Sinéad Ryan on Dublin developments Keith Duggan on Rule 42 five



Sinéad Ryan on Dublin developments Keith Duggan on Rule 42 five
Paul Galvin hops a small ball
about the nature of Kerry hurling
Sinéad Ryan on
Dublin developments
Keith Duggan on
Rule 42 five years later
Kieran Shannon on
an alternative Ulster
the future:
Two young
outside Croke
Park before the
2008 European
Republic of
Ireland and
Wales on March
24, 2007 Picture: Paul Mohan/
Developing Dublin
League positions 2
As the third issue of Sliotar arrives, the hurling season is in a little lull.
The situation is even more pronounced this April because only
one of the weekend’s Division 1 league ties is a meaningful encounter.
For all that, significance will not be scarce in Parnell Park. The winner
between Dublin and Limerick will continue in top tier for 2011.
The loser plummets to Division 2. There, Clare or Wexford – plus
an improving Carlow and Laois – would have to be seen off before
any county could reascend. That challenge would not be simple.
This particular campaign, as we eye the phoney war that
will be Galway hosting Cork in Salthill next Sunday, has proved
more intriguing than was anticipated. The noise of challengers’
horses is getting closer and Kilkenny no longer seem out of sight.
Cork have certainly served notice that they cannot be discounted.
Nor should Kerry hurling. A section on The Kingdom
makes clear the devotion people working on the ground
there feel towards the most beautiful game. I very much
enjoyed my two trips to Kerry. They were an education.
Congress weekend is again upon us. We tend to think in fives
and zeroes where significant anniversaries are concerned. 2005’s
GAA Congress took what was considered a momentous decision
where use of Croke Park was concerned. The amount of time and
energy expended on that topic is no less remarkable in hindsight.
Sinéad Ryan
PM O’Sullivan
Pat Treacy
‘Season’s Meetings’ Murt Flynn
Alternative Ulster Kieran Shannon
Ulster Story John McIlwaine
‘Hurling By Numbers’ Leo McGough
Rule 42 Keith Duggan
The New GAA Louis Hemmings
Cartoon Tom Dack
Causeway CS PM O’Sullivan
Cover picture: Pat
To see
story n a
just cli ,
on it
Sliotar marks the exit of international rugby and soccer from Croke
Park with articles that analyse the initiative’s impact. While the rule’s
suspension has been a success, it is still too early to assess whether
increased exposure for those two codes will assist the GAA in the longer
term. Which or whether, the next five years, as Ireland struggles with nigh
intractable economic difficulties, might make us wonder whether the
fuss about Rule 42 was not a deflection from far more important subjects.
Abbeydorney Paul Galvin Garry Scollard California ‘Backspin’ Pat Treacy
PM O’Sullivan
Leo McGough
Denis O’Brien
PM O’Sullivan
Volume 1, Number 3 (April 2010)
MURT FLYNN (Deputy Editor)
Comment and submissions:
[email protected]
Sponsored by...
PM O’Sullivan
April 14, 2010
To register for your free copy, please
sign up at
Gap to close: The Cork
team during the national
anthem before their NHL
Division 1, Round 5 tie at
Parnell Park, Dublin on
March 28, 2010 Picture: Stephen McCarthy/
year Blues
Sinéad Ryan canvasses opinion on the current state
of Dublin hurling and the county’s ability to build on
advances made in 2009
Anthony Daly, taking charge of Dublin in
November 2008, brought excitement to the
The respect for his captaincy of Clare to AllIreland victory in 1995 and ’97 meant a well
received appointment by both the players
and hurling fans across the capital. Then clear
progress was immediately made in his first
season. Beating Wexford in the Leinster semifinal and reaching the Leinster Final was an
extra tick in Daly’s managerial CV, despite the
disappointment to Limerick in the All-Ireland
quarter-final. Alan McCrabbe grabbing
Dublin’s first All Star since 1990 added more
‘That was so last year,’ as the saying goes.
2010 ensures new targets have to be made.
Dublin’s league campaign this spring started
off on a bad note with a dramatic loss to
Waterford. However, the subsequent ninepoint win over Tipperary was nothing to be
laughed at. That afternoon, the majority of
the forwards scored from play and it appeared
Dublin were playing as a solid unit. A good
league campaign was on the horizon.
It did not turn out so. Dublin lost narrowly
in their subsequent ties. The fact that they led
against both Kilkenny and Galway made for
even more frustration. Says goalkeeper Gary
Maguire: “We were disappointed not to get
anything from those games. We did better in
our performance in the Offaly game but we
still came away with nothing.”
Maguire is one of the senior members
of the panel and noted as one of the best
goalkeepers in the country. The Ballyboden
St Enda’s man emphasizes about the need
for Dublin to remain composed in the league.
“It’s frustrating when the team play near their
Sinéad Ryan
peak and still don’t get a result,” he says. “Our aim at
the start of the year was to stay up in Division 1 and
take each game as it comes. That’s what we are doing.
The Limerick game will be no different.”
Dublin fought really hard in Parnell Park against
Kilkenny. Current All-Star Jackie Tyrrell commented
afterwards: “They had us where they wanted us at one
stage. We were lucky to get the few extra points in the
end. But their performance was brilliant in ways.”
Tyrrell has played against many of the Dublin panel
during the last decade: Colleges, Minor, U21 and
Senior. He feels that the overall picture is now much
better: “Dublin hurling has improved immensely over
the last while. They have put in years of hard work with
the underage and it’s showing now. They are going
from strength to strength and they are always a team
to be wary of.”
This league has been completely different than
last year if only for favourites Kilkenny moving off
radar. The quiet outfit has been Cork. Looking back at
previous years and their performance levels, it seems
that staying out of the public eye has worked well for
them. They are now staring at their first league title
since 1998.
Galway, by contrast, have been in and out of radar.
With Joe Canning initially unavailable, nobody was
Reflective moment: Anthony Daly must
persevere with Dublin’s new direction
too sure if they could secure the necessary wins to
reach the final. Yet the reintroduction of David Collins
and Ger Farragher’s newly found sharpness worked.
Dublin’s meeting with Galway was one of their
better showings. The Sky Blues were even ahead with
five minutes of normal time to play. Ultimately, it was
the magic stickwork of Ollie Canning, Joe Canning,
David Collins and Damien Hayes that secured a win
for The Westerners.
Collins is another person with a positive opinion
on the Dubs. “Ever since Anthony Daly has taken over
Dublin they have improved significantly,” he noted.
“They are now tougher to beat. You can see that
they are well drilled on what they should be doing,
especially against us in Salthill. We were lucky to pull
back the few scores to secure the win.”
There are other challenges to overcome. Cónal
Keaney, Rory O’Carroll and Shane Ryan are big names
in Dublin hurling. All three are unavailable for 2010.
Keaney has graced Parnell Park with a hurl on many an
occasion, scoring an extraordinary point there against
Kilkenny in the 2003 Walsh Cup. Alas, Anthony Daly
lost out to Pat Gilroy this season when trying to get
Keaney to switch from big ball to small ball.
Shane Ryan grew up with a strong hurling
background. Not alone did his father win an AllIreland with Tipperary in 1971 but his mother won
camogie All-Irelands with Dublin throughout her
career. Starting off under Humphrey Kelleher, Ryan has
moved back and forth between hurling and football.
As a footballer, he earned four Leinster titles for
Dublin and one All-Star. But after 2009 Ryan decided
to move back to hurling, surprising both sets of fans.
He has featured only in two league games and we
must wait until the championship to see if his physical
strength will be a welcome addition to the team.
Meanwhile the graph of Dublin hurling has moved
steadily upwards in recent seasons. Castleknock
took a Féile na nGael A title, the county’s U21s beat
Kilkenny in 2007 and Ballyboden St Enda’s reached a
Leinster Club final in 2007 against Birr. It is surely only
a matter of time before Dublin will be favourites for a
Leinster title.
Although that comment may surprise some readers,
there is clear logic to it. This underage success should
filter through to Senior teams down the line. If players
Tight spot: Kilkenny’s Paddy Hogan tries to
hook Dublin’s Peter Kelly during the NHL
Division 1, Round 4 tie at Parnell Park on
March 21, 2010 Picture: Aindréas Lynch/ATL Photography
such as Jackie Tyrell and David Collins, both of whom
have captained their county, are wary of the Dubs, it
is a form of progress.
That said, there is still an awful lot of work to do. For
Dublin to be labelled in the same sentence as the likes
of Kilkenny or Tipperary, the panel will need to find
more self-belief – far more of it.
The coming summer? The return of a fully fit Ronan
Fallon, the introduction of Shane Ryan and continuous
dedication from all will be key. Anthony Daly must
persevere, must continue driving his men towards
making a serious impact on the championship.
SINÉAD RYAN is a researcher on Ireland AM in
TV3. She has also worked in Newstalk 106 on the
weekend sports show and produced the weekend
sports on KCLR for years. She is a member of
Ballyboden St Enda’s GAA Club.
League positions
PM O’Sullivan and Pat Treacy analyse the
Division I counties’ league progress in
finding a figure to fill a key position
Stating the obvious, only one
county can win the league.
Stating the less obvious, every
county can use the league to
find personnel for signature
positions, which is a victory all
to itself.
Often, these roles are the
berths down the middle. It can
be feast or famine. For years,
Tipperary were a NAMA for
centre-backs: all shell and no
substance. As of 2010, they look
to have half a dozen candidates
for the slot.
Brian Hogan was in anything
but imperious form at centreback in last year’s All-Ireland
Final. Had Tipp been able to
release a 70-minute centreforward on his case, the result
would almost certainly have
gone the other way. They
would have been out of sight
by the time Benny Dunne,
in both senses, saw red. Did
Look back at last summer’s
Leinster Final and Joey
at centre-back italicizes
itself. Two goals from
centre-forward by Martin
Comerford allowed Kilkenny
to keep Dublin at arm’s length.
While Boland, trusty of arm and
wrist, will hurl ball all day, he
simply is not a centre-back. The
space-patrolling part of this brief undermines
his strengths. Comerford capitalized, as others
would do again, given the chance.
So Dublin were deep in the market for a
number 6 and the return of Ronan Fallon
from injury was meant to close a good deal.
The reality, when Fallon reappeared for the
league’s first round against Waterford, was
Liam Sheedy use 2009’s league
optimally to find his candidate
in that regard?
Probably he did. But it is such
questions we will be asking
early next season. Six rounds in
2010 have offered hints, narrow
and broad, about the treasure
hunt that is the search for these
personnel. One round (most
of it redundant) and a final are
what remain of this spring’s
underwhelming. Stephen Hiney, deputizing in
the position against Tipperary for an ill Fallon,
was impressive. Hiney continued against Offaly,
when he did decently on a cloudy day for Sky
Then Fallon, hurling at full-back against
Kilkenny, was scutched by Richie Power. A
general doubt had arisen about his form,
whatever the lethargy’s source. Tomás Brady
wore 6 the same day.
Uncertainty on management’s part was
evident in giving back this number to Hiney
against Cork and to Boland against Galway.
Boland is a midfielder – and potentially an
All-Star there – or a reserve wing-back. John
McCaffrey would be a more plausible relocation,
pending Fallon picking up the traces in training.
Best bet: Stephen Hiney.
