There was shock and disappointment when long-standing Kilkenny hurling manager Brian Cody bowed out of the intercounty spotlight after 24 years at the helm.
But not even three weeks later, he made his return to the sidelines though this time the slight disappointment was his own.
After a two-year break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, top jockeys, GAA, sporting, and TV stars from around the country lined up for Hurling for Cancer Research, an annual fundraising event organised by The Irish Cancer Society.
Since 2012, legendary racehorse trainer Jim Bolger has led a team of intercounty stars and celebrities wearing Wexford colours, against dual Aintree Grand National-winning jockey Davy Russell’s team, dressed in Cork colours.
Cody assumed duties as manager for Russell’s team during the match which took place on Tuesday evening at St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge.
But not even Cody, the mastermind behind 11 of Kilkenny’s All-Ireland wins, could lead the team to success. Bolger’s stars have come out on top four times, while Russell’s best have tasted victory twice, with the other three years ending in draws.
By half-time, it appeared as if Bolger would continue his victorious run as the scoreboard read 6-07 to 2-10 in his side’s favour. His team’s lead was reduced soon after the second half began but by the close of play Bolger’s stars prevailed once again by the narrowest of margins – 9-13 to 8-15.
Former Cats’ maestro Cody described it as a “very special occasion”.
“It’s a huge crowd. They put a huge amount of work into organising it, and it’s just a great occasion,” he said. “It’s very, very important. Everybody is aware of cancer, affected by it or knows somebody who is affected by it, so it’s just so important that research is being done.”
Some of the stars who took part in the match included Kilkenny’s TJ Reid, Richie Hogan and Tommy Walsh, Limerick brothers Tom and Dan Morrissey, Wexford’s Damien Fitzhenry and Lee Chin, Cork’s Ashling Thompson and her partner, Limerick’s Darragh O’Donovan and Clare’s Petter Duggan and Ryan Taylor.
Also there to joint the action was former Republic of Ireland midfielder Stephen Hunt and comedy duo, the 2 Johnnies.
Thousands attended the fixture, with the crowd observing a moment of silence to remember Paddy Bolger, Irish jockey Pat Smullen and 24-year-old Tipperary player Dillon Quirke who died while playing for his club Clonoulty/Rossmore at Semple Stadium just two weeks ago.
There were stars off the pitch, too. RTÉ presenter Miriam O’Callaghan, former professional boxer Bernard Dunne and former Irish footballer Paul McGrath acted as umpires and sideline officials.
Asked why he never played the sport himself, McGrath shrugged his shoulders and joked saying it was “too easy” before confirming that he has “always loved the sport”.
Rosemary Simmons, head of fundraising at the Irish Cancer Society, said they were “thrilled” the fundraiser could return this year.
“Each year the star-studded teams, kindly put together by Jim Bolger and Davy Russell, put on a great spectacle and it has become a real highlight in the calendar of hurling fanatics around the country,” she said. “Support for cancer research is so crucial to providing hope for better outcomes for patients into the future.”
Since its inception, the annual event has raised €1,000,000 to fund the Irish Cancer Society’s innovative cancer research projects.