Thurles gears up for massive influx as rivals shape up for hurling showdown

 

SOME 50,000 fans will flock to the home of the GAA tomorrow to watch Tipperary play arch-rivals Waterford in the Munster Hurling Final. While the teams do battle in Thurles’s Semple Stadium, there will be much more happening in the town over the weekend.

On Slievenamon Road, the manager of the GAA’s shop Lár na Páirce, Marion Graham, said stand tickets had pretty much sold out and all that was left was “scrap” – seats with limited views of the pitch. She’s beleaguered by callers with desperate requests.

Her mobile phone trills with the theme tune from The Sunday Game. “Business is very brisk,” she says. “They’re coming in droves” to buy merchandise, which included a “duvet cover and matching curtains” decorated with the Tipperary crest.

Encountered by chance in the County Bar, the man studying the racing page of The Irish Timesis willing, like most people in Thurles, to offer an opinion.

“You’ll see raw sincerity here on Sunday,” he says. “There are no corporate boxes – just genuine people there for the hurling.” And he should know. The impeccably dressed, retired army officer played in four Munster finals – three times on the winning side – during the 1960s.

With the disarming modesty and utter self-effacement typical of hurling heroes, Larry Kiely also admits to having won two senior All-Ireland medals for Tipperary and represented Ireland as an Olympian showjumper.

The barmaid, Bernadette Stapleton, says: “The atmosphere for the Munster final is brilliant and really good-humoured – you’d never have any trouble”. The bar normally serves food, but, she warns, “you’d be lucky to get a packet of peanuts on Sunday”.

At Semple Stadium, caretaker Philip Butler explains that “Tipp players would die for a Munster final medal – it’s engendered into them as youngsters”. The 61-year- old recalls “the first time” seeing the game as “a garsún” perched on his “father’s shoulders”. This evening, he and his groundsmen will cut the grass one last time to ensure the pitch is “pristine for the biggest day of the year”.

Ger Ryan, PRO for Tipperary GAA, describes attending the Munster final as “a type of pilgrimage” and an event at “the pinnacle” of Munster sporting and cultural life. “Hurling,” he says, “occupies a huge part in the daily lives of people in five of the province’s six counties” (football- mad Kerry being the exception).

Maria Manton, deputy manager at Hayes Hotel said rooms were “fully booked” – mostly by Waterford supporters. The hotel is a traditional meeting place for hurling fans and thousands will pass through its doors over the weekend. The home fans are confident their rising young stars will prevail against a seasoned but ageing Waterford team.

This year is the 125th anniversary of the GAA’s founding in Thurles. To mark the occasion, a series of celebratory events is scheduled. A special Mass will be celebrated tonight and, later, a “night at the dogs” offers “half-price admission to patrons wearing their county GAA jersey.”

Tomorrow, a “Guinness gig-rig” will entertain the crowds in the town centre, followed by the Artane (formerly Boys’) Band, fresh from Oxegen.