The men that would have
been kings are in the process
of joining the dots that is
the ellipsis between 2006
and 2010. Denis Walsh is
trying to construct a new
syntax for Cork hurling, a way
of getting from A to B not littered
with handpasses as a ribbon of
subclauses, mere writing at the
expense of meaning.
fullforward have received most
media attention. Journalists love a
catchphrase and journalists love a spot of alliteration. If
the totemic nature of Diarmuid O’Sullivan’s presence never
quite swelled to designating him a ‘twin tower’, full-back
is nevertheless the most pressing puzzle. Item: Séamus
Callanan’s goal after halftime in last summer’s Munster
Eoin Cadogan, culpable for that score, started full-back
in four of six rounds. Before injury this week, he was the
clear frontrunner. The options are not flaithiúileach. David
Cunningham, present for the opener against Offaly, is
hardly ready. Brian Murphy, who took up the slack
against Waterford, never
looked comfortable in
Watching brief:
the role. Can The Rock
Cork manager
Denis Walsh
really be rolled back?
has enjoyed a
productive NHL
prevents a weighing
thus far Picture: Anthony
performance in the
Stanley/STF Photo
league final, which
would have gone a fair
way towards making
glint of hint. The
position is back up in
the air and Denis Walsh
has to shuffle the deck
in defence, a wild card
possibly required.
Best bet: Eoin Cadogan
Betwixt and between, no midfield
pairing coalesced into a powerful
unit over the last few seasons.
Now Niall Healy and David Tierney,
who flattered off and on, are
gone. Kevin Hynes, hindered by
a cruciate injury, has not arrived.
Portumna’s Eoin Lynch has not
been able to parlay club impact to
the higher stage. You would also
wonder if a team could have both
Hynes and Cyril Donnellan on it.
Any axe, however sharp, needs
but the one handle.
Notably, Ger Farragher has
started all six league ties thus far.
That sort of consistency on John
McIntyre’s part can only mean he is
considering Farragher, 27, as a boy
of summer in the position. Niall
Cahalane was beside Farragher
for the first three outings, with
David Burke there the next three
The champions’ rather peculiar
league progress – leading
exhibits: Canice Hickey as
substitute full-back against
Galway, PJ Delaney at
Limerick – provoked a
pandemic of headscratching
within the county. Nits were not
in it at all.
succeeded in keeping everyone
on their toes by scalp tingle. Say
what you will but not waiting for
defeat before freshening it up is admirable.
There fell, once last September’s euphoria
receded sometime about St Stephen’s Day, colder
realizations. The half-forwards, cleaned out under
the puckout for long stretches of the final, required
overhaul. The ability of Brennan, Comerford and
Shefflin to hurl 70 minutes in this line could no
longer be assumed.
A tickle is that TJ Reid’s position looks to be left
half-forward. Kilkenny evolved a system where
Aidan Fogarty’s graft at 15 allowed his wing man an
open visa for travel. Can another productive unit,
times. Burke is by far the classier
hurler and is the future for The
Tribesmen. Let him off.
Who should partner Burke?
There are plenty angles but one
seems the sharpest. The Galway
defence is still not settled, a
recognition that surely indicates
a potential half-back rather than a
potential half-forward as midfield
anchor. David Collins, if fully
recuperated, has the legs for this
berth and is not unfamiliar with it.
Farragher, whose legs are not so
great, might move better as that
hurling unicorn, the impact sub.
Best bet: David Collins.
with Reid at 12, be created?
Reid and Eoin Larkin together will not be simple.
Nor will finding a new centre-forward. Michael Rice,
until John Lee put the clampers on him, looked a
runner. He may still be, heel of hunt. Or can Larkin
adjust to take on this role as he hits 26, age and
experience closing into best splice?
Kilkenny might well use horses for courses at
centre-forward this summer.
Best bet: Michael Rice.
Looking good:
Michael Rice
gets the nod Picture: John McIlwaine
Where do you start? The
mass exodus from the 2009
panel, in exhaustively
publicized circumstances,
means all 15 numbers could
be flagged. While Limerick have
done better in the league than
initially expected, the Tipperary
encounter aside, there was a
sense of punches being pulled at
least some of the time. Last day out, Kilkenny certainly
did not go for an uppercut.
There have been glimmers. Shane O’Neill has been
ubiquitous at left corner-back. Paul Browne and Nicky
Quaid, partnered at midfield four times out six, have
performed creditably in the sector. The two of them
should be there, in some position, for the long haul. Justin
McCarthy has set about polishing Paudie McNamara as
once with Séamus Prendergast. Promising facets have
been visible.
All that said, Dublin could be beaten this weekend
and the picture would tilt. But what would truly
change? Only half a dozen or so of the hurlers likely to
start in the Munster semi-final on June 20 are at all up
to intercounty mark. That afternoon, Cork or Tipperary
might be content to run up a first half lead and keep it
steady thereafter. The real test will be against a serious
opponent in the qualifiers.
One way or another, the county needs to get back to
discussing its prospects on a position by position basis.
Best bet: Shane O’Neill.
“While Limerick have
done better in the league
than initially expected,
the Tipperary encounter
aside, there was a sense of
punches being pulled at
least some of the time.”
t r a f f i c
and centreback has been
Cleary and David
alternated at full-back
for the first two afternoons, with Ger
Oakley and Éanna Murphy, successively,
outside. Then came a run of three ties that
sent Kenny to the square and Cleary to
the pivot.
Perhaps the crux came when Cleary did
himself few favours at 6 against Limerick.
If you cannot do it against the current
Limerick side… Kenny was returned
to centre-back against Waterford and
showed far better. He is a fine hurler, a
nice restrained swagger about him.
Almost all observers would agree on
him as the best candidate for both slots.
Which is nice and not so nice. The nub?
There are probably less candidates for
full-back. Rory Hanniffy has hurled centreback before – and hurled well there.
20 years old this year, Murphy is a highly
regarded club full-back with Seir Kieran.
He could well fill the jersey down the line
but 2010 remains a big ask.
Sensible rule of thumb says a containing
presence is best deployed at full-back.
Kenny has a creative side to his play
and this factor should tip the decision.
A blocker can be selected on form from
Cleary, Murphy and Oakley. The future has
to be created.
Best bet: David Kenny.
The question has not gone away,
not judging by selections this
spring. Tipp are still in the
market. The stock of Séamus
Callanan, although one of
the classiest hurlers around,
has not risen where floating him
at a centre-forward is concerned.
His damp squib of a
against Thurles Sarsfields in the
2009 County Final did not help.
Tipperary is a county where even Nicky English was for a
long time considered too dandy a hurler by a large section,
those natives who emotionally inhabit that Brigadoon
known as Yipperary, a place disappearing into the mists
since 1971.
once spoke
steeples of
Fermanagh and
Tyrone” – and
all associated
Waterford’s search for a full-back must
be a decent second at this stage.
The manager must be reckoning
Mark O’Brien 2010’s man for square’s
edge. Liam Lawlor was full-back for
the opening two rounds. Thereafter
the former got the nod four outings
in a row. If Michael Cussen’s two goals
frighted some Déise pigeons, there
were no overt mistakes on O’Brien’s
part, not as had been the case, serially,
with Declan Prendergast when it most
Davy Fitzgerald was not afraid to
innovate in this position, famously
The postponed tie against Kilkenny, after Callanan had
a stinker at 11 against Dublin, told a tale about resources.
Centre-forward Benny Dunne was substituted off for
Hugh Maloney on 43 minutes. Two blunt numbers can
never make a sharp prime.
While Callanan returned against Galway and Limerick,
Lar Corbett was given the jersey for the last two games.
Corbett always does enough to catch the eye. Consistently
pleasing the brain is another matter. Which or whether, a
centre-forward cannot hurl in bursts.
Jody Brennan has been launched but looks more
hotdog than mustard, as per Francis Devanney and Ryan
O’Dwyer. Ultimately, better the man for whom hard
ground means smooth goals than the Yipps’ favourite, a
man with a hard head.
Best bet: Séamus Callanan.
relocating Ken McGrath in 2008. But
Fitzgerald’s options have shrunk
through trial and error – most of it
error. Aidan Kearney and Prendergast
jumped through that hoop, fire and
fire their companion.
Who else is there, this late in day? A
returning Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh might
yet be worth consideration. Walsh has
many of the prerequisites: ability to
carry out the ball, hurling intelligence,
reasonable composure, strength in
the air, pure strength in itself. Shane
Fives and Richie Foley are potential
Electing Walsh, after lengthy
absence through injury, would be a
risky move. But what choice would
not, as the steeples of June start to
shimmer in the haze?
Best bet: Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh.
A gamble:
Michael ‘Brick’
Walsh has the
talent Davy
needs, and will
be strong in his
mind come June
Picture: John McIlwaine
Keeping the
powder dry
Those awful ads on the radio.
Cat so they are. Urging patrons
to support their county in the
National League. The wha’,
Gay? The Nash-unn-ell League.
And so Sunday drives
take detours. RTÉ Radio One
Murt Flynn
rediscovers hurling and other
quaint pastimes that country Season’s Meetings
folk do be getting up to in
between calving cows and doffing caps.
And so, if March comes in like a lion and goes out
with April on his arm, the National League is exactly
what the doctor ordered. It sets up the weighing scales
and checks the BMI of the pretenders, the weekenders
and the ‘nothing is won in April’ big spenders. There
is more spinning than at a DJs convention in Vegas
about showing your hand and blowing your hand.
Then there are the rebuilding teams, weary from
conflict and empty silverware cupboards, stumbling
out of the wilderness years, eager for success that
means something or nothing. Come, come hard
ground and sports psychology sessions. In and of
itself ’tis no harm.
There are highscoring affairs and hardtrying fringe
players. There are mini DNA experiments, cardcarrying
full-backs turned into midfielders and classy half-backs
almost suffocated in the rarefied air of full-forward.
There are shocks aplenty as goalkeepers fumble,
freetakers stumble and stay away fans grumble.
But where else would you be with the clocks going
forward and the battling sun throwing shapes against
the sideways rain and the fastmoving black clouds
that taunt and then banish it?
Where else indeed? Planting British Queens maybe?
Fussing and cussing around airconditioned garden
League lines: Spectators try to glean early
season insights Picture: Anthony Stanley/STF Photo Agency
centres? Declaring to no one in particular that ’tis all
a waste of time and that that manager’s goose was
well and truly cooked long before he and his ragged
band of wasters travelled to the middle of nowhere to
masquerade as intercounty hurlers.
Or maybe you are the silent type. Maybe you are
keeping your counsel for warmer climes where,
depending on your team’s trajectory, you can smile to
yourself, satisfied that your unspoken confidence was
well placed, that you knew all along the surge in the
league was fools gold, glittering from a distance but
coal on inspection.
Only lotteries and threelegged schools races are
won before the June weekend, says you, putting away
your county shirt until the qualifiers hove round.
Pressed, the manager will ignore the advice of his
PRO about giving hostages to fortune. Shovel in hand,
he will say: ‘Yeah, it’s true that no one gave us a chance
coming down here today. We knew that we had to lay
down a marker and we did that, with all due respect
to the champions, who, in fairness, were missing 12
players and finished the game with 13 men. But, do
you know what, Des, we beat them and that’s what
the record books will say.’
Forgetting that not only had no one in the county
given them a chance but that very few in the county
knew they were feckin’ playing at all.
So it goes. The papers and the press cannot
make up their minds. Trotted out like Auntie Biddy’s
USA biscuits will be the old chestnuts about how
such and such are targeting the league, throwing
in maybe some unfounded speculation that the
county board would like a repayment of sorts after
the panel saw out the winter in Costa Del Packet while
the poor auld footballers togged out and slogged out
in the lashings of the rain.
Feature writers will send requests to interview or
profile a player, only for the county board to respond
that the man requested is ‘unavailable’. Bereft of hard
copy, yer feature writer will try and conjure up some
class of an article that mentions, in one paragraph, the
failings of the league system, the fury of sponsors, the
cold reminder that the cuckoo must have sung and
mated before anything meaningful happens.
Yippy yappy sports radio hosts will lead their
programmes, breathless with talk of games and
events hundreds of miles away. A city bus ride away,
two teams face up and square off but might as well be
on Mars.
Every year we are warned that the National League
is on its death bed. Gravediggers have been hired,
florists put on red alert. Yet in every year surprises twist.
