Wednesday 14 November 2018

'It's a diagnosis that just leaves you speechless' - Tipp and Kilkenny legends reignite rivalry for worthy cause

22 October 2018; Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy, left, and Former Tipperary goalkeeper hurler Brendan Cummins in attendance at the launch of the Tipperary v Kilkenny: The Legends Return a benefit match for Amanda Stapleton. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
22 October 2018; Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy, left, and Former Tipperary goalkeeper hurler Brendan Cummins in attendance at the launch of the Tipperary v Kilkenny: The Legends Return a benefit match for Amanda Stapleton. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Ger Keville

Ger Keville

There will come a moment in Borrisoleigh on Saturday evening when the pre-match pleasantries are replaced by a sudden realisation that the man beside you is not there to chat about how many medals are on the mantelpiece.

It's a star-studded cast of winners ready to reignite one of Irish sport's most intense rivalries of recent times. Eoin Kelly, Seamus Callnan, Lar Corbett, Jason Forde and Paudie Maher just a few to mention for Tipperary. Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, JJ Delaney, Richie Hogan and Eoin Murphy a flavour of what Kilkenny have to offer.

Try tell that marquee line-up that this is an exhibition match in aid of the Amanda Fund.

"At some stage everyone starts thinking this will be a great night and we will have a bit of craic and then someone wins a ball and you are thinking, 'you won't win another one'. That rivalry runs deep," says Shane Stapleton, brother of Amanda, who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor earlier this year.

There will undoubtedly be entertainment on the field but the real story is outside the white lines when the GAA community, as so often before, leverages its standing in society for the benefit of others.

Tipperary and Kilkenny have met six times in the All-Ireland final since 2009 - three wins for Kilkenny, two for Tipp and one draw - and on Saturday past and present players will face off in Bishop Quinlan Park, Borrisoleigh.

It's a benefit day for Tipp native Amanda, sister of former Premier County star and All-Ireland winner Paddy. Her life changed earlier this year when when she received her heartbreaking diagnosis, a moment that hit the Stapletons "like a tonne of bricks".

"It's a diagnosis whereby it just stops you in your tracks and leaves you speechless," says Amanda's brother Shane, himself and All-Ireland winner with Cuala.

"That's the way it is and there is not a whole pile you can do. For a while we didn't know what to do and then we started talking about removing Amanda's concerns because she has been living in London the past seven years and it's an expensive city.

"How is she going to get by because she is not working anymore so we thought of doing a fundraiser. Myself and my three brothers Tim, Paddy and Paul and my parents sat down and we had a few different ideas.

"Paddy thought a Tipp v Kilkenny match would really capture people's imaginations down in this neck of the woods and we went for it 100 per cent. Paddy text all the Tipperary players and straight away every one of them said 'yes, no problem at all'.

"Amanda is good friends with Paul Murphy, the Kilkenny corner back, so we asked Paul to ask the Kilkenny team and they all, straight away, said 'absolutely'.

"We thought the hardest thing would be getting the players to see if they were available but that was the easiest part. Then there was the logistics of putting together a huge event because we have a marquee, live bands, food, parking, stewards, everything. We have a huge committee who have been unbelievable.

"We just hope at the end we have put together a brilliant event, Amanda is delighted with it and we take away all her concerns and she can just focus on her health."

Watching idly from the sidelines was never an option for the Stapletons and while their togetherness and love for their sister laid the foundations for an event likely to attract 6,000 fans, the GAA community played an integral role. 

"Most people have been affected by cancer and it hit us hard. It has hit a huge amount of families hard so straight away everybody rallied around us," adds Shane.

"Down here Paddy would know a lot of people in the GAA community and I would too from work. They see you have been hit really hard and they do rally around you.

"When it comes to something serious like this, people are amazing at coming together. They say the recession is over but I don't necessarily think people believe that, especially small businesses and so many people down here put their hands up and put their hands in their pockets. It's been overwhelming and it's a mark of what people are like.

"It helps you along and it makes things easier for you. It's a sign of the GAA people and people outside the GAA community. People from all walks of life have been on to us. I have had emails offering advice and support. It's only when you are on this side of that goodwill that you realise how much of an impact it has and, to use Amanda's own words, how energising it is. We definitely felt that."

