All-Ireland final: Gerry the giant – Galway’s lucky charm
Hope and a handcart fuelling cycle to east by faithful fans from Ballygar
Aaron and Craig Keighery in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, ahead of Sunday’s final. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Gerry the GAA giant had tears rolling down his painted face as he stood surveying the townlands around Galway’s Rahoon on Friday morning.
It wasn’t so much Storm Ernesto that he and his Mincloon minders were worried about, but the health of Galway All-Ireland hurler John Hanbury who is from this parish.
Sleep has been in short supply since word went round that the corner-back was being treated for an ankle injury suffered during the recent replay against Clare. Hanbury is under “no pressure” as one of the few city names in a panel dominated by senior hurlers from the south and east of the county.
Supporters in his Rahoon-Newcastle club have homes and sheds and gardens bedecked in bunting, with even several large hay bales from one of the city boundary farms enveloped in maroon and white.
“At least it is taking our minds of the fodder crisis,”one landowner from Boleybeg, near Rahoon, remarked.
Rahoon-Newcastle supporter Keith O’Halloran (24) roped in everyone over the past week to wake “Gerry” from his slumbers – the giant is just over a year old, having been conceived before last year’s All-Ireland hurling final.
“We made him in two parts, he’s all of 12 foot (four metres), and he took a whole can of paint to spruce him up,” O’Halloran explains.
This year a baby-sized player in Limerick colours is suspended from his hurl, while a sign reads “Limerick in our pockets, McCarthy in our Hans (sic). ”
“Of course, we had to have a Limerick lad being caught by the scruff of the neck. Hopefully, Gerry will be Galway’s lucky charm,” he adds.
O’Halloran has no ticket, and isn’t expecting miracles. However, Ballygar natives Melvin Smith (26) and Philip Coleman (41) are cycling to the match with both hope and a handcart, attached to their bike.
Smith, who works in Medtronic in Galway, and Coleman, who is a blocklayer, used to prepare souped up cars in maroon and white for previous GAA finals.
“We thought we’d do something a bit different this year – fewer emissions!”Smith laughs. “We are leaving Ballygar on Saturday morning, taking it in turns on the bike on the old road east, and stopping in towns like Athlone, Tyrrellspass, Kinnegad on the way.”
The pair aim to raise money for three charities – the Alzheimer’s Association, Pieta House and the Irish Cancer Society – on the 170km route. “We hope to get there before dark . . . and hope there isn’t a replay where we’d have to do it all over again,” Smith says.
The fittest city and county in the State would seem to be also the most competitive – outdoors, at least – with Galway’s minor hurlers also playing on Sunday, and with senior camogie and ladies football players excelling at national level. Sport is also an integral part of this weekend’s Galway Pride festival programme, with a soccer match scheduled for Sunday.
Extra buses have been scheduled for the exodus, but Eyre Square is still expected to be invaded on Sunday for a big screen transmission. Superfan Jarlath Curran (23) will be up in Croke Park by then.
Curran, who works as a waiter in Ard Bia restaurant, hasn’t seen his grandmother in Annaghdown in three months, as he and his grandfather, Gabriel, parents Paul and Bridget and brother Patrick have been to every GAA hurling and football match played by Galway teams this season.
Curran is more than passionate about being a not-so-fair weather supporter. His parents gave him the interest, he says, and this has been his life since he was a child.
“Work,holidays, are all scheduled around matches, and we get season tickets,” Curran says. “Out there in the open with a flask of tea and a cup in hand, and not even a coat in the rain – there’s nothing like it, whatever the result.”