As some of you may know, I am a staunch Waterford hurling supporter – hurling is one of Ireland’s national games and is arguably the fastest team sport in the world.
Anyway, last night Waterford beat our neighbors, Kilkenny, to make it to the All-Ireland Final in two weeks time.
It was a game of two halves. Waterford were dire in the first half and then got into full flow in the second half, playing like men possessed.
Kilkenny are the masters in this sport over the decades and Waterford haven’t won an All-Ireland since 1959.
Being in the final is one thing but there is an absolute yearning to go one better and win the Championship. It certainly won’t be easy, that’s for sure but this is a Waterford team driven by passion, hard work and inspiration from legendary players of the past who should have All-Ireland medals.
It was such a tense affair last night that I certainly couldn’t watch it on TV but huddled in the kitchen listening to it on local radio. My sprint into Waterford fanatic son and Waterford convert hubby at full-time would have done justice to an Olympic champion not to talk of a winger in hurling.
So there’s a lovely glow over this precious county of mine this morning but we all now need to gather our energies and reserves for the game that lies between us and All-Ireland glory. There will be no mad rush for tickets as games are played behind closed doors at present due to the pandemic.
Listening to the radio commentary reminds me of how my father used to tell me of how radio sets would be placed on window sills in his youth so that the people could listen to games unfold in an era when even radios were relatively uncommon.
Just after the final whistle, I got a text from Big Bro, also very much Waterford but now living in Dublin. It simply said:
Well done Waterford!
He’s in it for the long haul too and both of us have vivid memories of what it meant to our father when his beloved Co. Clare finally clinched the Championship in 1995 after a lifetime waiting.
Hope springs eternal and all the very best to the Waterford lads as they regroup after a battle and a half yesterday.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see many, many great sportsmen and women from a host of different types of sporting endeavour as my father did everything in his power to bring us see those who had reached the very top of their game. I’m talking here of people like Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Seve Ballesteros, Sonia O’Sullivan and I have huge admiration for that glorious combination of raw talent, hard work and determination.
In the last couple of years, I’ve been watching the blossoming of Waterford hurler, Austin Gleeson, who is raw talent personified and am absolutely thrilled that, at the tender age of 21, he has been designated Hurler of the Year in Ireland and well as Young Hurler of the Year.
Just take a look at this photograph of Austin Gleeson which I took at the homecoming of the victorious Waterford Under 21 All-Ireland winning team this year.
It’s hard to imagine that one so young could have the skill and talent that this guy displays on the field of play. When the sliotar (ball) comes near him the crowd becomes electrified because he has such touch and pure athleticism:
Austin Gleeson is Mr. Humility and never, ever fails to make the point that his team mates are every bit as important as he is to the teams on which he plays. He’s right, of course, but there is a recognition in the world of Gaelic games and beyond that we are looking at one of those rare talents that we may only see a handful of times in our lives: hurlers like Christy Ring, Jimmy Doyle, Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Nicky English, D.J Carey, Henry Shefflin, Ken McGrath and John Mullane.
So, it’s a night when the Waterford Hurling Anthem is echoing all around me and I simply can’t stop smiling and hoping that we’ll have many, many more happy days cheering Aussie and the lads on the great hurling pitches of Ireland.
Thoughts of the unfolding of years are among the Decemebery things that come round every year for me like berried holly and fresh mistletoe.
As I was out walking yesterday, I was thinking of how so much of own’s life can be encapsulated by thinking of the defining events, images, memories associated with particular years in each decade.
This brought me to:
1964 ~ I was seven and we had just moved to Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan. That was a whole new adventure and it was the last year in which all five of us (Mother, Dad and us three kids) were together as a family as my sister headed off to boarding school in 1965. Being insulated by a warm, warm family is what stands out most as well as the arrival of our very first television in time for Christmas.
1974: I did my Leaving Certificate in 1974 by which time we were living in Drogheda, Co. Louth. It was a year of turmoil in quite a lot of ways and the Troubles in Northern Ireland were a huge worry.
I had placed all my hopes on pursuing a career in tennis but a serious wrist injury put all that on hold. I had deferred taking up a university place in the hope that summer surgery would rectify the problem but by the December it was clear that a career in tennis was out of the question. That was the year I began learning to drive and it was also the year that my sister and I were re-united as she came back ‘home’ to teach in the school that I had just left. It was all a bit of a social whirl with big sis as ‘chaperone!’
The song I played over and over in 1974 was this one:
1984: This was a year in which I was still reeling from the death from cancer of my long-time boyfriend from cancer in 1981.