The good go bad and the ugly feeds the chattering
classes’ desire to text in outrage.
Every year the arsenal is bolted shut to keep the
powder dry. And, every year, a game or two or three
will turn the season on its head.
Happiness is a warm spot in the covered stand.
Grasping the chance: Eoin Kelly (Waterford)
and Michael Kavanagh (Kilkenny) in NHL
action at Nowlan Park on March 16, 2008
Picture: Jonathan Brazil
Hurling in the rain:
Down custodian
Graham Clarke, an
advocate of Team
Ulster, in typically
focused mode
Picture: John McIlwaine
Kieran Shannon discerns only poor prospects for
Ulster hurling and argues for the introduction of
an all-province side in the Liam MacCarthy Cup
Ulster hurling. Even the
sound of it feels like
hard work, let alone
trying to promote it.
Call to mind a sports
scene far more familiar
to make the point that it
does not have to be this
way. Last November Kieran Shannon
82,000 people in Croke
Park witnessed Ireland
defeating South Africa.
Now ask yourself: do you really think Ireland
would have beaten the world champions in
the professional era if the ERC had blocked
provinces competing in the Heineken Cup?
That it could have happened if the clubs of
Munster, instead of pooling their talents, were
still independent little republics operating in
the All-Ireland League? With Ronan O’Gara’s
Cork Constitution being routinely hammered
in the Heineken Cup by everyone other than
Treviso, the inevitable consequence of so
small a base operating against superclubs
such as Wasps and Toulouse? If the furthest
and highest Marcus Horan could go at club
level was to move into Limerick and play with
Of course not. If all this talent was diluted
instead of concentrated, Ireland and Con
would be crushed by the sport’s traditional
powers – a bit like Antrim and Down and Derry
are in hurling.
Not long ago, RTÉ’s Sunday Sport devoted
nearly 20 minutes of primetime television
to this very subject. The same clichés were
trotted out: ‘start with the kids’, ‘get the
coaches into them’, ‘it’s going to take hard
work and it’s going to take time’. About the
most imaginative it got was the idea of Antrim
playing in the Leinster Minor Championship.
Michael Duignan felt there was some hope
for Derry, Down and perhaps Armagh but none
for the others. “They’re wasting their time in a
lot of the football counties,” he said. “Forget
about it: it’s not going to happen.”
Never, in the course of those 20 minutes,
was Team Ulster mooted.
It is by time the GAA faced up to one of its
hidden realities: the county system may have
served football very well but it has essentially
failed hurling. Whereas hurling has remained
a two-province sport, the domain of ten to 12
counties, the decade just past saw 18 different
counties contest an All-Ireland Senior football
quarter-final. 26 experienced the hype and
buzz that went with a Senior provincial final.
In fact only three counties – Carlow, Kilkenny
and Waterford – did not reach the last 12 of the AllIreland series.
For football at least, the old formula applies, both
for the individual and for the county: put in the
work and good things happen. An Éamonn Maguire
in Fermanagh, a Dessie Sloyan in Sligo, a Gary
Connaughton in Westmeath may not win as many
All-Irelands as they would if they had the fortune of
being born in Kerry like Donnacha Walsh. But their
talent still has opportunity to compete, to shine, to
rub shoulders with the best.
In hurling you are totally at the mercy of your
native county. It is fine to talk about the work Galway
and Offaly put in during the 1960s and reaped in the
1980s. That effort was exceptional and that effort was
a long, long time ago.
In Cavan today there could be an 11-year-old with
the same ability as an 11-year-old Henry Shefflin. Kids
from hurling’s boondocks have been known to win
national skills competitions. Yet before he even enters
secondary school the best the GAA can offer him is a
crack some day at the Nickey Rackard or, if he’s lucky,
the Christy Ring Cup.
Not the kid’s fault, of course. By the GAA’s rationale,
it is his county’s fault. They clearly ‘have not put in the
work’. They clearly ‘have not got their structures right’.
With all respect – and here Duignan’s resignation
is understandable – what hope has a Cavan hurler
of competing at a respectable level? Only two clubs
participate in their Senior hurling championship.
Even if the county put in the graft and increased that
number of clubs by 500 per cent over the next ten
years, what chance is there for our 11-year-old – or for
his son – to measure himself some day against even
There is an alternative: Ulster. While counties do
need to adopt the correct structures, the best structure
of all would be a team representing the whole
province that could compete in the Liam MacCarthy
Cup. It would motivate everyone in Ulster.
The kid in Cavan could aspire to play with a
serious team instead of merely with a county
where it is currently harder not to make the panel
than to make it. It would be easier for a progressive
club like Carrickmore in Tyrone to ‘keep the kids
interested and together’. It would even give Antrim
and Down a huge lift.
Playing for Ulster in the Liam MacCarthy Cup will not
happen for Graham Clarke now. Yet Down’s 36-yearold goalkeeper cannot hide his excitement.
“It would be brilliant because it would give every
county in Ulster the chance to see one of their
players really competing at the highest level,” he says.
“Realistically, the chances of even Antrim contesting
an All-Ireland quarter-final or semi-final in the next
ten years are slim. But it would be very realistic for
a Team Ulster. Even next year, if you had a properly
trained Ulster side, it would rattle every county bar
maybe Kilkenny and Tipp.”
“It is by time the GAA
faced up to one of its
hidden realities: the
county system may have
served football very well
but it has essentially
failed hurling.”
He continued: “I’d love to win a Christy Ring Cup
before I retire but it’s not why I train six times a week.
I train so I don’t feel inferior to anyone. Yet the GAA
keeps telling us we’re second class citizens. With a
Team Ulster, a boy from Down would be able to show
he’s as good as what’s in Wexford or Clare.
“A kid from Armagh would see Paul McCormack on
that Ulster team and say to himself ‘I want to be on
that team’ instead of going to Croke Park for a Nickey
Rackard Cup final and seeing Armagh run out at 12
o’clock and saying to himself: ‘There’s no one at this
game.’ I know if we had one of our own on the big
stage – a Paul Braniff, say – you’d have everyone in
Down hurling going down to see it.”
Because they would still feel represented. At
the moment most GAA people up north feel either
disenfranchised or disconnected from hurling.
They do not have their own to cheer for in the
MacCarthy Cup because they do not have the numbers
– in clubs, in personnel – to joust with the Wexfords
and Clares.
A Team Ulster would have the numbers. In a Paul
McCormack from Keady, Armagh, they would have
their own Alan Quinlan from Clanwilliam, Tipperary,
a rugby outpost that now feels at the heart of the
Munster rugby experience.
It is too glib to blame the state of Ulster hurling
on football-biased administrators that find it
‘inconvenient’ to promote the other code. Presently
it is impossible – nay, futile – to promote hurling. A
competitive, televised Team Ulster would make it
easier: a bit of glamour to show the grassroots.
Logistically, it would not be any harder for the team
to train than it is for Cork or Tipperary to convene.
Belfast is within 90 minutes of virtually the whole
province. The players could still play with their county
in the Ulster Championship or even in a reduced
national league.
True, it would involve some flexible and imaginative
fixtures. However, it is not novel in the GAA to field not
just for your own locality but also for a wider region. The
last six Kerry County football championships have all
been won by divisional teams, with Declan O’Sullivan
of little Dromid Pearses taking five championships
with South Kerry.
As Graham Clarke says: “What’s wrong with trying
it out?” What is the fear? That Ulster would actually
be successful and soon there would be calls for
Mayo, Leitrim, Roscommon and Sligo to form Team
God forbid that the national sport would actually
belong to the nation.
KIERAN SHANNON is Gaelic Games Editor of the
Sunday Tribune. Most recently the author of the
much praised Hanging from the Rafters: The Story
of Neptune and the Golden Age of Irish Basketball
(2009), he also co-wrote Justin McCarthy’s Hooked:
A Hurling Life (2002), Mickey’s Harte’s Kicking Down
Heaven’s Door: Diary of a Football Manager (2004)
and Brian Corcoran’s Every Single Ball: The Brian
Corcoran Story (2006).
Scarce little
The state of play for Ulster counties after 2010’s league
engagements is analyzed by John McIlwaine, with only
Down seeming to get a bounce
A disappointing league campaign
for Antrim hurlers got decidedly
worse last Sunday week at
Casement Park.
Antrim were beaten by
neighbours Down by a point,
2-17 to 2-16. Notably, it was their
first reverse against the Ards men
in four years and the first league
defeat by the old enemy in more John McIlwaine
than a decade.
Dinny Cahill’s return to the fold
after a three-year absence had meant high hopes among
Saffron followers for a serious improvement in fortune.
Back in 2002, when the Tipperary native first took charge,
the campaign in Division 2 had been reasonably successful.
Cahill’s charges won their way through to the final,
eventually losing out to Laois in an entertaining game in
Semple Stadium in the curtain raiser to the Kilkenny-Cork
Division 1 decider.
In 2003 Antrim went a step further and won promotion
to the top flight by beating Kerry in the Division 2 Final at
Croke Park. Again, they acted as the ‘warm up’ act for Cody’s
charges, who that day beat Tipp in a real thriller.
So far, this season certainly has not lived up to those
early expectations. Antrim’s performances
have been difficult to praise. Following
a somewhat fortunate one-point win in
Casement Park over Carlow in the
opening tie, they travelled to
Newbridge and beat Kildare.
A shot at a place in the final
still looked a possibility, despite
below par performances in the opening
two rounds. But the wheels came off the wagon
when Laois came to Belfast for the third round and
won with ease, 2-19 to 1-12.
Ironically their best performance came a week
later against table toppers Clare. Once more at home in
Casement Park, the side offered a spirited display and lost
out by a single point.
The most important aspect was the defence’s excellence
on that day. The backs were outstanding. However, Antrim’s
lack of firepower once more proved their undoing as chance
after chance was wasted by an attack oddly shy about
taking a shot. Dinny Cahill must concentrate on remedying
this problem.
Antrim’s best forward, Liam Watson, had been persuaded
by Cahill to return to the colours after a self-imposed twoyear break. However, Watson received a straight red card
to stand still:
Antrim’s Paul
Shields outpaces the
opposition during the
disappointing NHL loss to
Down on April 4, 2010
fortress: Down
Stephen Murray
fetches a high
ball against
Antrim on
Spring in their
step: The Down
team take the
field before
their Division 2,
Round 6 NHL tie
with Antrim in
Casement Park,
Belfast on April
4, 2010 Pictures: John
against Laois. His absence was to prove costly against
Clare, when his ability might well have tipped the
Against Westmeath, away in Mullingar for their
next outing, they were forced to field without their
best forward, Neil McManus, through injury. To make
matters worse, Shane McNaughton also received
a straight red. He was ruled out for the rest of the
league. Discipline is obviously another sore point.
Defeat in Mullingar ended any chance of promotion
or of a place in the final.
The defeat to Down was the final straw for many
Antrim followers. Few are optimistic about the
summer ahead. This spring has offered little bounce.
The fact that Antrim’s last game is away to Wexford,
who badly need a win, hardly inspires confidence.
Meanwhile the win for Down was exactly the
tonic they required. Manager Gerard Monan was
understandably buoyant after his men’s thoroughly
deserved result. League wins over Antrim have been
few and far between in the last 20 years. So establishing
advantage in the Saffrons’ own backyard could be the
lift needed to turn their season around.
In recent years Down have had a habit of appointing
mangers from outside the county. The plain truth is
that this approach has brought only mixed results.
One thing was definitely clear to all at Casement Park
that Sunday afternoon: whatever its source, there is
“Down are the most
buoyant Ulster side
at the moment. With a
Casement Park scalp
on their belt, they must
surely be relishing
another crack at Antrim”
real pride in the jersey under Monan and his backroom
Down play bottom of the table Westmeath in their
last engagement of the campaign next Sunday week.
