Co. Waterford ABC is a feature here on Social Bridge where I am identifying myhighlights of this diverse county in Ireland where I was born and which hasbeen ‘home’ for the last 26 years. There will be just 26 posts ~ one for each letterof the alphabet and I hope you will join me in discussing your views about theplaces, people, events, things that I select. Would you have chosen differently?In a county with such natural beauty and diversity in terms of history andheritage, one could quite easily identify 26+ highlights for each letter!
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 …..
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.
Co. Waterford is my native heath and the place where I have now lived for the last 21 years. I often write about aspects of the county which has incredible natural beauty and a depth of history and heritage that is a sociologist’s dream.
The time that I feel most able to think and write about Co. Waterford as a whole is when the hurlers are doing well in the All-Ireland Championship and that moment is right now! In just over a week’s time, July 15th, Co. Waterford takes on the might of Co. Tipperary in the Munster Final. Nothing galvanises Co. Waterford more, as an entity, than when the hurlers are leading the way. We move from thoughts of Waterford City as opposed to the rest of the county (as the Census defines us) or from the East/West Waterford divide to Co. Waterford as one – all waving the same blue and white flag. There is great awareness and banter about Waterford’s county boundaries and for these weeks no one is in any doubt where the lines are.
I got great insight into how hurling passions can really bring county blood to a boil when my father, at the age of 76, made his way from Waterford to Croke Park in 1995 to see his beloved Co. Clare win the All-Ireland for the first time in his life. I swear that the tears of joy he shed over that victory were blue and saffron.
Last night I headed for Walsh Park in Waterford City to see the team prepare for the ‘big day.’ I knew that I was surrounded by people from all over the county and the players hailed from clubs from the length and breath of The Deise (Co. Waterford’s nickname). The Senior Team had a practice game again the Waterford Under 21 players and there was an air of quiet, determined focus among the players, management and spectators.
No one was getting too excited; it’s like we are in a valley between the gut-wrenching tension of the last five minutes of the semi-final against Co. Clare a few weeks ago http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLaIjlXqOAc and what we know will be an adrenalin-pumper against Co. Tipperary on sunday week.
As I was leaving Walsh Park, I couldn’t but notice a colourful board hanging just inside the turnstiles. It captured in a picture what I have been feeling for years now since Waterford have been having glorious hurling years. Here was a big Waterford crest and the crests of the 55 clubs from all around the county. This was like a pack of 55 cards but, for now, they are all in the same Blue and White Box of Co. Waterford which sings Don’t Stop Believing!