I was ensconced in Trinity College, where I had embarked on a PhD on the experiences of people with physical disabilities in Ireland and I was also very busy working as a researcher on an exciting EU project in the Midlands about the integration of people with disabilities into society.
Tennis was back on the agenda and I simply adored being able to compete again after all the missed years.
1994: Undoubtedly the highlight of 1994 was pregnancy and anticipation of motherhood.
That was a year in which I was working in two areas I love: teaching and research and was able to work from home base here in Tramore.
2004: This marked the last year that my parents were in good health but they loved spending time with our son, Harry, who was very close to both of them from the moment he was born.
This was a time of major juggling between work and ferrying 9-year old Harry to all sorts of sporting activities.
A major highlight of 2004 was Waterford’s victory in what is considered to be the greatest Munster Hurling Final of all time:
It’s a year I very much associate with my father’s photography and being down in my parents house hearing about their outings to places here in Co. Waterford which they adored.
2014 ….. Right now, it’s hard to focus on highlights of 2014 but I certainly associate it with an ever-increasing love of Co. Waterford, nature, the ocean, blogging, poetry and a whole new adventure into the world of carpets.
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 Posts in this Series:
I have been wondering for a while if I dare write about the ‘Essence’ of Co. Waterford; what are the fundamental features of this ‘home’ county of mine? Yes, I do dare and I truly hope that others will add to this bubbling pot of words that have danced off all my senses.
On February 1, I took off before sunrise to walk around Tramore Beach and Backstrand to celebrate the move into spring. So much of the essence of my Co. Waterford engulfed me in those three delicious hours. Huge waves crashed onto the shore spraying me with the salty invigorating air that I have so long associated with Co. Waterford. The grasses on the dunes glinted as the breeze combed the flowing locks of the waking beauty.
As the sun rose, my mind was drawn around Brownstown Head, passed Dunmore East and up the Estuary to Waterford City. I had sat in the Tower Hotel , late the night before, just across from historic Reginald’s Tower. I had been transfixed with thoughts of the history associated with Waterford City, the oldest city in Ireland, as I watched the traffic coming along the Quay and rounding the corner at Reginald’s Tower. Thoughts of the centrality of Reginald’s Tower to the defence of Waterford; a fleeting glimpse of my late father running towards his ‘digs’ on the Mall in the 1940s; eyes caught by the imposing statue of Thomas Francis Meagher and fascination with his connections to such places as France, Fredericksburg and Montana which have come to have meaning for me too through life’s weavings.
A glance back along Tramore Beach before rounding the bend at the channel and the whole coast presented itself ~ the magic of the Copper Coast, Dungarvan, the Ring Penninsula, Ardmore ~ a wondrous stretch of coastline, each place with its uniqueness, history and colour. I wondered if Pride and Joy was safely moored at Boatstrand. Its name has long captured my imagination in a beautiful harbour that exudes Co. Waterford for me.
Walking along the Backstrand, the mountains of Co. Waterford come into view. Thoughts of Mahon Falls; the stunning scenery of the Nire Valley; West Waterford and the Blackwater Valley. Anticipation of this years Immrama Travel Writers’ Festival in Lismore; stolen visits to Lismore Castle, Mount Melleray, the old world beauty of Cappoquin.
As I near Tramore, the town that is ‘home’ is lit by the morning sun. I meet Mark Roper and Paddy Dwan, who have such passion for the Backstrand and Co. Waterford generally. Tramore continues to look down; the Racecourse stands out with its long history and at the other side of the town, above the Doneraile walk, is Tramore Tennis Club, which has such personal meaning for me and which is now the proud club of so many of Ireland’s young tennis stars.
Back on the Prom, I watch the surfers enjoying the waves and totally immersed in the very essence of this sporting county. Only the day before, I had a chance meeting with Ken McGrath, undoubtedly one of the greatest hurlers Waterford will ever see. Here’s a man who knows the full meaning of Rudyard Kipling’s words in his great poem If:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch…
Ken McGrath has no airs and graces and is an essential part of the passion that Waterford hurling engenders.
To those who know me, it will probably come as no surprise that I was drawn out to the lay-by between Boatstrand and Kilmurrin to write this piece. Sea beneath me; mountains behind; gulls overhead; Ardkeen Stores in Waterford, which is my treasure trove for sourcing Co. Waterford produce, calling; and happy thoughts of my beloved Mount Congreve Gardens after recently seeing Tony Gunning’s Exhibition of colourful paintings at Greyfriar’s Church in Waterford.
As I write, I am surrounded by immense natural beauty and a silvery sheen on the horizon symbolises the hope, colour and buoyancy that I associate with Co. Waterford ~ past, present and future.