Sunday 26 May 2019

WATCH: Prince Harry tells Joe Canning how he heard he's a 'bit of a God'

Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Prince Harry declined the opportunity to puck a sliotar on the hollowed ground of Croke Park.

Instead the Duke of Sussex talked to Galway All-Ireland winner Joe Canning about tonight's World Cup semi-final between England and Croatia.

Prince Harry and his new wife Meghan Markle spent around an hour at the stadium today, learning about the history of the GAA and Bloody Sunday.

They were treated to displays of hurling, football and rounders by children from all over Ireland.

Ms Markle wasn't dressed for taking part, opting to cross the pitch in a pair of black high-heels shoes and a pants suit.

But there was an expectation that Harry might try his hand at our native sports. His father Charles famously made a very good attempt at hurling on a previous visit.

Asked by afterwards as to why Harry didn't take a shot on goal, Joe Canning replied: "I didn't ask him. He didn't want to do it anyway. I was thinking he might. He'll stick to the soccer later on."

He said they were "just talking about the soccer later on more so than anything".

Harry described the All-Star as a "God", although Canning laughed off the compliment afterwards, saying he didn't consider himself hurling royalty.

"They were lovely people, lovely people. So it was nice to meet them. Very down to earth," he said.

Dublin ladies' footballer Lindsey Davey said the couple "couldn't really get their heads around how we play football full-time and have jobs as well".

"They were really intrigued by that [amateur] element of it. They seemed to take a great interest in everything that was going on," she said.

Star of Donegal's 2012 championship winning year, Michael Murphy described the visit as a "huge" occasion for the GAA.

"It's a great symbol of how far our game is moving on here in Ireland. They were lovely. It's just brilliant to have them here. I think they were amazed by the stadium and the sheer modern size of it," he told reporters.

Dual star Rena Buckley from Cork said it was a "unique occasion."It's a huge honour for all of us to be here," she said.

The Prince stopped to chat to Tom Whooley (8) from Clonakilty in county Cork, and Cara Leonard (12) from Omagh, county Tyrone. Tom handed him his hurley, and Harry lifted it with interest. “It’s much lighter than I expected,” he said. “It’s made from ash,” explained John Horan. 

Harry examined an autograph on the hurley. “Who signed it?” he asked. Tom pointed to Joe Canning, legendary Galway hurler, who was organising an exhibition of hurling in front of Hill 16.

He also examined Tom’s helmet and face-guard. “Have you taken a ball in the face - or have you put a ball in some else’s face?” he joked to the Cork boy, before asking both children, “Is this the first time you’ve played on this grass? What does it mean to you?”  Seeing they were a little shy, he cheerfully prompted them, “Surely it’s a big deal, yes?”

In the centre of the pitch, a swarm of children and parents from the GAA’s Fun’n’Run programme for children with special needs gathered around the couple, offering hugs to Meghan. 

She struck up a conversation with Sarah Cregg who plays wheelchair hurling with the Connacht team, and was impressed to learn that she plays on the men’s team, asking her if it was a very physical game. “Good for you, Sarah,” she said.

Harry leaned in to say hello to Dylan Mahon (4) from Grange Rath in county Meath, and the cheeky chap pulled on his beard. 

“You might have a beard soon, you never know,” Harry told him.

One dad, taking advantage of the situation, handed his mobile phone to Simon Coveney, asking him to take a picture of his group. 

"This is one to remember,” said the Tánaiste as he lined up a shot with the royal pair in the centre of a cheerful melee.

Harry stopped to chat to Nathan Kiely (7) who later presented the couple with two hurleys and sliotars. “You’ve got more freckles than me. Lovely freckles,” he said to him. 

As he toured the pitch, the prince asked a series of questions about the rules of the two codes, which were explained to him by the Tánaiste and Sports Minister Brendan Griffin. 

After about an hour and ten minutes, Harry and Meghan left Croke Park for lunch in Delahunt restaurant on Camden Street; as they departed the stadium, the Prince described their experience at Croke Park as “a really refreshing event”.

Croke Park has hosted numerous visiting dignitaries in recent years in 2012, Xi Jinping, then Vice-Premier of China, was famously photographed kicking a football towards Hill 16 and whacking a sliotar with a hurley.

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