They know that a win or a draw will secure Division
2 status for next season. Down are the most buoyant
Ulster side at the moment. With a Casement Park scalp
on their belt, they must surely be relishing another
crack at Antrim when the Ulster Championship comes
round in May.
Derry find themselves in the final of Division 3A
even after shipping a heavy defeat to Kerry in the
opening round. Then came a surprise reverse to
neighbours Armagh in the fourth round. Nevertheless
a determined outing gained a one-point win away to
Meath in the final tie of the league proper, earning
them this clash with The Kingdom. If they show well
in this final, Derry can probably feel better about
themselves than they did last February.
Armagh’s win over Derry was the high point of their
campaign. The only other point gained came courtesy
of a highscoring draw with Meath, 2-17 to 1-20. Still
under Antrim man Michael Johnston, they have been
competitive. Even their defeats to London and Mayo
were both by a slender margin.
In Division 3B it has proved tough going for Donegal
and Tyrone. To their credit, Donegal won twice. But
Tyrone have yet to register a win and Division 4 will
be their lot next season, which must be a serious
disappointment for a county that had made progress
last decade.
Monaghan have kept the Ulster flag flying in
Division 4 with five wins out of five. The Farney men
must fancy their chances of picking up silverware
when they meet Longford in the final, a win that would
take them up to Division 3B. Cavan and Fermanagh
finished on four points each in the bottom tier, just
ahead of Ulster’s ‘tenth county’, South Down, who are
made up of players from outside the Ards Peninsula.
There is a long way for all to climb.
A century
of points
he Mansion House on Dublin’s
Dawson Street holds a
cherished place in the birth of
the nation. It was there in 1919
that the first ever sitting of Dáil Éireann
took place.
Nine years earlier, the building had
hosted a meeting that proved really
significant for Irish sport. On that Easter
Sunday – March 27, 1910 – the GAA
Congress passed the motion boxed on
the next page.
Adopting this rule transformed the
scoring science of hurling and football.
Previously, a point was awarded for
a shot travelling through side posts
that resembled the arrangement on a
contemporary Australian Rules pitch.
The potential for scores in hurling
was further altered when another
successful motion dictated that a free
puck would now be taken not 50 yards
but 70 yards from the endline. This new
‘70’ had began life in 1886 as a ‘forfeit
point’, which was awarded when a
defender diverted the ball over his own
endline. These scores counted if teams
were level on goals and points.
The original rules, drawn up by
Maurice Davin, had allowed for goals
only. A spate of
scoreless draws
prompted the
fledgling GAA to
introduce points,
initially awarded
for driving the
ball over the Leo McGough
o p p o s i t i o n ’s
Hurling By
However, by
the time the
first All-Ireland Championship began
in 1887, point posts had been erected
21 feet either side of the goalposts.
Five forfeit points were made equal to
a point. The result of the first final, in
which Tipperary beat Galway in Birr, is
given as one goal, one point and one
forfeit point to no score.
While we know Tommy Healy got that
goal, the identity of the pointscorer was
not recorded. The forfeit point became
obsolete after the initial final, replaced
by a 40-yard puck.
In 1892 teams were reduced from
21 a side to 17 a side. That same year,
a goal was made equal to five points.
Previously, a ‘major’ outweighed any
The glory target:
A view of Croke
Park, Dublin
on November 22,
2005 Picture:Brian Lawless/
Pre-1910 goalposts:
Action from the 1908
SHC Final Replay, in
which Tipperary beat
Dublin 3-15 to 1-5, at
Athy GAA Grounds on
June 27, 1909
number of points. Cork benefited from
this rule when defeating Wexford by 2-2
to 1-6 in the 1890 All-Ireland Final – an
early case of a ‘golden goal’.
In 1896 a goal was made equal to
three points. Equally, the crossbar’s
height was reduced from ten and a half
feet to eight feet. In 1901 the scoring
area was reduced to 54 feet. Two years
later, it was further reduced: this time
to 45 feet, with the point posts moved
nearer the goalposts.
Those posts became one and the
same via that progressive 1910 motion.
That motion has stood the test of time
That Rule 4, scoring space, be altered to read –
“In the centre of the end lines shall stand two posts, 16 feet high
and 21 feet apart, and with a cross-bar eight feet from the ground.
A goal is scored when a ball is driven by either team between the
posts and under the cross-bar. A point is scored when the ball is
driven by either team over the cross-bar and between the posts at
any height. In All-Ireland matches, and as far as possible in
Inter-County and County Championship matches, nets shall be
placed behind the goal area so as to receive the ball when it passes
beneath the cross-bar and between the posts.”
and the ‘new’ scoring space celebrated
its 100th birthday this Easter.
That Mansion House Congress, apart
from passing so influential a motion,
took another major step. Under the
astute presidency of James Nowlan, it
appointed a four-man committee to
revise the playing rules. This gathering
was high powered. On it sat MF Crowe
(one of the organization’s best ever
referees), Wattie Hanrahan of Wexford
(a forgotten hero of the early GAA, an
energetic advocate of reform and a
cousin of Michael Hanrahan, who was
executed in 1916), JP Gilmore of Belfast
and Paddy Mehigan (a former AllIreland hurler, later famous as ‘Carbery’,
the pioneering writer).
This quartet’s deliberations led to
emphatic reform. They engineered
a number of important changes,
changes made law on August 14,
1910. Additionally, the new scoring
space involved a parallelogram, inside
which a player could not score. This
arrangement superseded one centred
on being outside a 10-yard line.
The 1910 initiative likewise ended
the role of the ‘whips’, whose job was
to stand in front of the goal beside the
goalkeeper and try for scores. Three
years later, the free out for a player
standing in the square was introduced.
A throw in for a ball going out over
the sideline was changed to a sideline
puck in 1898 (though it was 1931
before a score from a ‘sideline cut’ was
permitted). A goal from such a stroke
had been correctly ruled out in an AllIreland final, which probably prompted
its legalization.
All that said, the recognizably modern
game shaped by 1910’s new scoring
system did not bring about a flurry of
white flags for a long time afterwards.
Detailed analysis next issue.
ourselves off
Keith Duggan reflects on the implications
of the Rule 42 debate five years on and the
hectic context in which this debate was
conducted during the last decade
ive years ago, the annual GAA
Congress was pitched from its
customary privacy to being a
national topic.
The debate over ‘opening up’ Croke
Park engaged even the relentlessly
chirpy radio disc jockeys as they
lined up the hot new track from The
Killers, the Vegas band whose songs
were ubiquitous that year and whose
velveteen energetic sound seemed
perfectly suited with an Ireland that
was – so the message went – the envy
of the Western world. Keeping Croke
Park shut, keeping it exclusively for
gaelic games instead of ‘showing it off’
to international sports, had no place in
Ireland’s soundtrack at that time.
The Irish soccer and rugby teams’
need for a temporary ‘home’ had arisen
partly by accident. Several governmentsponsored stadium projects failed
to engage even remotely with the
prerequisite of sane planning. The IRFU
had long been resigned to the fact
that Lansdowne Road, beloved and
shambolic, had
to be closed,
knocked down
and rebuilt.
teams had no
venue; the GAA
Keith Duggan
had its splendid
Congress vote
to open it
would bespeak newfound maturity and
confidence. It would make economic
sense, keeping money at home, and it
would make patriotic sense, preventing
Irish teams having to play in Cardiff,
Liverpool or London.
So the theory went. Everyone on
the side of ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’
wanted the GAA to suspend Rule 42.
Seán Kelly, President at the time, was
architect in chief (although it is often
forgotten that his predecessor, Joe
McDonagh, came within a few votes of
having it abolished with a lot less fuss).
Croke Park was opened. If not
exactly closed again now, it has been
permanently vacated as the IRFU
and the FAI make for the stunning
new Lansdowne – a venue that will
suddenly make dear old Croke Park look
monstrously big and somewhat dated.
Did the GAA do the right thing?
Looking back, it still seems a confused
and a confusing debate.
One thing Rule 42 certainly provoked
was heartfelt rows. The preservationists
were generally regarded as cranks.
‘Backwoodsmen’ was the term of the
For most people, the directive was
symbolic of something broader, one
way or another. I remember speaking
with friends – the Editor of this magazine
included – who were convinced that
removing Rule 42 would be a pig in the
poke. I had no particularly strong views,
figuring that if the players were for it –
and most seemed to be – then okay.
However, in the years since, I
sometimes think of a conversation I
had with Cormac McGill, a Donegal
native and an extraordinary GAA man.
For many years, McGill wrote a column
in the Donegal Democrat. ‘The Follower’
was his nom de plume. To book into
the Dergvale Hotel for August was his
idea of a sublime summer because it
meant Donegal were going well.
He was a nationalist, was fluent
in the classics and regularly worked
Horace into passages he wrote on
Brian McEniff. I think he
regarded the pair as
equal in stature. He
New era: A street
performer outside
Croke Park before
the Ireland-England
Six Nations tie on
February 24, 2007 Picture: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE
was a teacher, a raconteur, a Scór na
nÓg man, a relentless visitor to people’s
homes and he was intransigent when it
came to Rule 42.
He commented
to me: “The GAA
is an idealistic
Irish language,
culture are
central to
it. That has
to such
“They held dear
the notion that the
GAA was somehow
different, that it
was, bluntly put,
superior to the
‘foreign’ sports”
an extent that the G is disappearing
and it is in danger of becoming a
mere athletic association. When that
happens, the GAA is dead.”
I think this sentiment was at the
heart of the movement that wanted
to preserve Rule 42. They held dear
Architect in chief: Seán Kelly,
GAA President 2004-06 Picture: Evan Shortiss
the notion that the GAA was somehow
different, that it was, bluntly put,
superior to the ‘foreign’ sports that
Congress was about to vote into their
headquarters – a stadium, it should be
remembered, where the vast majority
of GAA players never get to play.
The rhetoric of the pro-Rule 42 men
was much more memorable. Former
President Pat Fanning said: “If we
open Croke Park, we are abandoning
a principle on the altar of expediency.”
Former President Con Murphy said it
would be tantamount to “the formation
of an association that caters for
everything and stands for nothing”.
Those in favour leaned heavily on
the spirit of generosity. A common
comparison used was of the neighbour
whose house had burnt down. It would
only be common decency to offer him
a cup of tea. “Except you wouldn’t go
charging your neighbour a million quid
to drink the tea,” a friend remarked.
Debate in the 2005 Congress was
heartfelt but restrained. I think the
preservationists were resigned to their
fate. Seán Kelly warned delegates to vote
clearly. “None of this business of half
lifting your arms above your shoulders,”
he said, like the schoolmaster he had
In the end, it was not even close: 227
for, 97 against. On some day in the not
so distant future, the appalling vista
would come to pass: the Union Jack
would fly in Croke Park and a brass band
would sound ‘God Save the Queen’.
The Follower did not have to suffer
that day. He died in October of 2005.
The consequences of this historic
decision would not become apparent
until February of 2007, when France
and England visited Croke Park for a
Six Nations tie. The whole moment
reached a crescendo on the Saturday of
After the vote: Sligo delegate Ciarán McDermott, who proposed the
motion that suspended Rule 42, is congratulated at GAA Congress in
Croke Park, Dublin on April 16, 2005 Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
the subsequent meeting with England.
It was an evening start and the city
was appropriately cold and misty.
Supposedly, there had never before
been such an atmosphere in Croke
Park, which rather slighted a century of
All-Ireland finals.
The English boys came, took a history
lesson on Croke Park, behaved humbly,
and were then humbled by a rampant
Irish performance. It all went perfectly.
The GAA chiefs enjoyed playing host.
Somehow, the old wounds of the
1910s and ’20s became interwoven with
the professionalism and corporatism of
the Six Nations Championship. It meant
a lot to the Irish players. You only had to
see the eyes of John Hayes and others.
