The All-Ireland hurling final: There’s No Place Like Tipp!


Three men in a boat draw the silver line of their pleasure across the face of Lough Derg on Sunday morning, September 5, just hours before the All-Ireland hurling final.


The sun is shining. We are knocking the last morsel of craic out of this splendid continuing Irish summer and fall. Tipperary is only a few hundred yards away because we are coming down from Dromineer Harbor to Garrykennedy where we will watch the game in Ciss Ryan's fabled pub in the heartland of Tipperary hurling. The joy of it.

We are too lazy and loose to hoist the sails, so we just putter down on the engine and find a handy berth and go ashore. We have a late breakfast in Larkin's and then head towards Ciss Ryan’s. Garrykennedy, snugged up to the banks of the Derg, is a picture postcard populated by real people.

Here, three years ago, we came ashore and into the pub on a very special evening. Local star hurler Liam Sheedy had just been appointed as the new Tipp hurling manager and, earlier in the day, had helped his Portroe comrades to escape club relegation in the cockpit of Tipperary club hurling.

He was there in the midst of the celebrations in what is his local pub. The singing and merrymaking could be heard skipping over the water long before we went inside the door.

One of our fellows, Sean O'Ceallacain from Dublin, stone cold sober, hopped up on a table as soon as he came in the door and sang a rousing ballad. So we were instantly accepted into the company, and a mighty night followed.

There are many Irelands. Thank God for that.

There is the New Ireland powerfully reflected in Dublin and the Pale. There is the Old Ireland on either side of the Shannon. In between are the clearly defined identities of the various counties.

Tipperary, immersed in fresh water, surrounded by counties with equally potent characters of their own, is different to anywhere else. There is a lovely provinciality to its people, a strong accent, an open hospitality, a hail-fellow-well-met attitude.

Above all, hurling is a passion and a pride. They were wounded to the heart last year when they should have beaten the Kilkenny stars but lost their composure in the final minutes and were beaten by probably the best hurling team of all time.

Today is the day for revenge or another painful defeat. The atmosphere over and about Garrykennedy is electric, with excitement and, let it also be noted, not a little fear. The mighty men of Kilkenny have won four finals on the trot and are heading for five.

Cue a crammed Ciss Ryan’s, a Tipp jersey or cap on every man and woman, pints forgotten about as the game begins on the big TV screens on the walls, a buzz of anticipation as the ball is thrown in, as the ash clashes, as the annual September ritual begins again.

Cue a specially loud cheer from all each time Liam Sheedy, the county manager but one of their very own, appears on screen on the sideline, urging on his troops.

Cue earthy roars of joy for every score as the young Tipp team that Sheedy built begins with withering speed, passion, precision, streaking into an early lead. Cue, too, longer periods towards the end of the first half when Kilkenny begin to find their feet and fight back.

There is only a one point lead for Tipp at halftime when the smokers flock outside for a quick cigarette, and the verbal inquests into what is happening, and what is likely to happen in the second half. Lough Derg is still a silver mirror.

I do not need to dwell on the second half. Everybody knows now that the team fashioned by Liam Sheedy, though underdogs, played brilliantly to the end, did not falter this time, broke the Cats with three second half goals and a stream of points, effectively hammered them in the end.
It was over before it was over. The relief and joy in Ciss Ryan’s was as thick as pipe smoke. The cheering could surely be heard across the Derg on the Clare shore.

They began to play the county anthem “Slievenamon” on the pub's sound system. It rang outside the door and over the water. They played it over and over again along with the other Tipp songs like “Galtee Mountain Boy” and “Newport Town.”

Huge smiles were plastered across every face. Folk embraced and danced and sang and just kept cheering.

I don't think I have ever heard such a sustained explosion of communal joy for any sporting achievement. To win that game was to fortify and energize the county's identity and pride.
They replayed the entire game inside Ryan’s time after time, and every score was celebrated again as if it was being seen for the first time.

Hat trick hero Lar Corbett was praised more loudly each time he scored his goals again. Their own clubman who had masterminded the victory, Liam Sheedy, was cheered loudest of all. The merriment of singing and dancing devoured the hours as if they were only minutes.

Sometime in the evening, Roy the landlord arrived back from the Dublin game. He was wearing a huge smile and a badge that read "Five in a Row My Arse!"

He told us that Sheedy would arrive in Garrykennedy on Wednesday and would be there again on Saturday for a charity auction. The poster for the auction on the wall said "The Two Liams Will Be Here, Please God!" (The second Liam is the trophy, the Liam McCarthy Cup).

The merrymaking was continuing the next afternoon when the three men climbed into their boat to go home. There was the small matter of a flat battery, but a Ciaran McGrath with a heart of gold, two power packs and a tractor sorted that out. Fair play to him.

We drew the silver line of our joy across the old lake again. This continuing summer/fall will kill me yet if it does not let up soon.

Up Tipperary!

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