I WAS in Ciss Ryan’s fabled pub in Garrykennedy three years ago on a special celebratory evening.
We were there by accident. It was the evening when local clubman and former county star Liam Sheedy had been selected as the new Tipperary manager. It was also the evening in which his club had escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth.
Sheedy played his part in that game too. The club always comes top of the hurlers’ list. Ryan’s was packed to the rafters with relieved Portroe hurlers and there was Sheedy in the midst of them. There was a lot of singing and dancing and music by the shores of Lough Derg that evening but I clearly remember some local saying to me that their man had inherited a kind of poisoned chalice in taking on the manager’s job.
Back again in Ciss Ryan’s to watch the big battle in Croke Park on Sunday evening and the place was packed to the rafters again. Three hard years later and there was the Portroe man on the sideline of the biggest challenge of them all.
Could his young charges stop the Cats from the five-in-a-row? Would they be beaten again? Everybody in the house was wearing a Tipp jersey or cap. Hundreds of eyes were fixed on the TV screens with such concentration one would scarcely have been surprised if they had exploded into flames. I don’t think I have ever seen such excitement, such compressed hope, such anticipation.
And once the battle began I’d swear that the cheering and “Ohs” and “Ahs” were loud enough to be heard across on the Clare shore of Lough Derg. And they were all the louder because Sheedy’s men started so brightly and flamboyantly, with dash and aggressive purpose.
There was a mighty roar when they scored that early first goal. The Derg outside the front door seemed to even shudder slightly! A little quieter close to half-time when the Cats began to claw their way back into the game, maybe, but not much quieter.
As the battle ebbed and flowed from one end of the field to the other pints were forgotten on their tables and the bar. Maybe it could have been some kind of omen but I saw a black cat crossing the road at half-time when all the smokers came outside for the discussions about what might happen in the second half.
The Portroe people know their hurling. The consensus seemed to be that they were on the way already to glory.
A poster for a charity auction next Saturday was headed “May the spirit of Knocknagow lead us up and go to Croker to deny the cats five-in-a-row”.
And it said at the bottom that the charity auction would be attended “by the two Liams... please God!” And then it was game on again, only a point between the sides, all to win or lose, every Tipp score hallmarked by bursts of cheering and clapping.
And any time Sheedy appeared on screen there was an especially loud cheer.
When it was over, the rafters were raised an inch with the roar of jubilation. The intensity of the action had somehow obscured the reality that not alone were the Cats dethroned but they had actually taken a bit of a hammering.
Instantly the pub’s sound system began blaring out “Slievenamon” and the “Galtee Mountain Boy” and “Dear old Newport Town” and “Bringing MacCarthy Home”.
Men and women danced with joy, joined in the singing. The county’s ancient anthem must have been played 200 times before the evening was over and doubtless it has been played thousands of times since. Garrykennedy went mad with joy.
On screen a delighted Sheedy got a special hush when he paid tribute to his players for at last getting their reward. One index to the amount of effort which has gone into the last three years is the fact he has significantly aged since taking over the job.
There is a lot more silver in the hair nowadays. But the only silver that mattered was the McCarthy Cup in his captain’s hand beside him.
It is rare enough nowadays to be totally engulfed by a tide of unfettered joy connected with a sporting occasion. There was no talk of recession in Tipperary last weekend, certainly not in idyllic Garrykennedy. Host Roy arrived back from Croke Park later in the evening to confirm that Liam Sheedy and the other Liam would be visiting the premises tomorrow (Wed) and both would also appear at the charity auction!
I was also informed by somebody else that Eddie Brennan of Kilkenny is married into the parish and often drops in to Ryan’s. The local view was that Eddie, though, might not visit for the next couple of days at least. You could understand that. A man just back from the game was wearing a large badge which read “Five In A Row My Arse!” And Slievenamon played on and on.
The evening was as good as the match had been. The TV sets replayed the victory over and over, right from the beginning, and the pictures were watched with just as much concentration as the original game had been. Lar Corbett’s goals were celebrated over and over again. This is a hurlers’ pub in hurling country and they could not get enough of it.
Lough Derg gently chucked the boats moored in the harbour under their wooden chins like a mother caressing a child. All was well with the world.
I think I again saw the local man who told me three years ago that Liam Sheedy could well be taking on a poisoned chalice as the Tipperary manager. But there was nary a mention of that this September. All those fears and forebodings were merrily washed away as Ryan’s Fancy launched into “The Galtee Mountain Boy” again and everybody joined in. It was altogether special.
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