Basking in Banville, Ballyturk and Banner rince agus ceol

Life beyond management and a small ball and a stick made of ash as I savoured other pleasures also

The Wexford hurlers’ championship odyssey was one of John Allen’s highlights this year and he is delighted to welcome Liam Dunne and his team back into the “almost contenders” section for next year’s championship. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

The Wexford hurlers’ championship odyssey was one of John Allen’s highlights this year and he is delighted to welcome Liam Dunne and his team back into the “almost contenders” section for next year’s championship. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho


Imagine only one game left in this year’s Liam MacCarthy Cup. We’ve had some good entertainment again this season from these modern day Cúchulainns.

Having spent the last two seasons involved on the periphery of this superb competition I am fully aware of all the mental (and real) time it takes up. For most managers it hovers between the conscious and subconscious 24/7.

A number of years ago when I was involved with Cork I got an early January call from The Irish Times sports department. They were doing a vox pop with some intercounty GAA managers regarding potential winners in a cross section of international sports. If this was a third level exam I would have been repeating.

I either didn’t have the time or the interest and consequently suffered from a lack of answers. I could, however, have told them who won the Cork Junior hurling final or who was taken off in the senior final.

This hurling management tends to make one very one-dimensional. You’re not great company and certainly the topics of conversation in which you are well versed are limited. There really is only one topic you’re au fait with and that’s hurling. So if you’re in mixed company there tends to be some sharp silences or short staccato sentences.

So as the intercounty hurling year draws to a close I’ll share some of this year’s mixed highlights with you in no particular order.

‘Almost contenders’

We’ll begin with the hurling and acknowledge Liam Dunne and his Wexford team’s entry back into the “almost contenders” section for next year’s championship.

Division 1B will be a difficult place to leave, though, with Limerick and Waterford also planning to exit. But Wexford have pushed themselves up the championship ladder again and will make life difficult for any opposition.

JJ Doyle – the very successful Wexford camogie manager – and his under-21 management team are also pushing their way to the top. They’ve been very impressive so far. But can they overcome the might and brain of a Clare side that have been the best in the business for a while now?

It won’t be for the want of trying or the absence of a plan.

Another Wexford native also makes it on to my list. It’s good to have time to read again and John Banville was on the top of my “to read” list for a while. I started at the top with his latest Ancient Light and then progressed to The Sea. The greatest compliment I can pay the man is he is as great as Henry Shefflin and Tommy Walsh together and with almost as many awards.

The Clare under-21 team, not for the first year, stand apart as the best in the business. A few counties have won three under-21 All Irelands in a row, indeed Cork put four together back in the late 1960s/early 1970s and this Clare team is on the cusp of creating its own history.

They play an intelligent, high-octane, pure brand of very entertaining hurling. Joint managers Dónal Maloney and Gerry O’Connor deserve credit for helping to develop a special team that are a joy to watch. They are within 70 minutes of three titles in a row and unless they very much under-perform in the final I really can’t see them being beaten.

When Anthony Daly collected the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 1995 he spoke from the heart. His speech is recognised as one of the great acceptance orations. A revival began that day that is being continued by this present group of young hurlers.

On that early September afternoon Anthony also acknowledged that, in Clare they also love their traditional music. Proof positive of that can be found all over the county but a visit to the marquee in Miltown Malbay during Willie Clancy Week in early July will remind one not only is it alive but it’s thriving.

The performances of the Tulla and the Kilfenora Céilí bands are worth the admission fee alone. But the real pleasure for me there is witnessing the joy that permeates the marquee during every set that’s danced. The happiness that radiates from the dancers is almost tangible. Here are people who while they’re stepping it out are living in the present. No stimulants or Prozac here. Almost as entertaining as the under-21 team.

Fiddle virtuoso

A month later, every year, another Clare legend, fiddle virtuoso Martin Hayes, can be witnessed in the flesh in Feakle providing his own brand of entertainment. We’ll compare him with Tony Kelly. Yes, he’s that good.

The Limerick minor hurlers are also making headlines this year again. The Hawk Eye controversy last year distracted from what was a fulfilling, progressive, rewarding, season for them. This year they have built on that. Their All Ireland semi- final performance against Galway would have to rank up there with the best at headquarters in that category. This is a well-coached team playing to a definite plan. Possession and the correct use of it is paramount. Kilkenny will provide the opposition on final day and a thriller is expected.

And to conclude, the new Irish play Ballyturk makes the list. A sometimes hurling-helmeted Cillian Murphy and a character called Cody provide the sporting link. This is a brilliant, complicated piece of theatre. At times it’s almost as chaotic as an early days Compromise Rules games. It was a disconcerting experience but the acting was of man of the match quality. I’m not sure though that I can include it in future topics of conversation as I didn’t understand much of it.

So as September approaches there will, again, be only one topic of conversation and it will involve a small ball and a stick made of ash.

So much for different subjects of discussion. I suppose it’s a case of plus ça change...

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