Double dreams and ticket hopes keep West awake
Passion is in abundance in Galway ahead of hurling final, writes Nicola Anderson
Galway has a brand new tourist attraction.
Laurencetown, between Ballinasloe and Portumna, is a quiet spot nestled into woodlands - but these days it is alive with the sound of horns honking as cars pass by Lar Kelly's house.
It is an impressive monument to Galway hurling, with bunting and flags fluttering in the breeze.
The Bord na Móna worker spent five days festooning his bungalow and garden, putting a lot of thought and effort into his display.
On his lawn, under the sign "Bow down to the Tribesmen", a scarecrow of a Limerick hurler is down on his knees before an effigy of a Galway hurler.
His neighbour Pat Furey obligingly painted the old family homestead maroon and white some months ago when, on a hunch, Lar figured they would reach the final. Lar even went up on his roof by night to put up the flags, in order to avoid the inevitable hooting horns by day that might give him a fright and send him tumbling down his ladder.
"The dark was less dangerous," he laughs.
But as the hours tick down to the All Ireland Final, Lar is worried that all his work might come to nothing.
"€800 I spent on this house and not even a ticket," frets the man who has not missed a Galway game since the age of 10 when he scrambled under a hedge to get to his neighbours' house where they had a television set.
Another neighbour fixed him up for a ticket last year - but he fears he may not be so lucky this time. "€300 and €400 they're looking for them in Limerick, I heard," he says in disbelief.
His brother-in-law, Martin Duane from nearby Eyrecourt, eggs on Lar as he launches into mimicry of the commentaries of Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh and the long-lamented Mícheál Ó hEithir. Lar wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to his love of Galway hurling.
"The two in a row - we have to do it. We will do it.
"They're a classy team. Very stylish," he says of the Tribesmen.
But his passion is far from unique in East Galway - where the game of the gods is revered.
In Kilbeacanty, outside Gort, a giant teddy bear in a Galway hoody has been thrust up on a lamppost.
Outside Portumna, even a tractor cutting the hedgerows has a Galway flag flying.
Home to captain Joe Canning, the town itself is deep in golden-ticket frenzy.
"Have you tickets, Eugene?" calls a woman as she spies Eugene McEntee standing outside the family butchers on the main street.
Eugene - who captained Portumna to an All Ireland club victory in 2006 - had to travel to Fermanagh to get his own ticket but is on the lookout for another for his wife.
"I'm still trying to sort it," he grimaces.
He has high hopes for the final, believing Limerick have a stronger squad - but Galway have more experience. "I think it'll be a humdinger," he says.
- Read more: The Throw-In: Hurling final preview - Can the Limerick fairy-tale continue or will Galway go back-to-back?
Both teams will get the lead and it will go down to the final quarter, he says, predicting a scoreline of 2-25 to 2-29, in Galway's favour.
"You get yourself so focused when you're out there and you hear the hum of the crowd and you just want that ball every time.
"Last year Galway were the hunters - this year we are the hunted," he says grimly.
Niall Hayes, one of the great Galway Hayes family of hurlers, and who played for the county as well as Portumna, watches his own children Dara (9), Cian (6) and Faye (4) go through their paces in the back garden.
"It's a pity you weren't here yesterday," he says, telling of how they had held a 'Mini All Ireland' for the local kids, with a vase wrapped in tin foil for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
The children were asked who the President was that would present the cup. Cian had replied: "Donald Trump."
To win a double would be a dream for the guys, he says - and if they could equal the achievements of the team of 87/88, the older players could set it aside and not have to be the heroes anymore.
But it will be a classic because it won't be like the football semi-final where Monaghan were saying they wouldn't have beaten Dublin anyway even if they had won.
"You don't want to hear that - we want Limerick to feel they can beat us," he smiles broadly. "Otherwise it's no match."