It meant a lot to them as Irishmen.
Nonetheless, the occasion was
jumbled and mixed up. Nobody was
that clear as to what the day was about.
Afterwards, international sport in Croke
Park became the new normality. The
accountants were right. It made sound
financial sense.
Now that this era has ended the GAA
must feel a little jilted and spurned.
It became enjoyable, having Croke
Park lit up by international television
companies. Pat Fanning’s old warning
holds true. It was about expediency –
for the other organizations as well. The
whole rationale behind suspending
Rule 42 was that it was just a temporary
measure, that it would last only while
rugby and soccer had no home. So
Croke Park opened its gates and let in
the outside world.
Nobody stopped to consider how
it would feel when the outside world
walked away again.
KEITH DUGGAN writes for The
Irish Times and is a former Irish
Sportswriter of the Year.
Like a spaceship:
Fireworks over Croke
Park mark the start of
the 125th Anniversary
Celebrations on
January 31, 2009 Picture: Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE
A liberating and
timely move
n 1951 my English parents left cosmopolitan
London and started a mohair handweaving
business in the Loch Anure Gaeltacht area of
County Donegal. They did not speak Irish, were
not Catholic and had no farming background. They
played jazz 78s on the wind up and read modern
Penguin paperbacks. They saw themselves as beatniks,
post-war hippies.
With that background, life was always going to be
slightly different for me. What other 1960s suburban
kid one night sang ‘The Wearing of the Green’, ‘Kevin
Barry’ and other Republican ‘torch songs’, with a slight
English accent, and was setting fire to homemade Guy
Fawkes dummies the next?
Louis Hemmings, born
into a Church of Ireland
background, offers a warm
response to the presence of
new codes in Croke Park
When my parents’
cottage business, aptly
named ‘Donegal Design’,
grew they needed capital
and had to move to
Dublin. We made regular
trips back. One summer
Louis Hemmings
in the mid 1960s my two
brothers and I attended
Loch Anure school for a
week. Those days, it was
highly unusual for Church of Ireland children to attend
While there I remember seeing my first handball
alley, seeing fellow students play that strange and
unfamiliar game. The fierceness, the speed and the
whole idea of hitting a ball hard with a clenched fist
intimidated me a little.
I think I might have had one pathetic attempt at
hand-pucking a ball before retreating wimpishly.
Instead I had less demanding adventures, leading
my two older brothers across a bog to the cottage
where my parents started their weaving. We got a bit
lost, quite wet, almost lost a boot or two, and ended
up sheltering beside a farmer’s corrugated turf shed.
Needless to say, we were invited in and offered shelter,
the warmth of a turf fire, tea and Marietta biscuits,
once our family name was uttered.
Warm exchange: GAA President
Nickey Brennan and Philip
McKinley of Hard Gospel Project
Picture: courtesy of Hard Gospel Project
As I grew up, attending a Church of
Ireland national school, a Quaker co-ed
boarding school (Newtown in Waterford)
and Newpark Comprehensive in
Blackrock, I had no exposure to gaelic
games, to the GAA or even to Croke
Park. It probably did not help that I was
not sporty. Cricket and hockey, those
‘foreign games’, were what was played.
When it came to sports mitching was
my best position.
Times change. I got married in the mid
1980s and had children a few years later.
The Good Friday
Agreement got
Around the early Noughties I was in
a typical modern sports shop with my
son, who was about ten years old. One
of us, or my wife, decided to buy a hurl.
My wife enjoyed ball and stick games in
her schooldays, mainly hockey. Casually
knocking tennis balls in the garden and
on open ground became an occasional
Our involvement with gaelic games
proper started when I rang up Croke
Park, after the Good Friday Agreement,
and asked them what outreach were
they doing to Protestant schools and so
forth. It was probably a bit of a challenge
to the person to whom I spoke. They
took on board my point, which was:
how can Protestants join gaelic clubs
when a lot of fixtures and news about
local clubs are posted only in Catholic
schools and parishes?
After a little bit of GAA history that
cited former President Jack Boothman
and the Sam Maguire Cup, the Croke
Park representative concluded with a
‘my best friends are Protestant’ routine.
He then offered two free tickets to the
upcoming semi-finals at Croke Park.
joined the throng
on the DART at
Blackrock and got
off at Connolly.
nobody we
Rose and shamrock: England and Irish supporters outside Croke Park
on February 24, 2007
Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
knew. We literally followed the crowd.
Wandering along among thousands
we passed the groups of friends having
a drink on the street, the hawkers and
the stone-throwing brats. The modern
stands at Croker loomed above us like
a hungry spaceship. We entered this
symbolic edifice totally green and not
knowing what to expect. It was an
interesting and somewhat exhilarating
Why did many bring black plastic
bags? I later discovered it was instead
of raingear. We had no flags, scarves,
county shirts or wristbands. Nor any
protection from the rain. Luckily, there
was no downpour.
To hear the roar of thousands of
supporters, to cringe when players
got accidently whacked, to see
hurls get smashed into smithereens:
jawdropping, for this slightly sheltered,
We were, in Church of Ireland and in
evangelical Christian circles, one of the
few to send our boys to gaelic games.
Among friends it became a conversation
piece. Many Protestants almost seem
to consider it a badge of pride, not
knowing or not playing gaelic games. A
kind of cultural snobbery, perhaps.
I am quite sure that Rule 27 has also
contributed to this attitude. The abuse
of Croke Park during the Bloody Sunday
massacre of November 1920 certainly
set the seeds of sectarianism in place.
Perhaps, for Protestants, the casual
alliance between the GAA and Sinn Féin
is or was a point of some concern.
As for my boys, they both stuck at
hurling for a few years but lack of friends
to go with them became an issue. One
club received us well; the other one
became evident that we belonged
Loch Anure: A painting by Maurice
Wilks (1910-84)
to a Church of Ireland school.
More must be done to welcome
‘outsiders’ by clubs overly fond of cosy
consensus. In the evangelical churches
that I attend, we are repeatedly
encouraged to be welcomers, to
speak in a language that Seán Citizen
understands, to engage with all,
whether believers or non-believers.
Intriguingly enough, it seems that
a good number of immigrants have
managed to ‘jump the queue’ ahead
of hesitant Protestants when it comes
to gaelic games. I guess not having
the burden of nuanced negativity and
possibly having no knowledge of our
country’s troubled history has been
an asset. Fair play to them. We live in
interesting times.
Croke Park was opened up to rugby in
2007. Even as a sports dummy, clueless
about rules whether in rugby or in
gaelic games, I rejoiced at this liberating
move. To use biblical language, the
abandonment of the ‘bondage’ of a
somewhat dictatorial stance on ‘foreign
games’ on the ‘sacred’ soil of Croke Park
has been a community-wide ‘blessing’.
The benefits of this move is a wise,
pertinent and timely cultural and (dare
I say it) ecumenical investment for the
future of Ireland.
Up the Dubs!
Hitting the wall
Wall ball: Causeway
CS hurlers prepare
for their final against
Banagher VS Picture: Pat Treacy
PM O’Sullivan travelled to North Kerry and spoke to
figures centrally involved in promoting hurling at school
and club level within the county
The hurling area of North Kerry was the walled garden.
A young lad, a ball and a wall.
Always the first hurling contest. You have to best
yourself, have to miss less touches than yesterday. It
starts there or it starts nowhere.
It can get more sophisticated, as at Causeway
Comprehensive School in North Kerry. Late afternoon
in late March, south of the Shannon Estuary. The wind
is piping in off the Atlantic, far more ruffle than frill.
Mount Brandon is impassive across the water. There
is a plaintive quality to the light.
Causeway’s Senior panel are preparing for their
upcoming All-Ireland Final with Banagher VS,
standing at their hurling wall, riffing through the drills.
The school has already taken the U16 title, retaining
it from last season. These hurlers have made a splash
and the ripples have caused curiosity.
Teachers John Joe Dowling and Willie Dowling, in a
nice symmetry, are selectors. John Joe, outside school
hours, is Chairman of the Causeway club; Willie, of
Lixnaw. The school, quite literally, is a centre point for
North Kerry’s eight hurling clubs.
The success is not mysterious. The standard formula
– hard work and a batch of talented youngsters around
the same age – applies. John Joe states quietly: “These
lads have guts and skill and application. It’s not just
here. I see them all the time with their clubs and they
have a superb attitude there too.” The Kerry Colleges
Hurl in: Shane Dunne (Causeway CS) tries
to block Niall Wynne (Banagher VS) in the
All-Ireland VS SHC Final at Semple Stadium,
Thurles on April 3, 2010 Picture: Mike Casey
Making ground: Eric
O’Connor (Causeway
CS) breaks through the
Banagher VS cover on
April 3, 2010 Picture: Mike Casey
side that participated in this year’s Harty Cup, nearly
all of them from Causeway CS, was plenty competitive
during their three engagements.
Willie wonders what might happen if the school
could be cloned and inserted around the county. “The
big problem is that there’s only one Causeway,” he
claims. “Whereas in Tipperary you have Roscrea and
Killenaule and Borriskane. And Thurles CBS and the
others, where their Minor team is concerned. If you
could get a Kerry Colleges team where we had only
five or six fellas on it, then you could talk about putting
out a really strong Kerry Minor team. It’s a question of
The new hurling wall is a talking point in more ways
than one. “It is a concrete result of rugby and soccer in
Croke Park,” Willie relates. “It cost €150,000 to put up.
The County Board got quarter of a million from Croke
Park and they built this.”
As we speak, Maurice Leahy has taken the panel
for a training session on the adjoining pitch. We make
sure to go and watch. The standard is good. Maurice
misses nothing.
Games Development Administrator for North Kerry,
he comes off the pitch, another spell of training done.
He is one of Kerry hurling’s constants. A player himself
for 12 years, he has managed the county’s Seniors on
six separate occasions. I have heard much about the
man’s charisma and dedication. It shines, even after
he has just finished an important session.
Experience might not have dimmed his drive but it
has burnished his pragmatism. “I’m involved now 30
years,” he says. “I always thought, when I got this job
21 years ago, I always thought we would spread it. I
now know we won’t. It’ll never happen.”
He has seen too much, remarking: “I know that’s a
very negative thing to say. But, after 30 years trying,
football is so strong in this county we’re finding it hard
enough to keep it going in this area, even though we’re
working well and it’s a big success at the moment.”
He continues: “It’s a sad thing to say but I believe at
times they’d rather see rugby and soccer and anything
else developed in their clubs rather than hurling, you
know. Sometimes I get that impression. Maybe I’m
wrong. I hope so.”
Having John Griffin as his counterpart in South
Kerry, Maurice emphasizes, has been a really positive
development. It means Maurice can concentrate on
the primary schools along his own patch, with the
result that 12-year-olds entering Causeway CS are
considered more accomplished than was the case ten
or 15 years ago.
The overall diagnosis? “When the ground got hard
and the ball got fast,” Maurice says, “the Kerry hurler
couldn’t cope. The Kerry hurler had no Tommy Walsh
or JJ Delaney coming in on top of him. He could take
three seconds to hit a ball.”
He is sure about the change: “The wall is doing that
for us. The wall is our JJ Delaney. You’ve got to react in
that split second now. I would credit the wall mainly
with us winning the U16 All-Ireland last year.”
The good fight will proceed. “I’m passionate about
hurling,” Maurice repeats. “I thinking hurling is the
greatest game in the world. That’s why it will survive
in this area. We really believe in it in this area. We really
love it. We fight and we argue. But we love the game
and it will never die here.”
He is a man to believe. As we finish chatting,
Causeway’s U14 hurlers come out onto the pitch for a
training session. Maurice enjoys my enjoyment of
seeing so many Kilkenny jerseys among them.
