Have you heard about the Watford-born Englishman hoping to lead a small East Cork club to county hurling glory this Sunday?
No, we didn’t think you had, so allow us to introduce Martin Denny.
Having never spoken to Denny prior to our Wednesday afternoon phone call, interest was understandably piqued when an English accent offered a warm hello from down the other end of the line. There’s a backstory here, we thought to ourselves. And there surely was.
Denny’s introduction to hurling in 1990s Watford - not exactly a small ball stronghold, as Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh might say – came about through love and through labour.
The woman he was then dating and who is his now wife, Aldine, hailed from Dungourney in East Cork. And so at one point or another in the early chapters of their relationship, hurling was brought up in conversation. Indeed, one of the first hurling matches Martin ever took in was when the pair flew over to Cork in 1994 to watch Aldine’s brother-in-law, Eddie Geaney, hurl for St Catherine’s in that year’s county intermediate final.
Little did Denny think that 28 years later he’d be returning to Páirc Uí Chaoimh on county intermediate final Sunday, but this time as manager of one of the participating teams.
More on that further down. Back to 1990s Watford for the time being.
Hurling had also infiltrated his working existence as one of his fellow psychiatric nurses at Northwick Park Hospital was Martin Baker, brother of two-time All-Ireland winning Clare midfielder Ollie.
“I would have heard about the great Clare teams from Martin and their running up and down hills,” Denny recalled this week. “My background is soccer and when I was finishing off my soccer career in England, the club I played with was called the Emeralds. Their grounds had a GAA pitch and a soccer pitch, a GAA bar and a soccer bar.
“Most of us started off in the soccer bar, but if we were having a drink late into a Sunday afternoon, we would drift into the other bar and watch the GAA. I loved watching hurling, still do.”
Married in 1995, Martin and Aldine moved their young family over to Dungourney in 2004. Their son, Ryan, was seven at the time. He’d never taken a hurley in his hand prior to landing in East Cork. Top-scorer with 0-7 in the recent semi-final win over Sarsfields, Ryan will line out at midfield in Sunday’s Intermediate A decider.
While seven-year-old Ryan was busy swinging around his first hurley, given to him by local principal John Boylan, Martin threw himself into Dungourney life by lending a hand with the underage teams amalgamated with Castlemartyr under the Kiltha Óg banner.
“My wife would laugh at me as she’s a Dungourney woman through and through, but she would say I know more Dungourney people than she does because of the GAA," he says.
“Kiltha Óg is where I did my apprenticeship. You are working with juveniles at the various age-grades in hurling and football, including a lot of the Castlemartyr lads like Ciarán Joyce that will play in next week’s premier intermediate final. After that, I was given the opportunity to manage the adult team in Dungourney. And to get to a county final, for me, it is top of the tree.”
Given his later-in-life introduction to the game, Denny is keen to stress that he does the managing and his coaches do the coaching.
2022 is his third season in charge of the Dungourney intermediates. They failed to emerge from their group in either 2020 or 2021. The clean bill of health they never had during those first two years has been a factor in their run to the final, as well as the impact of 18-year-old newcomers - and now first-team regulars - Paul Flynn, Jack Leahy, and John Ahern.
“Our captain, Dylan Healy, the club chairman, and I were in the local national school this week and we gave each of the pupils a flag. We hope to see them all on Sunday and that they enjoy the atmosphere and Páirc Uí Chaoimh as you never know when these things will come around again.
“My dad, John Denny, is flying over on Friday. He is 80, but he doesn’t miss a county final. He’ll be boarding the plane at Luton by himself. As soon as we made the final, he was getting ready to come over. There was no stopping him. He was there in 2015 when Dungourney won the junior and he will be there again on Sunday to see his grandson play.”
Three generations of Denny men bitten by the hurling bug.