion.

Hopes are again running very high in Co. Waterford at as our Minor Team is getting ready to play in the All-Ireland Final in Croke Park this coming Sunday.

All-Ireland Hurling Final 2012 ~ A Social Bridge

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.

Hayes Hotel, Thurles, Co. Tipperary

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.

Collection of Hurleys at Lar na Pairce, Thurles, Co. Tipperary

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.