Spreading the faith: Maurice Leahy, Kerry
GDA, at an U8 blitz in Abbeydorney in June
2009 Picture: courtesy of Abbeydorney GAA Club
We spin round the club and the parishes. North
Kerry wears a striking form of graffiti. Turn a corner on
the way to Ardfert and a wall is chalked ‘Up Ballyduff!’
Turn a corner on the way to Abbeydorney and a traffic
sign is sprayed ‘Up Kilmoyley!’ It is that intimate.
“Most of the bad blood is gone out of it now,
thankfully,” says John Joe Delaney. “The school has
been a great help. The young lads are all knocking
around together the whole time.”
We think of Kerry in a certain way: Dingle, the
mountains, the tourist spots. North Kerry is different
and a surprise in its way. It is very much farming
country and the Feale Valley is immaculate farming
country, prosperous a long time even to a casual eye.
Kerry, in this respect, is part of a continuous pattern.
The association between hurling and good farmland
is well documented. Even by the sea, in Ardfert and
Banna and Ballyheigue, the pattern of settlement is
perfectly recognisable to an inland eye.
That wall is an adequate image in many ways.
Marathon runners famously hit a metaphorical one,
must drive through it to the next level. The last few
steps of maximizing talent, as with mastering a
language, are the most taxing ones.
Writing in Hurling: The Revolution Years (2005), Denis
Walsh offered the county a memorable passage. Walsh
summarized the aftermath of that solitary All-Ireland
title in 1891: “Kerry became a football county with a
hurling neighbourhood. Nine parishes in the north of
the county faithfully turned out nine senior hurling
teams. Pockets of hurling blossomed elsewhere from
time to time, but those flowers were growing wild and
sometimes the soil turned against them. The hurling
area of North Kerry was the walled garden.”
There is a consistency to what people on the
ground want to see happen: ventilation. Willie
Dowling mentions the value last year of going to play
Newtownshandrum in a challenge game with their
development squad. “Jamie Coughlan is a serious
young hurler,” he says. “Testing themselves against
him was very useful for our backs.”
John Joe Delaney would go even further, pairing
up two clubs to play in Avondhu or Duhallow in
North Cork. It would take funds but the distances are
manageable. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Willie
Coda: Love means never having to lean on a result.
The school did not do themselves justice against
Banagher in the final. Pity, but no tragedy.
Willie Dowling is upbeat when we speak on the
phone. “We have three pieces of silverware on the
sideboard,” he says, admirably even. “I think more will
be seen of these lads, one way or another.” Hurling is
hurling. Winning is winning. The true game is to keep
Joe Walsh, Kerry’s Hurling Officer, was already
looking to the future. “The Minors have an important
occasion with Limerick coming up fast,” he noted. “We
need to settle back down and focus on that game. The
performance against Banagher was disappointing,
okay, but it’s gone now and the year overall was very
encouraging.” This Minor fixture takes place on April
28, with the defeated county back out against Clare or
Waterford three days later.
The Kilmoyley clubman felt Banagher VS played with
the sort of intensity Causeway themselves brought to
their semi-final with Loughrea VS. “Our lads will need
to learn from that,” he states. “They need to learn how
to react to that kind of intensity from opponents, as
well as bringing their own intensity to bear. The final
was nearly over before they started dealing with
Weighed words: Causeway CS selectors (l-r)
John Joe Delaney and Willie Dowling consider
prospects Picture: Pat Treacy
Banagher’s intensity in the right way.”
Like Maurice Leahy, Joe Walsh feels realism is in
order. He is likewise focused on nurturing hurling
where it is strongly rooted. “Being honest, we are
not going having a hurling nursery like Causeway in
Killarney any time soon. It would be brilliant but it is
hard to see it at the moment.
The benefit of an outside perspective recurs. “The
Cork Minor League would be a valuable experience,”
Joe stresses. “I also think a Non-Exam League is a
good idea. The key thing is getting five quality games,
however you get them. You can find out an awful lot
in five quality games.”
For Joe Walsh, there are no illusions: “The absence
of a winning tradition is always going to be a problem.
Addressing that issue will take a very long time. All
we can do is bring forward young guys committed to
Then he is eloquent: “Even if they don’t go on to
be really good hurlers, the commitment will still be
there. They might become good club mentors or
great coaches. They will be hurling people, end of day.
That’s a victory in itself.”
Shannon wind, Atlantic wind, Kerry wind. There
is always a climate, a set of conditions in which the
challenge is to find the best rhyme for ‘survive’ and
Up the wall.
A year in Kerry
Pat Treacy, then a young student on a farm placement
scheme, recalls 1974 and a season of Senior hurling in
Kerry with Abbeydorney
eptember 25, 1974 and the Abbeydorney
dressing room in Austin Stack Park heaves
with tension and expectation. Captain Tony
Behan gives a rousing speech, sending his
team out to secure a date with destiny and qualify
for the County Final by overcoming Causeway in that
afternoon’s semi-final.
A call of nature meant that I missed the team
photograph, leading to numerous rumours about
my absence. The background was that Ballyduff
had lodged an objection to my legality to play with
Abbeydorney. They said there was no evidence of a
transfer from my club in Kilkenny, The Rower-Inistioge.
Things were different then. As in all local disputes,
Abbeydorney had their own angle on events and
lodged a counter-objection against a Ballyduff player
who later became a multiple All-Ireland winner with
the Kerry footballers.
This tactic proved crucial. In true GAA fashion both
objections were thrown out on a technicality. Kerry
will always protect their footballers.
Months later, when I went up to collect my County
medal, the County Chairman Gerald Whyte said: “You
caused me a lot of trouble.”
I arrived in Abbeydorney in October 1973 as a farm
apprentice, the hosts farm being Michael and Eileen
Buckley. They became my new family for the next 12
months. I was simply treated like one of them. They
had seven children, aged 14 to three years old, and
I was there to learn about farming with a view to
becoming a farm manager. Looking back on that time
on their dairy operation, I really appreciate all they did
for me. I simply could not have been treated better.
By the spring of 1974 I had a good knowledge of
the area, having joined the local Macra. Membership
enabled you to be participating in table and team
quizzes, panel speaking and debating, and going to
dances. You were getting to know people from the
surrounding hinterland.
In those days there were two things you did when
you went to a new place: you joined Macra and you
got to know the local GAA club. Socially, you were
then sorted for the year, whether you had transport of
your own or not.
Abbeydorney had a hurling team since 1889 and
they loved the game. The fact that they wore the Black
& Amber was an added bonus for me. I had won an
All-Ireland medal at Vocational Schools and at Minor
level with Kilkenny the previous two years. Arriving
there, it was only natural that I would hurl with them.
What else was there to do?
Abbeydorney had lost the 1971 County Final by
a single goal to Kilmoyley. So they were contenders.
They had good hurlers with a lot of experience.
1974 captain Tony Behan was a big leader, on and
off the field. Centre-back Tom Lyons was a regular on
the Kerry hurling team, a tree trunk of a man but well
able to hurl. James Behan and Dan Brassil were a good
midfield partnership.
The full-back line included two hardy annuals
in publican Ned McElligott and shopkeeper fullback Denis Shanahan. No ceremonies there. Johnny
Harrington at corner-back, Timmy Keane and the
bearded Francie O’Donovan added youth to the
defence on the wings.
Teacher Tony Lyons wore the number 11 jersey
and was a match for any centre-back. Towering dairy
farmer Tom Kearney was a great target man at fullforward.
The two corner-forwards were characters in their
Marching into history: Abbeydorney take the field
beside Austin Stacks before the Kerry SHC Final at
Austin Stack Park, Tralee on October 13, 1974 Pictures: courtesy of Abbeydorney GAA Club
Kerry’s stripy
men: The
hurlers of
own right. Jackie Condon was christened ‘Lightning
Jack’ after his hat-trick of goals in the County Final. In
the other corner was Brendan ‘The Da’ Kane, who had
unbelieveable skill and ball control. He wore a jersey
he had made himself.
I have left goalkeeper Paddy Walsh to last. Paddy
was a forward in 1971. He came on as a sub in that
county final. By 1974 he was our goalkeeper. Paddy is
best summed up by the famous statement: ‘He could
catch swallows coming out of a barn.’ A gifted hurler
and a lovely striker of the ball, Paddy was absolutely
brilliant in the 1974 County Final. He later played with
Causeway, winning four titles in a row 1979-83.
One of the great memories I have of Paddy is his
rendition of ‘Spancil Hill’ in a pub in Newcastle West
after a North Kerry/West Limerick league game, which
we won. I have never heard a better version of that
song anywhere since.
Abbeydorney had not won a County Senior title
since 1913. The loss in 1971 was seen as a missed
chance by this squad and they were probably a better
team that year than they were in 1974. But the pain of
losing is a great motivator.
Having handsomely beaten Ballyheigue in the
opening round, O’Dorney – as they are known locally
– shocked three in a row-chasing Ballyduff. They were
beaten by double scores, 3-5 to 1-4. It was no surprise
to Abbeydorney to win. They always felt they had the
measure of Ballyduff.
That win built up a head of steam that proved
unstoppable. Six weeks later, these stripy men had four
points to spare over Causeway at the semi-final’s final
whistle, 2 -6 to 1-5. Now for a second County final in
four years.
Men in the black jersey and amber hoop of Austin
Stacks of Tralee lay in wait. The Stacks had suffered
their own heartbreak in 1968 and ’69, when they lost
both finals by a single point. They had well known
footballers and All-Ireland medal winners Séamus
Fitzgerald (wing-back) and Niall Sheehy (cornerforward), along with a cracking forward in Garry
Like any other big town team, Austin Stacks had
a few imports. Waterford-born Garda Noel Power at
centre-back was the most prominent. I particularly
remember him because he gave me a reminder of his
presence in the opening minutes of the final.
It was felt that 1974 would be Stacks’ year. They had
not won since 1931.
Sunday October 13, 1974 became
Abbeydorney’s day. A vise-like defence, with Paddy
Walsh practically unbeatable and quicksilver Jackie
Condon in the corner, helped build an unassailable
lead by halftime, 3-1 to 0-1.
O’Dorney were 3-8 to 1-4 ahead at the long feadóg.
Tony Behan’s men had reached the promised land.
The bonfires blazed on the crossroads in the village
of Abbeydorney on that unforgettable October night.
The parish went mad as the fans returned home on
the roofs and bonnets of cars for a party that went on
for days. The lasting memory I have of the day itself
was the arrival on the pitch after the match of my late
brother Denis, along with another brother, Mike, who
had travelled, unknown to me, from Kilkenny and had
to overcome a maor or two to access the pitch.
Hurling in Kerry in the 1970s was far from bad. The
county team gave plenty of trouble to the likes of
Galway and Kilkenny as the decade developed. Todd
Nolan from Crotta O’Neills was honoured at provincial
level. Kilmoyley’s Declan Lovett, although at the end
of his career, was a class act. John Fitzgerald and
Tim Hussey of St Brendan’s Ardfert were fine hurlers.
Ballyduff had Mick Hennessy, who was a legend at
that stage. I could mention many more.
Only three County finals, over the whole of the
1970s, had a points total that reached double figures.
In the full championship campaigns of 1974 and ’75
none of the teams succeeded in hitting the ten-point
target. This tendency would confirm the physical
nature of the game being played at the time.
I was young and inexperienced. Yet I was smart
enough to keep moving on the field and avoided
most of the heavy clashes. The Black & Amber of
Abbeydorney gave me my only club Senior medal and
every sort of cherished memory.
Howzat: Pat Treacy closes in on Austin
Stacks goalkeeper Tommy Regan on
October 13, 1974
Hurling blood,
football heart
Paul Galvin spoke to PM O’Sullivan about his
experiences of Kerry hurling and the fact that
he is first and last a hurler
Tralee in shy sunshine, April lifting into what April
should be.
