Christy Walsh has always known the spice of contrast, different strokes for different places.
The day after Kerry beat Waterford in the 1993 Munster Championship, Walsh arrived into where he worked in Ferrybank, on the outskirts of Waterford City. A native of Kilmoyley, Walsh was centre-forward that day and a serious hurler, good enough to win a Railway Cup with Munster in 1992.
He laughs as he recalls the scenario: “A lot of lads at work didn’t even know about the match with Kerry. Soccer is huge in Waterford.
“Some of the lads would go across to see Liverpool every weekend. Some would go to Man United. And they’d nearly have a row on the Monday about the soccer…”
He continues: “If it happened now, we’d go nationwide, Kerry beating Waterford! But it wouldn’t happen now…”
Since his wife hails from Laois, they made a pragmatic choice in 1990.
“Bennettsbridge is about halfway between Abbeyleix and Waterford,” he says. “And it’s a fine place.”
Settling in Kilkenny enforced contrasts. “They’re flair players in Waterford,” he remarks. “The flair is knocked out of them a bit in Kilkenny. The last great individualist for them was DJ Carey.
“Waterford always have great hurlers. I know they’re a bit ‘kissing the jersey’ and all that, but what harm. You’d never see Kerry players doing it and you’d never see Kilkenny players doing it. With all the All-Irelands won, they just won’t.”
“Absolutely not,” agrees Mick Galwey. “That just wouldn’t wash for the Kerry public.”
The two men greet each other in a distinctive way, like bears across a forest clearing. There is warmth and appreciation. But no more than a glance is needed. They know each other’s ground.
Kerry-ness. Kilkenny-ness. Special K-ness.
The discussion is a bit like discussing ortolans, their wonderful flavour, in front of bird lovers. To outsiders, Kilkenny and Kerry possess more than their due, 35 Senior titles and 38 Senior titles (one in hurling). Some topics can seem refined and crude at one and same time.
“There is begrudgery, outside the loop,” Mick Galwey concedes. “But there is a mutual admiration between the two counties. A lot of my friends here would like Kerry football, admire it.”
I mention North Kerry’s resemblance to Kilkenny, the prosperous nature of the Feale Valley, and that some people seem to equate Kerry with the Blasket Islands. “There is a lot of bog up in North Kerry too,” Christy interjects. The two men hoot.
“But you’re right,” Mick says. “It’s not all mountains and islands. Around the Feale is good land. There is a similarity with Kilkenny there.”
The Currow native settled out on the Sion Road in 1995. “Our four kids are in O’Loughlin Gaels,” he relates. “It’s a great club, well run. It’s good to have a GAA club at your back. I know rugby was nearly my whole career, but the GAA was my roots.”
Sure was, as Galwey’s Celtic Cross from 1986 attests. He came on a sub against Meath in the All-Ireland semi-final.
The path was straightforward. His wife, a Cork native, was teaching in Gaelscoil Osraí in the town. There was no big fuss about the move: “Kinda came up with the intention of going back in a few years, you know? Two or three years and go back.
“But what happened was that I was on the road a lot. Kilkenny is very central. If only they had motorways back then. Anyway, once the kids came along, and we settled in, that was that. I get back to Kerry as often as I can but Kilkenny is home now.”
Walsh likes to reflect on the wider history of both codes. “I remember reading Princes of Pigskin, the book about Kerry football,” he says. “And it came to a chairman of the county board, around 1910 or 1911, a Daly from Tralee.
“Kerry were making inroads in the football, but all the footballers in Tralee were also hurlers. And Daly said to them: ‘Lads, ye’ll have to pick one or the other now.’ And they went with the football.
“So it could have been very different. There was also hurling in Listowel, in Killorglin. You could have had Kerry and Kilkenny meeting in hurling All-Irelands. I wonder would the two counties be as friendly then…”
Mick Galwey nods. “The Geaneys, that are kicking football with Kerry at the minute, are mad keen on hurling,” he says. “There used to be a strong tradition of hurling in Dingle, way back. I’ve seen the photographs in Flaherty’s pub. Some great photographs, like, of the boys with the sticks.”
I detect in Christy Walsh more of a grá for the underdog. Kerry hurling’s relationship to Kerry is akin to the relationship of the country to Kilkenny hurling over the last decade and a half. He has a double perspective, a feel for how matters move outside the loop.
“So much of it is confidence,” Christy says. He played junior football with Kerry and had senior trials, a lively ciotóg midfielder.
But he never felt comfortable in that groove. His summary is pithy: “Sure, how could you have a Kerry senior footballer from Kilmoyley? Isn’t that what people would have been saying?”
Christy is Kilkenny’s current football manager and led them to a junior title in Britain over the summer. “There are plenty of good footballers around,” he says. “But nearly all of them are playing hurling…”
Last spring, he managed Bennettsbridge’s hurlers to a junior All-Ireland title.
Marriage strengthened that double perspective. His father-in-law, Joe McCabe, kept goal for Laois against Tipperary in the 1934 minor All-Ireland final. Now 96, he remains hale.
“Joe emphasises it was an anniversary year for the GAA,” Christy says. “Fifty years founded. Tipp had to win something and Tipp, before the minor, hadn’t won anything that year.
“So the referee played over eight minutes of added time, seemingly. When Tipp finally got ahead, the referee blew up… Joe talks about it still.”
Most people live in two places, where they come from and where they end up. Whatever outsiders feel, there is no getting round September’s nature for the Ks. In some ways, even after moving, Mick Galwey and Christy Walsh have ended up where they started out.
Mick relished 2014 because it reversed usual sequence. He beams: “You know the way the football is always the last? Kilkenny would have the All-Ireland won and they’d be celebrating, and Kerry might be in the All-Ireland and the lads would be getting on to me about whether we were going to win the football.
“But last year Kerry had their All-Ireland won before the replay in the hurling. All of a sudden, you could sit back and relax. The pressure was off for Kerry, and I could see the pressure and the tension with Kilkenny people.”
September in 2015, barring a draw tomorrow, resumed normal service. “This year it’s back to the same craic,” Galwey says, likeably wry.
“Kilkenny will know, one way or another, but I’ll still be wondering.”
September sweat for Kerrymen in Kilkenny
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