Examiner sports column September 5 2008

September 21, 2008

Where other sports are merely games

The world of hurling was a seam running through our lives.

Sean Dunne.

Hurling was our game.

Donal Foley.

EMERGING FROM the blizzard of white and blue that is Waterford these days, we thought we’d give an ear to a couple of the natives and their thoughts on the game ahead of the All-Ireland final, the two men quoted above.

Sean Dunne was a gifted poet who worked for this newspaper before dying tragically young in 1996, still in his thirties. His name as a poet rests on collections like The Sheltered Nest, but he also wrote a lovely, lyrical memoir of growing up in Waterford in the fifties and sixties.

The eagle eye of the poet is much in evidence when it comes to selecting details of childhood, and his father’s love for Erin’s Own GAA club is sketched vividly. Dunne senior contributed club notes to the Waterford News and Star, and his son recalls him turning an image over and over his head: “The players were buzzing like bees around a honey-pot – how does that sound?”

Sean Dunne himself confesses in the book that he didn’t quite pick up the passion to participate in sport, but he enjoyed watching: “I was happy to be a spectator, relishing moments like Martin Óg Morrissey taking a free, or the tension as teams fought for winning scores with only minutes to go in a game.”

Dunne turned early to poetry and headed to university at eighteen, leaving Waterford, but the city left its mark. So did hurling: “No matter how small my talent or how little my interest, it was as much a part of my life as the wallpaper in my bedroom.”

Another snapshot of Waterford life comes in Dunne’s memory of the All-Ireland finalists coming home in 1963, the players on the back of a truck inching its way along the quay having narrowly failed to make it three All-Ireland titles after 1938 and 1959.

DONAL Foley, born in 1922, grew up in Waterford and remembered the 1938 win well, having been present for the first game in the successful campaign, the win over Cork in Dungarvan.

He went onto national fame as a journalist and in his memoir, “Three Villages”, published thirty years ago, he recalls the game-breaker for Waterford – ‘Locky’ Byrne, who won All-Irelands with Kilkenny in 1933, 1935 and 1936 before transferring his allegiance to the Déise.

“He scored three goals that wet June Sunday,” wrote Foley, “with such panache and ease that he seemed that day to have discovered some magic hurling formula all his own.”

Foley’s book offers a neat balance to Dunne’s later work, not least for its insight into how Ferrybank, that vexed territory: Foley’s father chaired a meeting at which some natives of Ferrybank spoke in favour of becoming part of Waterford and some advised remaining in Kilkenny.

The deciding vote was taken in “deep silence”, recalled Foley: “The Waterford side had scored a narrow win. There was no applause, no crowing of one side over the other. But there was great sadness in some hearts that we had turned our backs on home.”

Sporting options were limited in the Ferrybank of the time, he remembered. They were aware of the professional soccer team in Waterford while rugby they regarded as a “game for snobs played by bank clerks”, and Gaelic football a “bastard version of mixed up soccer and rugby” (presumably that was meant in a bad way). One game stood out.

“Other sports were merely games or pastimes. Hurling was different, and a way of life.”

Well put. And well worth remembering this weekend.

Contact michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

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