The air has the first of balm. An oddly lively crowd
in the hotel bar cum restaurant offers spring a form of
tribute, it barely past three o’clock. A pagan place, ina
We are here to see Paul Galvin, in between him
taking a training session with The Sem and a grind
that evening. On the run, he has made the time. A
teacher’s life is lived, far from crowds of any kind.
He arrives in, a hint of a stir about the room. Much
is said about Paul Galvin and little enough is known
about Paul Galvin and nearly everyone has an opinion
about Paul Galvin and still less is it known that he was
first a hurler and still considers himself a hurler and
hopes he might end up a hurler.
So he is sure about the obvious gambit: “It would
come from the father’s side. The mother is from
football country. My father and his brothers were
steeped in hurling.” The parish of Lixnaw contains
two football clubs, Finuge and St Senan’s, two hurling
clubs, Crotta O’Neills and Lixnaw. Crotta tend to pair
with St Senan’s. Ditto the other two.
Back the way, 1950s into ’60s, there was further
subdivision. Paul enjoys recounting it: “There
was actually a separate hurling club in our area,
Ballinclogher, when my dad was playing. All the
Galvins and the McKennas and the Fitzmaurices.
Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s father, now, and all his family,
they would all have hurled for Ballinclogher.”
It went the way
of the times. “I
don’t think they
continues. “Just
Junior and Intermediate. But they kept their own club,
like, until a lot of them went away, for work and that.”
Stuff goes before him these last years. But here,
talking with an unassuming person, the keynote
is restlessness, as with nearly all those players able
to move beyond their own talent. He finds it hard
enough to sit still. I saw the same thing when I met
Jimmy Smyth, just gone 80.
Plus, Paul Galvin would not look out of place in
The Strokes, sunglasses hooked over a v-neck t-shirt,
the skinny jeans, delicate pale grey plimsolls. Himself
to the last, he has worked a striking mise en scène,
halfway between gypsy and dandy, with a piratical
twist, Johnny Depp meets Fabrizio Moretti.
Probably he is too much himself for majority taste,
too little your standard issue GAA star. But manners
and thoughtfulness are not scarce. He was anxious
to make the meeting easy, given
the road we were coming. A
particular hotel would be
handiest for us, he insisted.
Paul Galvin attended
Lixnaw NS, so strongly
hurling that he has no
memory of entering
football competitions. He
Double top: Tommy Walsh, Hurler of the Year, and Paul Galvin, Footballer of the Year, during the
GAA All-Star Awards at Citywest Hotel, Dublin on October 16, 2009 Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Hurls ahoy: Lixnaw’s
Paul Galvin and
Cathal Naughton at a
2007 Vhi Cúl Camp in
Duagh, County Kerry Picture: courtesy of Vhi
salutes the input of John McAuliffe: “That’s where I
really began to learn the games, especially hurling.”
His first day in Croke Park, he was a hurler, 11 going
on 12 in 1990. It was a prize of sorts for a school
triumph. Up he went, Cork versus Down in an AllIreland semi-final.
The young Galvin was given a Down jersey, number
4. He still has it. He got three touches during the
halftime game and, to his enduring delight, took a
sideline cut.
First he was in the dressingroom, checking out
the other lads, their go and their gear. Some sort of a
manager started issuing instructions.
20 years later, Galvin laughs in his throat: “Now lads,
says your man, when you get out on to the pitch, stay
in line. Sure enough, when I got out, I started looking
around. Before I knew it, the line was over here, I was
after wandering off, and your man was shouting at
me: ‘Come back in line, come back in line!’ I was gone
for a walk…”
Knowing the moral some will draw, he still offers
the anecdote. He is that bright. Like many a supposed
bollox, Paul Galvin proves a very likeable individual.
There is well known item in the Morrissey oeuvre
about cleft allegiance, ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’.
A mawkish enough point, were it not for Galvin’s
unspoken familiarity with popular culture beyond ‘We
Are the Champions’.
And so, in truth, ran the hurling and the
football. It was blood meeting heart. He did play with
North Kerry’s U14 footballers. “Nothing really came of
it,” he says.
Green and gold all
over: Lixnaw after
victory over Crotta
O’Neills in the U12
HC Final at John
Joe O’Sullivan Park,
Ballyheigue on
September 15, 2009 Picture: Mike Casey
The other code’s barriers he kept hurdling with ease:
Tony Forristal, U16, Minor. Paul Galvin was a hurler.
The Lixnaw law. He describes losing a Féile na nGael
final: “It was like the end of the world.”
All the while, Maurice Leahy was a major influence.
“Great guy,” Galvin says, with the taut simplicity that is
everything amongst such men.
“Like many a supposed
bollox, Paul Galvin proves
a very likeable individual.”
Moving along up, he relished playing clubs from
West Limerick in an intercounty league. Ventilation
was vital in so intimate an arena.
“With any club in North Kerry, there’s a rivalry,” he
says. “You’re so tight knit. When I was 11 and 12 and 13
and 14, growing up looking at Senior Championship
games, it was serious stuff, like. Dangerous stuff at
times, like.”
He is optimistic about the present: “I don’t think
that’s there any more, really. I think it’s more skilful.
It’s improved because it had to improve. I’d say if the
County Board see players making an effort, they’ll
make an effort. The current structure with John Meyler
is very good.”
Why do people keep at it? Why do they hurl in
Kenmare and Kilgarvan, being so isolated? He is quick:
“I suppose it’s the same reason that the bit of Irish
hangs on in West Kerry and in Connemara. People
don’t want to give in.”
Casual, he went see a Minor football game in
Austin Stack Park in 1996, Kerry against Limerick. An
exchange still sticks in his mind: “I was walking out the
gate and I met a fella from school. He says to me: “This
time next year, you’ll probably be there.” And I was,
like: what’s he on about? Just wasn’t a consideration.”
Yet he did win a Munster title with the Minor
footballers in 1997, later catching many eyes during
extensive service with the U21s. The transformation
was afoot.
Páidí Ó Sé brought him into the Senor fold. Jack
O’Connor became an admirer. An All-Ireland medal
against Mayo in 2004 shucked away whatever was left
of hurling’s cocoon. Now he is Footballer of the Year,
Paul Galvin from Ballinclogher.
Before all that, he only hurled the one Senior game
with Kerry, a day against Wicklow in Nenagh. He
Good place: Paul
Galvin returns to his
first love Picture: Pat Treacy
shakes his head in a sort of wonderment: “Tough
stuff, lads…”
He was wing-back and early in proceedings his
marker drew wild across him. “I was shocked,” he
says, chuckling now at that version of Paul Galvin.
“I says to your man: “Sure, you pulled on no ball
there…!” Your man turns around and goes: “Know
that.” I said: here we go… Here we go, I said.”
He is serious hurling talent. No doubt. Anyone
will tell you the same. If nothing else, there are the
three Senior medals with Lixnaw, who have but
seven titles in total. Galvin’s input varied between
crucial and important in 1999, 2005 and 2007.
Eamonn Cregan, who managed the club to
unexpected victory over Kilmoyley in 2007, is one
of the game’s most exacting analysts. “Obviously,
Paul was playing football,” he recalls. “But he was
back for the final. I remember he didn’t want to
start because it wasn’t fair on the lads there all year.
He knew right from wrong, and that impressed
Cregan was likewise impressed by his skill: “We
brought him on ten or 15 minutes into the second
half. He immediately got a ball down the right
wing – no hurling done with him all year – and
ran infield with it, putting it straight over the bar
off his left side, no breaking stride. There are not
many anywhere who can do that. If Paul had been
able to concentrate on hurling, he would have
been exceptional.”
The most famous occasion on which he was
involved was August 22, 1998. Kerry were about
to take on Kildare in the U21 B All-Ireland Final.
Maurice Leahy was the manager. Clare had just
beaten Offaly by three points in an All-Ireland
semi-final replay. But Jimmy Cooney had…
Galvin was out on the field, warming up, when
Offaly’s sit down protest succeeded. That hearty
laugh again. There was a lot of sympathy for the
two teams.
Regarding one, it was a touch misplaced. Paul
Galvin is a natural storyteller: “20 odd young fellas,
now, from North Kerry. Up we go to the Grand
Hotel, Malahide. Beautiful evening. Maurice tells
us to go for a walk, to come back for a meeting.”
Without going into too much detail, not all of
“He is serious hurling
talent. No doubt. Anyone
will tell you the same. If
nothing else, there are
the three Senior medals
with Lixnaw, who have
but seven titles in total.”
those U21s minded themselves well. The bright
lights of Malahide dazzled a few and that team
meeting at nine o’clock was sparsely attended.
Galvin was there.
Next day, the inevitable, unbeknownst to the
sympathizers. He continues, not exactly sure what
tone to take: “When we saw those lads from Offaly
coming onto the field… We said: thanks bit of god.
Jimmy Cooney’s whistle probably won us that AllIreland.” Eight days later, they beat Kildare by a
point, Paul Galvin top scorer with 1-2.
He is an excellent judge of hurling, repeatedly
picking why the best are so. He lauds the artists,
the beautiful strikers, mentioning Shane Brick of
Kilmoyley, who he has had trouble marking. “Eoin
Kelly of Tipperary is a fantastic hurler,” he states.
“Ken McGrath is another. Shefflin, Tommy Walsh.”
He cuts it very simple: “They’re hurlers, like.”
It is time to get going. We head out the back
to take a few photos. The eye is drawn to those
dainty grey plimsolls as he moves to a ball. They
seem barely able to contain his feet.
On a whim, we tell him to take home the hurl and
sliotar. Nothing at all, but he is launched. “Really?
Jeez, I love getting out for a puck at the back of
the house in the evening,” he says. “Takes the head
away to a good place.” He mimics the swish of a
controlled stroke and he mimics trapping a ball.
We mention the grind waiting and he bounces
a last thanks. Then Paul Galvin heads away,
content as a footballer can be in April, as a hurler
can be in Tralee.
A hero
still sung
Leo McGough recalls a tragic
accident after a league tie in 1978
that affected Garry Scollard, one of
Kerry hurling’s great servants
The matron had steadfastly refused to be
moved by feeble attempts to secure a day
“You have the flu and there is no way in
the wide earthly world you are going to that
match on Sunday,” declared my mother.
Her tone brooked no argument. I was
feeling fairly shook, but had been clinging
to teenage hopes of being allowed out to
watch Carlow play Kerry. This clash would
effectively decide the 1977-78 Division 2
Here I was, feeling very sorry for myself.
The father stuck his head in the door: “The
match is off because of snow.” Never was I
so pleased with a postponement.
Delight soon turned to sadness when
news filtered back of an accident in which
a Kerry hurler was badly hurt. The car
ferrying home the Causeway contingent
had James Broderick, a selector, behind the
wheel. His passengers were Pat Moriarty
(one of the few Kingdom men to hurl with
Munster), Paul Bunyan and Garry Scollard.
Around Nenagh, that fateful Saturday
night in February 1978, the car broke
down. Scollard, a mechanic by trade, lifted
up the bonnet. Tragically, with conditions
so hazardous, another car ran into the
vehicle. Garry Scollard was left paralyzed
from the waist down.
Even in a county full of household
names, he was a dual player of substance.
Scollard was an exceptional man to train,
regularly going straight from work to do a
bit on his own.
A stonewall right corner-back with the
Austin Stacks footballers, an all action
midfielder with the hurlers, his ability with
stick in hand saw him wear Green & Gold
at an early age. His greatest season came
in 1976 when Kerry won the All-Ireland
Senior B Championship.
Operating at full-forward, Garry scored a
Stacking up
Garry Scollard
with the
SHC B trophy
Picture: courtesy
of Ger Scollard
“Such was
Scollard’s popularity
that all neutrals
were hoping he
would win that
elusive medal.”
Hopping a ball: Garry Scollard the
hurler in full flight Picture: courtesy of Ger Scollard
crucial 1-1 in a shock first round victory
over Laois in Tralee.
