The joys of weekend work. You know Gerald Fleming as the affable weatherman telling you to expect sunny spells and scattered showers, but those TV bulletins mean missing out on the sporting passion of the man from Wexford town.
“Hurling was the game in the town, and my father was from Cork, so we always had an interest in the game, and Wexford-Cork in particular. I hadn’t realised until the weekend before last that it was 1956 since we’d beaten Cork in the championship — my parents were at that game.”
Fleming’s father came from Castlemartyr, his mother from Wexford. It made for an interesting household when Cork and Wexford clashed in those 1950s classics featuring Ring and Rackard — and the All-Ireland finals between the counties later, in the 1970s.
“We grew up listening to all the stories of the fifties, and then in the seventies . . . that was a different time in hurling, the seventies,” he says.
“You’re talking about the time Colm Doran, John Quigley, Willie Murphy, they were all playing for Wexford. My dad would have known a lot of them from town.
“And Tony Doran, of course.”
The last named was a man apart in hurling at the time, the archetypal massive full-forward who won possession, turned the full-back and headed for goal with serious intent. He was a hero to Fleming’s generation in the southeast.
“Tony had that magnetism, you could sense it in the crowd when he won the ball — that frisson, that sense that something was going to happen. In Leinster finals, All-Irelands, he was the centre of attention.
“There aren’t many players like that now — there never were — even though there are fantastic players playing now, obviously. Henry Shefflin was a fantastic player as well, but different to Tony. Ray Cummins was another, a great full-forward.”
Fleming can recall the 1968 All-Ireland, which Wexford won, and was old enough to make it to the 1976 and 1977 deciders himself.
“I’d have gone to a lot of the games in the seventies. Cork came out on top that time but Wexford had a great team. We were in the doldrums for a lot of the eighties before those good years in the nineties, 1996 and 1997.”
As Fleming joined the Met Service, however, work kept him busy on most occasions when Wexford were in action.
“Most Sundays we’re working, so you tend to miss a lot of Sunday games.
“Regarding the day job, I don’t know to what extent managers take account of the conditions they can expect, or the forecast for a game four or five days out.
“The forecast is pretty good a few days out so they could shape a team to suit the conditions, certainly, if they needed to, and steal a march on their opponents.
“We don’t tend to get calls from sports teams or organisations ahead of big games. The rugby lads tend to be tuned in in terms of whether a day will be wet and suit forwards and so on, but we don’t get as many inquiries as you might think from teams or managers.
“The one sport which would be in more or less constant contact with us, understandably, is horse racing, given the importance of the conditions and getting the ground to a certain level ahead of a big meeting. The various racecourses will want to know whether the ground needs to be watered or not, for instance, so that’s pretty routine — the racecourses would be on more or less every day, which wouldn’t come as a shock given the amount invested in the racing industry.
“But team sports don’t tend to be as interested, which I’ve always found surprising.”
You could end up being inundated with calls from every team in Ireland, of course, after this...
“Not at all,” laughs Fleming. “We’re there to provide a service.”
“The current team has a lot going for it,” he says of the present Wexford squad. “I’d be a great believer in Liam Dunne, I think his approach is very solid but that he needs to be left there for the long term — there’s been too much chopping and changing over the years, which wouldn’t help.
“Waterford have very good players, they’re a class team. Looking at it objectively Waterford have a terrific team now and it’s a pity they didn’t win an All-Ireland in the last 10 to 15 years, definitely.
“They’ve been knocking on the door, and if I were neutral I’d be wishing them the very best, but I’ll be hoping Wexford can do the business.
“I don’t think Wexford would be afraid of Waterford, there’d be a derby feel to it. There wouldn’t be the same feeling as a Kilkenny-Wexford game: Kilkenny have been almost untouchable over the last 10 years but all along there’d be that rivalry, because for a long time they were the two best teams in Leinster.
“Now there are other teams contesting the province, which is good.
“Because Waterford and Wexford’s periods of strength have been fewer, relatively, they wouldn’t have come up against each other that much down the decades, but Wexford have a couple of results against them in recent years.
“I’m hoping we’ll have a good, open game anyway.”
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