There is something wondrous about witnessing raw talent unfold and, for me, Diego Maradona was one of the most talented sportspersons of my time. His thrilling play had me absolutely memerised, especially during the World Cup in 1986, when I watched all of Argentina’s matches with complete awe on my little black and white television in my bedsit in Dublin. Pure bliss to behold.
I cried, like so many others when I heard of his death the other day.
They were tears of sadness, gratitude and remembrance of what was a very special time that can never be re-lived. I am so glad I took the opportunity back then to watch a master in full electrifying flow.
I honestly don’t know how I could cope if any terribleness befell two other raw talents I truly admire: Roger Federer and legend of Waterford hurling, John Mullane.
Ken McGrath is best known as one of the greatest hurlers who has ever played for Co. Waterford. He is undeniably one of the absolute greats and has been an inspiration to a whole generation of kids, including my son, who grew up with the height of admiration for a Waterford Team who served up some of the most inspired and magical sporting moments we will ever know.
Ken was a true leader, battler, fighter and talent alongside Co. Waterford greats including, Paul Flynn, John Mullane, Tony Browne ….. the list goes on and on.
BUT, for me, Ken McGrath will always be associated with altruism, pure heart and two astonishing meetings associated with my late mother.
I wasn’t able to attend my mother’s cremation in June 2009 and decided to go swimming instead at one of the off-the-beaten coves along the Co. Waterford Coast with my fourteen year-old son. I was still half dressed in funeral attire when I bumped into Ken McGrath who had just been for a swim in preparation for a big Inter-County Match a few days later.
We were passing acquaintances but he seemed to recognise that I wasn’t quite myself and stopped and asked how I was. I told him that Mother had died and was being cremated as we spoke. His sympathy was overwhelming and he stayed talking for some time, noting how all that had been on his mind was his ‘knees.’
By amazing coincidence, I met him in the exact same spot the following year on Mother’s anniversary and he remembered everything about the previous meeting. Again, we stopped and talked and his supreme kindness and obvious concern for others was palpable.
Over Christmas, Ken was struck down by a very serious illness that has led to open heart surgery and the prospect of very lengthy rehabilitation. My heart goes out to him ~ as one of Ireland’s greatest sportsmen of our time. It comes as absolutely no surprise whatever that the hurling world has united to support this man of supreme talent and heart and tomorrow evening Walshe Park in Waterford City will host a fundraising game between the legends of Munster and Leinster hurling in his honour.
I have my ticket safely tucked away and I can’t even begin to imagine the depths of emotion that that will be unleashed as the greatest hurlers that I have ever known take to the field to honour a man who has been such a servant to Co. Waterford.
More than anything, I want to wish Ken well and thank him for being such comfort on days when I needed comforting. Now, the roles are reversed and, yes, I’ll be there cheering my heart out for a man who is an absolute hero.
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.
The concept of ‘Poetry in Motion’ is one that resonates hugely with me and I even went as far as buying a rose back in February that had that name. It is now in full bloom and I’ve been thinking more and more about who and what symbolizes ‘poetry in motion’ most for me. It has been an interesting ‘internal’ debate because it has made me realise that what I seem to admire most is the natural ~ be it nature itself, natural talent or nature as it manifests itself between people. So, here’s my top ten (out of hundreds) in no particular order:
#1. Tennis player Roger Federer in full flow.
#2. Former Waterford County Hurler, John Mullane whose natural talent and passion was a thrill to behold.
# 3. Irish athlete, Sonia O’Sullivan, as she sprinted to victory on the world stage.
#4. The dimpled smile of Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly when he introduced his poetry at a reading I attended in Trinity College, Dublin when I was a Junior Freshman.
#5. The sheer talent and handsomeness of golfer, Seve Ballesteros, who I was fortunate to see playing at the Irish Open in Mount Juliet, Co. Kilkenny.
#6. Irish boxer, Katie Taylor, as she danced to Olympic Gold.
#7. The sea kissing the shore here in my beloved Co. Waterford.
# 8. The brilliance of Michael Flatley and Jean Butler as they performed in Riverdance.
#9. The great Liam Clancy with his natural talent as singer, story-teller and musician.
# 10. A deep, enriching hug with someone who truly cares.
I have the utmost admiration for John Mullane, the inspirational Waterford hurler, who announced his retirement from Inter-County hurling this week. He is a man who gave his all to Waterford hurling, wore his heart on his blue and white sleeve and gave us magic moments in which we saw raw talent and flair. When you talk about John Mullane, you talk about a player who ignited stadiums with his speed, skill and sheer passion. You also talk about a man who poured his humble soul into inspiring a whole generation of Waterford youngsters with a deep, deep love of the game. He is so generous with his time and makes every young player feel special.
I will never, ever forget being on the Quay in Waterford in 2008 for the Waterford Team’s homecoming having been defeated in the All-Ireland Final in 2008. To see John Mullane sobbing was heart-breaking as ‘ Don’t Stop Believin’ , the Waterford anthem, echoed right around the county. He felt he had let us all down; we knew that he would die for Waterford. He was a fundamental part of so many great Waterford games that gave us such memories ~ playing alongside the likes of Ken McGrath, Paul Flynn, Dan Shanahan , Tony Browne, Eoin Kelly, Michael Brick Walshe ….
John Mullane, you will never, ever know how you lifted our Waterford hearts as you shot up the field and scored from impossible angles. Thanks for the glorious memories.
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.