He was on fire in the semi-final
against Roscommon, rattling home
3-2. Croke Park housed the Home Final,
with Scollard contributing three points
to Kerry’s victory over Antrim. If he
did not raise a flag in the final proper
against London, his playmaking ability
was to the fore as The Kingdom won
just their third All-Ireland hurling title.
A crack at Galway in the Senior
quarter-final had been earned. That
Galway team, having won the league
in 1975, shocked Cork in an All-Ireland
semi-final. Although subsequently well
beaten by Kilkenny, The Tribesmen had
become real contenders for ultimate
Kerry were viewed as no hopers in
1976. Garry Scollard donned number
15 and was marked by Niall McInerney,
an All-Star, off whom he scored a great
point. Pat Moriarty crashed home two
goals. Galway were relieved to escape
by 3-12 to 3-9. That was a great Kerry
team, one of their best ever.
Garry Scollard sampled Munster
Championship hurling the following
season, coming on against Waterford
in Killarney. The home side ran The
Déise close.
Earlier that same year, he enjoyed
his finest hour as a footballer. Beloved
Austin Stacks were crowned All-Ireland
Champions. Scollard proudly donned
number 2 on that memorable March
occasion as the Rock Street brigade
came from behind to beat Ballerin
Sarsfields of Derry.
Stacks’ triumph was the crowning
glory of a great era. They had won the
Kerry SFC in 1973, ’75 and ’76. Only a
national title could satisfy their thirst
for success.
Enduring memory: Kerry’s U16 side for the 2009 Garry Scollard
Tournament Picture: courtesy of Kerry Coiste na nÓg
While he won three SFC medals,
Garry Scollard would dearly have loved
an SHC memento. Three times Stacks
were beaten in the hurling final and it
is agreed they were one the unluckiest
teams ever.
In 1968 a perfectly good point from
a late 70 was flagged wide. Crotta
O’Neills won by a point. A point was
again the margin the following year,
when Killarney caused a major upset.
Abbeydorney, when Garry Scollard was
captain. His good friend John Barry,
both an Austin Stacks hurler and a
sports journalist with The Kerryman
remarked: “I never saw a man make so
many impossible saves as O’Dorney
goalkeeper Paddy Walsh did that day.
Then Jackie Condon put three in the
net at the other end. That finished us
off.” Such was Scollard’s popularity that
all neutrals were hoping he would win
that elusive medal.
Even after his accident, Garry
continued to take a huge interest in
gaelic games, regularly attending
club and county games. His passion
and bravery was an inspiration to all.
Steely determination on the field of
play stood him well during the difficult
rehabilitation process. The GAA rallied
round, supporting the family in their
major change of lifestyle.
Sadly, Garry passed away in
February 2000. Kerry people have
kept his memory alive by inaugurating
a successful Munster U16 hurling
tournament in his name.
Carlow might also honour him. How
about an annual fixture between the
two counties for the Garry Scollard
Cup? Home and away, every second
year, it would be a fitting tribute to one
man’s unforgettable determination.
*That 1978 NHL refixture did not take
place until the August Bank Holiday,
a game Carlow won to take the title.
Amazingly, Kerry travelled to Dr
Cullen Park with just the bare 15.
John Barry, The Kerryman’s reporter
on the day, was forced to join the
fray as a substitute.
Hurling fires
American campuses
Denis O’Brien reports on the implications of last
weekend’s third level hurling decider in California,
where Berkeley bested Stanford
in San Francisco, University College Berkeley –
affectionately known as ‘Cal’ – took on their crossbay and immortal American football rivals, Stanford
This time
hurling stirred
“American college kids
have caught the hurling
bug. Caught it big time.
From the Mid West to the
West Coast, the game is
sprouting college teams at
an amazing rate”
Captains Californian (l-r): Fionnán O’Connor (Berkeley) and Sam Svoboda (Stanford), with Derry
Murphy (San José), before the deciding game at Páirc na nGael, Treasure Island, San Francisco
on April 10, 2010 Picture: Liam Reidy
he headline ‘Cal take
Stanford in California
Colleges hurling final’
might not mean a
whole lot in sporting terms to
folks in the Golden State just
yet but this situation could
change soon enough.
You see, American college
Denis O’Brien
kids have caught the hurling
bug. Caught it big time. From
the Mid West to the West
Coast, the game is sprouting college teams at an
amazing rate.
Take a look along the Pacific Coast. Last weekend
the rivalry. The game at Páirc na nGael, Treasure Island
was for the Gary Duffy Cup in the second Northern
California Collegiate Hurling Championship.
History was made on their first encounter. Last
year was the first ever game of hurling between two
American college teams. Stanford had a one-point
win, 3-10 to 3-9. A help was that they started playing
two years earlier than Berkeley.
This season two Irish natives featured with both
teams. The rule? If you are a student, or on staff, you
can play.
The students at both institutions are already
hooked. Chris Stucky from Stanford says: “I love the
game. It’s fantastic. Ever since I started playing I have
just fallen in love with it.”
Berkeley’s Sam Crenshaw wrote in his college
newspaper: “Hurling is an amazingly exciting and
fast paced game that has already made history on
campus.” Coverage of last year’s final made it onto
local TV networks’ evening news.
championship was played over the
best of three
ties and began
last February.
one with an
easy win, 4-9
to 3-4. Stanford
“It wasn’t so long ago
that there was no concept
of college hurling. Now
it’s gone from zero up
to a fully fledged
therefore had to win round two to stay alive. A narrow
win, 3-6 to 0-13, kept them standing.
The decider last Saturday saw Berkeley gain
revenge in an intense contest. This rubber match was a
highscoring thriller, featuring 11 goals. Cal eventually
won by two points, 5-10 to 6-5.
Hurling is reaching forward like wildfire. Other
California students want in, with fledging teams
trying to get off the ground in Cal Poly San Luis
Obispo, Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles,
San Diego State, UC Davis, UCLA, University of San
Francisco, and University of Southern California. Word
has also spread up along the Northwest to places
such as Oregon State University and University of
Stanford captain Sam Svoboda thinks the game
has a future. “When most people try it they like it a lot,”
he relates. “You can see in just these past three years
when we started it up. There were no other teams in
California. Then Cal got started, and then USC started
the beginnings of a team.”
The young American hurler elaborated: “Then
this year it has grown even more. USC are nearly
ready, along with UC Davis, San Diego, Oregon and
Washington State. So you can really tell it’s spreading
all up and down the West Coast.”
While San Francisco GAA is helping teams with
coaching, the driving force behind the initiative is
former North American County Board PRO Éamonn
Gormley, an Armagh native. He is thrilled with progress
to date: “I’m very happy with how the series went. The
one thing that everybody is talking about is how the
standard of play has greatly improved from last year.”
Blue ball: Berkeley
take charge against
Stanford last
weekend Picture: David Millar
“It’s a miracle that these games are happening at
all,” Éamonn stated. “It wasn’t so long ago that there
was no concept of college hurling. Now it’s gone from
zero up to a fully fledged championship. The next step
is to get others on board and to get them into the
championship next year.”
Over in the Mid West, hurling is similarly on the
march. Eager hurlers have appeared at an incredible
rate in Indiana University, Marquette University, Ohio
State, Penn State, Purdue, and University of Pittsburgh.
A Mid West Championship is in the works for 2011.
Just last September, Gormley formed an inaugural
committee, the National Collegiate Gaelic Athletic
Association (NCGAA), in hope of getting things going
at national level over the next few years. He is clear in
his own mind: “We’re on the road to something big, I
Those head-turning headlines will surely follow.
DENIS O’BRIEN spent some 20 years in America.
Now returned to Ireland, he currently works
as a freelance journalist and also produces
a new international podcast on GAA codes,
The great
Five years ago, I was a sort
of mythical beast, a yeti of
As someone under 40,
someone dubious about
allowing rugby and soccer
into Croke Park, I was not
meant to exist. Numerous
acquaintances of the same
age and younger were of
PM O’Sullivan
similar mind. We were not a
herd, in any sense, but almost
all media coverage ignored
such dissent.
Going merely by comment on GAA websites,
there were plenty of yetis, for all newsprint’s pristine
snow. The stock line? Anyone who supported Rule
42 had a comb-over, won brown shoes with creased
blue suits, was a Hush Puppy Provo, never had been
under a shower in his life, and embarrassed people at
weddings. I exaggerate not.
Histrionic sentiment – ‘What will they think of
us over there?’ – informed arguments in favour. No
matter. For many, the Rule 42 refuseniks were simply
people you could not trust with a winelist. It was that
potent mélange of anxiety, haughtiness and selfconsciousness in which a certain section of Ireland
specializes, the section that thinks Kevin Myers is a
My own view had nothing to do with Bloody
Sunday or the playing of national anthems. The
logical extension of that position would insist on the
26-county state eschewing diplomatic relations with
the UK. I have broad and strong – and generous, I hope
– republican convictions but the fact that partition is a
nonsense was neither here nor there.
It was the debate itself that stank. Hypocrisies
guttered and were relit. The PDs, those arch advocates
of privatization and competition, suddenly came to
believe that sports organizations were the one item
in the known universe not enfurled in the reality of
competition. It was as if a scientist suddenly claimed
to have discovered a parallel universe in which apples
flew up to the sky in areas where middle class voters
were prevalent.
The Dublin Chamber of Commerce bemoaned all
the money that would leave the city if matches had
to go abroad. This plaint was tantamount to calling
for execution of the golden goose because it lays that
egg only 364 days of the year. The Dublin Chamber
of Commerce was nowhere to be seen when the GAA
took the brave decision in the early 1990s to rebuild
Croke Park.
It was meant to be the great inclusion. A famous
editorial in The Irish Times was couched in precisely
these terms. The same decade saw a referendum
designed to remove citizenship from the offspring of
a few hundred pregnant women each year.
That referendum of June 2004 succeeded, with
79.17 per cent in favour. Draw your own conclusion
about inclusion as an imperative during this era.
Statistically, umpteen people in
of a more inclusive Croke Park must
have voted in favour of a more
exclusive Constitution. It was
a mad time and this particular
double standard was perhaps
the worst of it.
The pro lobby’s most
powerful contention was
the pragmatic one: use
Mixed blessings:
An Irish
Croke Park
at the IrelandEngland Six
Nations tie on
February 24,
Picture: Ray McManus/
“The unvarnished truth
is that gaelic games, top
to bottom, has a far better
calibre of a person than
found in the FAI.”
your asset to make money and plough it back into the
organization. The people I most respect in my own
club were of this view. I had the moving experience
in recent weeks of standing at the hurling wall in
Causeway Comprehensive School, a facility raised by
rental money from Croke Park.
It made the bolus of hypocrisy that formed the
debate somewhat easier to swallow. But hypocrisy it
still was.
Besides, making money the bottom line is a fraught
co-ordinate. Kevin Cashman warned presciently in
2000 about the dangers attendant on ‘Corporate
Park’. While those arguments do not mean Croke Park
should not have been rebuilt, Cashman’s pungent
observations were a missed prompt. More thought
should have been given to the implications of moving
into the corporate sphere.
Last March, another Cork native remarked: “The
GAA is not a business. It’s not like soccer.” John
Considine also posed a pertinent question: “In 1973 I
remember my father taking me to a Cork Hibs game
and the attendances for those games were huge, but
where did the money go? With the GAA you can say
something is left behind.”
The unvarnished truth is that gaelic games, top to
bottom, has a far better calibre of a person than found
the FAI. As Considine indicates, the facts
speak for themselves over many years.
The reason for the difference in calibre was
the differing emphasis on money.
The suspension of Rule 42 may yet prove
a mixed blessing. Incoherence sows but more
incoherence. Still worse, the Irish Independent’s
crass and unthinking populism was allowed to
hold sway.
That maw is hard to sate.

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