Amanda, a teacher by trade, is living in London for the past seven years and it is there she met her partner, Cillian Ryan. Her illness has forced her to give up work and with the bills still coming through, her family are keen to take away any financial concerns to allow her live life as vibrantly as she can.

"It's all about quality of life and to keep her going as long as possible," adds Shane.

"Amanda has been dealt a very, very poor hand. We will try everything possible. If there is an experimental treatment out there we will go for it. We will try it all. We want to make sure she has as much fun as she can in whatever time she has left.

"You do just have to stay positive because she has got a great attitude. She is very mentally resilient. You want to do it for her.

"She is a very funny, outgoing girl. I used to always say to her growing up and into adulthood that she is basically me with long blonde hair and without the beard!

"She is just a funny, lively and outgoing person that everyone knows. She became a teacher and that suited her down to the ground. She is over there living in London the past seven years, she went to college over there.

"She ended up going out with a guy, having not met him over here, from North Tipperary, Cillian Ryan, and they are living together the past couple of years. She is just a fun person. She is a great person."

On the pitch, don't expect anyone to hold back.

"In as much as we want people to come and support our sister, we actually want to put on a big show as well. We want people to come along and say, 'that was brilliant'. And Amanda wants that too," continues Shane.

"Paddy was talking last night that if he was marking Aidan Fogarty who he marked in a couple of All Ireland finals and if Taggy got a couple of points, steam would be coming out of his ears and he would make sure he won the next ball. I think it would be the same all over the field.

"If Seamus Callanan gets a couple of points off Brian Hogan, Brian Hogan is not going to like that. At some stage everyone starts thinking this will be a great night and we will have a bit of craic and then someone wins a ball and you are thinking, 'you won't win another one'. That rivalry runs deep. It was a decade of unbelievable games and I am sure they are not finished yet.

"Let's say you are marking Lar Corbett in the first few minutes and all of a sudden there is interchangeable subs and you are thinking 'alright, I have him dealt with' and then on comes Jason Forde. Then all of a sudden you are on Noel McGrath. You are not going to want to get beaten around the place.

"I would say it will end up semi-competitive. I don't think anyone will start flaking timber now or anything like that. I hope it will be entertaining and I think it will be."

The game throws in at 6pm this Saturday at Bishop Quinlan Park in Borrisoleigh. Tickets are €22.50 and can be purchased here, while U16's are free. To donate to the Amanda Stapleton Fund, click here.

Tipperary

1. Brendan Cummins

2. Paddy Stapleton

3. Padraic Maher

4. Paul Curran

5. Conor O'Brien

6. Benny Dunne

7. THomas Stapleton

8. James Woodlock

9. Shane McGrath

10. Pat Kerwick

11. Seamus Callanan

12. John O'Brien

13. Noel McGrath

14. Eoin Kelly

15. Lar Corbett

 

16. Darren Gleeson

17. Patrick Maher

18. Pa Bourke

19. Michael Webster

20. Ronan Maher

21. Paul Kelly

22. Shane Maher

23. Gearoid Ryan

24. Willie Ryan

25. Dan McCormack

26. Donagh Maher

27. David Young

28. Brian O'Meara

29. Cathal Barrett

30. James Barry

31. Kieran Bergin

32. Jason Forde

33. Seamus Kennedy

34. Michael Breen

35. Shane Stapleton

 

Kilkenny

1. David Herity

2. Michael Kavanagh

3. JJ Delaney

4. Jackie Tyrrell

5. Tommy Walsh

6. Brian Hogan

7. Paul Murphy

8. Conor Fogarty

9. Michael Rice

10. Richie Hogan

11. Henry Shefflin

12. Eoin Larkin

13. Eddie Brennan

14. Martin Comerford

15. Aidan Fogarty

 

16. Eoin Murphy

17. Kieran Joyce

18. Joey Holden

19. Pauric Walsh

20. Paddy Deegan

21. Lester Ryan

22. James Maher

23. John Mulhall

24. Ger Aylward

25. Liam Blanchfield

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