Thursday 27 October 2016

Expect a twist or two in the tale before peace is restored in border areas

Published 20/06/2015 | 02:30

Limerick manager TJ Ryan will lead his team into the match against Tipperary in one of the most highly-charged clashes in the GAA calendar
Limerick manager TJ Ryan will lead his team into the match against Tipperary in one of the most highly-charged clashes in the GAA calendar

Tipperary and Limerick is the fiercest rivalry of them all. I hadn't realised just how bad it was until I went to match with a friend from a part of Limerick so close to Tipperary the apples fall off the trees from one county into the other. This normally mild- mannered man went off the head.

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He was so vexed that Mr Hyde called in the stewards or Maors, which is the name we give to the unpaid peacekeepers of the GAA. And then 24 hours later I observed the recently demented one gently take a spider in his palm and release the thin-legged webster to his freedom through an open window. There's no escaping it. The counties are stuck on to each other, for better or for worse. Marriages can be broken up but county boundaries can not.

You'd wonder was it done by the English as part of their policy of divide and conquer. Did some canny and cruel surveyor plan inland peninsulas sticking in to neighbouring counties like a poker to redden the fires? There are miles of such incursions, creating ever more border land and ever more conflict.

Many years ago we wrote of a day on the Limerick-Tipperary border when I had a leg on two counties, such was the narrowness of the boundary dyke. There were no goose-stepping border guards, or thorny wire, or mines or barricades manned by do-or-dies, or searchlights mounted as high as lighthouse beacons. The fatherland on the Tipp side was guarded by a stumpy but ferocious bull with a curly neck and a ring on his nose the size of a hula hoop.

Now before we go any further, let it be said it's hurling we're talking about here and the border conflict is no more than a dormant pimple until the championship pucks off. And when the game is over friendships resume even if there might be gloating or bitter exchanges over foul play.

That sort of thing usually ends within about 24 hours of the match and normal neighbourliness resumes, although we have heard stories of inter-county card tables cracking in two, as if they were chopped up by a Shaolin monk, after a particularly ferocious grounding of the five of trumps.

Some of the county boundaries are rivers and that's a decent sort of border but then there are streams separating the two counties with no more water in summer than you'd get from a bad dose of hay fever.

And if I might be allowed to mention that I am suffering from a terrible dose of hay fever right now, but, being a man, I'm not allowed to say so for fear of being accused of harbouring a dose of man 'flu.

I wouldn't mind but there isn't a bale of hay to be seen in any field. I think it's down to the gallons of chemicals sprayed on the land. The pollen is polluted. Pope Francis isn't far wrong when he says we're destroying our planet.

But the Gaelic Grounds' grassy lawn is so perfect there are rumours the greenkeepers brought their water in from Knock and Medjugorje. Last year the stadium on the Ennis Road hosted the most intense game of Gaelic football I have ever seen. Kerry and Mayo were heroic and in the end we had luck on our side.

Experienced All-Ireland winners told us they had never played in such an atmosphere. Tomorrow will be the very same. There will hardly be a puck between Tipp and Limerick. Even though this reservist hurling correspondent has never brandished a camán, we take the best of advice.

The summer took its time in coming but it's here now. The cuckoo call is no longer a thing of wonder and new spuds are dropping in price by the day. I write as a lover rather than an expert but I often think hurling should be banned in winter. You wouldn't ask Pádraig Harrington to putt in the mud and high grass of the winter league.


For sure there will be drama but will we ever again witness the likes of the 1973 final? This was the game that proved conclusively the Gods love a twist in the tale. The final score was 6-7 for Limerick to 2-18 for Tipp. Richie Bennis scored the winner from a '70. It was the last puck and Limerick won their first Munster title in 18 years. Later on in the fall Limerick went on to win the All-Ireland.

I have a feeling this is Limerick's year but we'll know so much more by cow time tomorrow evening.

The mother always taught us to put on "the shop face" before we stepped out from the kitchen to work behind the bar counter. Writing this today in a way was a relief from the pain of the last few days.

Our cousin Niccolai Schuster was lost in Berkeley. He was the loveliest boy from the loveliest family. Aoife Beary is in hospital in California. Her family are from our town. The best of people.

Maybe some day we will tell you more about young Niccolai. But it's too much for me today. He was a sportsman, you know, and a sports supporter too. Such a fun lad. Full of the good. But his Czech and Kerry ancestors are caring and loving people. Our ancestors will mind young Niccolai now.

Say a prayer for Niccolai, Aoife, the Berkeley students, and their families.

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