Tuesday, 5 September 2017

FIRST SUNDAY IN SEPTEMBER


Galway hurlers brought the Liam McCarthy Cup back across the Shannon on Sunday and the great Joe Canning finally won that illusive All Ireland medal.
We watched the match in Jack Rourke's bar on the giant flat-screen television in glorious high-definition colour, complete with slow-motion replays from multi camera angles and expert analysis from both the panel and the local hurling aficionados.
Sitting down in a bar with a group of noisy companions, sipping a pint of fresh porter and nibbling at a packet of cheese and onion crisps is the only civilized way to watch a good game of hurling these days, apart from being there of course – or is it?
Abbeyfeale Hill was never known as a great hurling stronghold, but we had our moments. And, back in the early sixties, the first Sunday in September was regarded as a very special day.
We were up early that morning to milk the cows and take the flowing tanks of milk to Meenahela Creamery. Back home and into the good suit and down the Hill Road to attend half ten Mass. Home again to take off the suit, eat the dinner and prepare for the afternoon.
At around half past two we headed for the house of our next-door neighbour, Davie Cahill, to watch the match on steam radio.
Davie owned a magnificent Pye radio that ran off a wet battery. He had it up on a high shelf and, when it was switched on, you had to wait for the valve to heat before any sound emerged.
But what a sound! It boomed out like a trumpet and seemed to fill the whole kitchen. It would leave today's discos standing – so it would!
That radio could connect with every major city in the world and bring numerous foreign programmes and languages in to Davie's humble little cottage on Abbeyfeale Hill with just the twist of a knob.
Across the dial was printed such exotic places as Rome, Brussels, Strasbourg, Paris, Berlin, etc. You could get Radio Luxembourg after 6 o'clock and listen to the latest pop music as it faded in and out on the airwaves. (Davie claimed you could even hear the pilots talking as the planes landed at Rineanna, but this was never confirmed)
However, on that special Sunday afternoon of long ago, our attention was fixed firmly on Radio Eireann and the happenings in Croke Park.
But first we had to listen impatiently to Din Joe and Take The Floor – a traditional music programme that featured dancing on the radio long before Michael Flatley and Riverdance was invented. (We were well ahead of our time back then.)
As match time approached a few more neighbours would drift slowly in, including Joe Moriarty from over the road.
Joseph had played a bit of hurling with Tour in his youth and knew more about the game than the rest of us and so we respected his opinion.
He rarely sat down during matches but paced the floor assisting Micháel O'Hehir with the commentary while offering advise and encouragement to the referee and players.
What are you doing way out there?” he would demand of some errant back who had abandoned his defensive position and roamed up-field. “Go back in and mark your man!”
Joseph didn't know it then, but many years later his own grandson would don the green of Limerick and win All Ireland honours. Sadly, Joseph did not live to see the day, but if he had, he would have been proud as punch and the rest of us would never have heard the end of it! The apple, as they say, never falls far from the tree.
Lizzie, the woman of the house, made tea and fed us generous cuts of home-made bread with lashings of blackcurrant jam.
And then, at three o'clock, the guttural tones of Micháel O'Hehir finally announced “Baill ó Dhia oraibh go léir a chairde Gael ó Phairc an Chrócaigh!” and we were off and running.
For the next couple of hours Micháel described in vivid detail the sights and sounds, the colour and pageantry and the intense excitement as two teams went at it hammer-and-tongs to win that coveted All Ireland title.
He welcomed exiled listeners living overseas in New York, Boston, Sydney, Melbourne and other distant lands, and brought them all a little closer to home. He gave the line-out of the two teams and talked about the parade of players marching proudly along amid waving flags and cheering crowds. There was silence for Amhrán na bhFiann followed by a massive roar from seventy thousand frenzied supporters as the whistle went and Micháel announced “The ball is in and the game is on!”
What followed was pure magic as we watched every tackle, every stroke and every score in our mind's eye with far more colour and clarity than any high-definition flat-screened television could ever bestow upon us.
Imagination is a marvellous thing. It can beat reality any day. Points were stroked majestically over the bar. Goals slammed in to the net. Crunching tackles were made and spectacular clearances sent way up-field, Chances missed and chances taken. Heroes born and legends created. This was hurling at its best. The greatest field game in the world. Fast and furious. And described by the greatest commentator in the world.
At the end there were winners and there were losers. There were tears of joy and tears of sorrow. It scarcely mattered to us. We were neutral. Limerick were rarely involved in these epic encounters, and 1973 was still a very long way away.
We grabbed our hurleys, most of them broken or shaped out of bits of timber or cropped branches, and raced out into the haggart at the back of the house, pulling and swinging, and trying to emulate our heroes.
This was our moment. This was our field of dreams. This was our day in Croke Park.
This was our first Sunday in September long ago.

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