This blog believes that hurling is one of the best things in life. Of that there can be no doubt. Ever since Gerry Begley and Paddy Elliot introduced me to a hurling stick when I was about five years old and they were young gladiators representing Dwyer’s GAC,the passion for hurley has never left me.
The Christian brothers from Saint Finian’s Primary School on the Falls Road, Munster-born to a man, brought discipline and organisation to our juvenile sporting endeavours. Brother Benignus, elderly already by my time and nicknamed the Bore because of his mantra like shouted instruction from the side line, ‘bore in, bore in’ walked the Falls Road until he was in his nineties. Brothers Andrew, Christopher and Aloysius were our main mentors, Saint Galls our main rivals.
In the back of our class I idled away the time by fantasizing on how I would play for Antrim. I never did. Now I idle away the time fantasizing about how good I used to be. The older you get the better you seem to have been, appears to be a common tendency for sports people in my peer group, spoofers all including this blog.
My biggest claim to fame was playing for Saint Mary's on a team captained by Aidan Hamill, the Antrim and Rossa stalwart. But maybe that was football? My best school boy memory was being singled out for praise by our banisteoir for my performance on a Belfast versus Dublin schools game in Casement. I was injured during that game and I limped back and forth between my granny’s and school for ages afterwards wearing my wound like a badge of honour.
Politics intruded into my life not long afterwards. I was a Saint Galls man for a wee while until Brother Leapold – the Walking Lampost- expelled me wrongly and when he apoligised some weeks later I was too young and churlish to go back. Eire Óg became my club. Then O Connells. But it was all very secondary now to political campaigning and housing agitation and civil rights work.
My Uncle Paddy, a Sarsfields man and Francie, a Davitts stalwart were handy hurlers. So was my Uncle Dominic.
My older brother Paddy was a handy hurler also. Him and Paddy Smith. On the days before internment, in August 1971, I remember a squad of us, including young women from the Seán Treacy’s pucking a sliothar back and forth between us on the old pitch at McCrory Park. A few years later in the cages of Long Kesh when we were refused permission to have hurling sticks sent into us we made our own. Or at least Cleaky and big Duice and the more practically minded Gaels in our ranks did so by removing lengths of timber from the innards of our nissen huts and shaping out hurls for
the rest of us.
The screws were mightly alarmed and impressed when the Cage Eleven hurlers showed off our skills on the playing fields of Long Kesh. Unfortunately our boxwood hurleys were no substitute for the real McCoy. Ash is your only man. Cleaky’s Camans barely lasted ten minutes. But as he said later we made our point.
Antrim's senior hurlers and camogs made their point also this year on the national stage. Mighty stuff. They did us proud. So did Naomh Gall. And juvenile hurling is on the up across the county. Over two hundred young gaels – boys and girls- showed off their skills on the lawns of Stormont just a week or so ago. Well done to everyone involved, mentors, parents and players. They are out there in pitches across the land on Saturday and Sunday morning pulling and pucking and learning stick work and getting good at the best game in the world and there are great people fostering hurling, some for generations, in clubs across Belfast and Antrim. Well
done to them all.
Did any of you watch the Galway Tipperary game recently? What a match! Have you seen the Cats in action? Did you see Waterford and Tipperary? Will you be in Croke Park for the Hurling Final? This blog will. One of the great priviliges and big days in my life. The All Ireland Final.
Will it be five in a row for Kilkenny? Or will Tipp win the day? The Cats are favourite but ……. Nobody knows. That’s the thing about it. It’s all on the day. And what a day it will be. And another thing about it?
The youngster you see with the hurl in his or her hand making their way up the Falls Road or in Dunloy or the Glens? That young man or woman could go on to wear our county’s colours in Croke Park. They could score the winning point that brings the Liam McCarthy cup to Antrim. So encourage them. It's all to play for.