Picture Essay: Sporting days and black and white memories

It’s many years since Noel Coward said it, but the longevity of his remark shows how acute he was: “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.”

Picture Essay: Sporting days and black and white memories

He might have been a little more inclusive, though. An old-fashioned photograph can electrify any imagination, and for some reason a sharp black and white picture does so better than any colour photograph.

The photographic treasure trove on display on the Cummins Sports website by Kevin Cummins himself - who wielded the camera - are a case in point.

For instance, there were dozens of action shots which could have been used instead of the one seen here, from the old Cork Athletic Grounds, but the relative obscurity of the game - a colleges encounter - and the participants lends it a universality.

The devil, as ever, is in the detail: the blur of bodies in the square, with those contesting possession at odd angles to each other, attention directed everywhere but what seems to be the trajectory of the ball itself. The ground itself - the facility before Páirc Uí Chaoimh, remember - looks ramshackle, if not downright dilapidated, but if the date on the photograph is accurate it has over a decade’s active service in its future.

The chubby-faced kid in one of the other pictures is a lad who went off to an unglamorous football apprenticeship across the water, with sages suggesting he’d be back, disappointed, soon enough. The photo shows him holding an O’Neill’s football; when he did come back from England, as per the notes, he had “seven Premiership titles won with Manchester United, three FA Cup medals, four Charity Shield medals and a European Cup winners medal . . . 529 competitive matches with the club, scoring 33 goals in the process and winning 56 caps for the Republic of Ireland.” Denis Irwin’s grin in that picture: does he know what’s in his future?

Another face in the gallery is different: mature, open, unmistakably Irish, a man kneeling in his garden, dressed in an ensemble even more unmistakably Irish (a light woollen sleeveless jumper over a stark white shirt - summer wear, to a certain generation).

The man is Mick Barry, the bowl player, and the word ‘peerless’ is unnecessary, not just because of his legend, but because of the array of trophies surrounding him in said garden. The clue to his prowess is the thick forearm and massive hand draped casually across his knee.

An even better picture of Barry can be seen elsewhere on the site - just before a score, the master is shrugging a sports coat off the shoulders, the bowl itself on the road at his feet. Some of his backers look off into the middle distance, but others are watching Barry, no doubt trying to judge his fitness.

The formality of everybody’s dress is striking: all in shirts and ties, including the youngsters to the left, though Barry himself has no tie to constrict his breathing. Another shot, possibly from the same event, has a dude rocking a roll-necked sweater under his sports coat as he watches Barry let fly; it’s not clear how such a breach of the dress code was allowed to happen.

Another sports icon features in one of the most striking images on show, a player with his back to camera in a club jersey, hurley in one hand.

Kevin Cummins took the picture of Christy Ring at his last competitive game for Glen Rovers, in 1967. The player has no marker in his vicinity, no teammate by his side, but is completely alone, no-one in his orbit. As potent any music could be.

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