Hurling’s home away from home in London

A small group of hurlers gather around a kitchen table in Kilburn, London.

Names of players with Galway and Waterford links punctuate the conversation.

Galway’s Brendan Lynskey returned from St Gabriels to win an All-Ireland with the Tribesmen in 1987 and Roger Cashin from Waterford was on the famed London team of ’73 that beat Galway in that year’s All Ireland quarter-final. Gerry Rea, from Limerick, who is leading the conversation on this wet Wednesday night, captained that side.

The hurling conversation has narrowed to two teams in recent weeks, but this London kitchen has played host to stream of top hurlers from almost every county.

They all emigrated for varying periods, dating back to the ’70s, and played with the Brothers Pearse Club, with Gerry a stalwart.

“It was the ’90s and there was this knock at the door of the house here,” says Gerry. “Who was it, only Andy Comerford with a friend of his. The pair of them were freezing, so I brought them in and put on a pot of stew. They were coming back from Germany. They nearly finished the pot the same night.”

John Paul Rea, Gerry’s son joins in. He’s seen so many hurlers come through the house that the list runs into the hundreds “maybe thousands.” John Paul was 16 and playing with Brothers Pearse — the hurling club his father joined soon after emigrating in 1969 — when Andy Comerford’s brother Martin arrived over.

“He was 16 and I was 16,” says John Paul. “He was staying in the house here, too, and we’d be out in London together.”

Gerry jumps back in.

“Martin played centre-back for us the year of the senior county final in ’95. He gave an exhibition. I remember saying to his father, ‘he’d be the best of them’, but they both went on to win a heap of All-
Ireland’s with Kilkenny.”

Inside the kitchen, a symphony of knives and forks play a drum-beat on plates of bacon and potatoes.

Too many hurling teams to count have marched on Eileen Rea’s cooking since the ’60s on into London hurling championships and some, such as the Comerfords, went on to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

“This is a night-walking house,” says Father Michael O’Connor, from Limerick, who is also sitting at the table, alongside Joe Bermingham and Stephen Frawley, both from Ballybricken in Limerick. Joe and Stephen are
established players with the Pearses and, remarkably, John Paul explains that 12 of the current starting team have lived in the house at one time or another.

“There’s an Irish flag upstairs,” he says. “People who are part of the team, we get them to sign it.”

Sunday breakfast in Reas or the midweek dinner has been a part of the Brothers Pearse timetable for as long as anyone sitting at the table can remember.

“It’s good to see them coming in and having the craic,” says Gerry. “It’s like going from home to home and it keeps them on the level, I think, but the problem with throwing up good dinners is that they keep coming back!”

Stephen Frawley arrived five years ago. He’s captained the Pearses in the past and played for London in the national league.

Before Ireland drew 1-1 with England in an international soccer friendly in Wembley in 2013, ITN called up the club looking for a hurler to be a part of their coverage.

Images of Frawley scooping up a sliotar were broadcast the length of England.

“Gerry’s brother Matt runs a pub at home,” says Stephen. “I was thinking of moving over and he brought me through to the back of the pub one night, handed me the phone and said ‘talk to Gerry’. Five days later, I was over here working.”

Full-back Joe Bermingham arrived soon after, via a stint in Australia, and he laughs, saying, he’s ‘an open contract’ in the Reas. Danny Connolly, from Kilmacow in Kilkenny — who’s studying to be a teacher and splits his time between Leeds and London — reckons that for now at least he’s the last in a long list of hurling visitors that include the likes of Declan Ryan from Drom and Inch in Tipperary, and former Galway manager Anthony Cunningham.

In London GAA circles, Gerry is still best known for captaining London in their 1973 All Ireland senior hurling championship semi-final against Limerick. Significantly, Gerry marked his brother Eamon ‘Ned’ Rea the same afternoon in Ennis.

“I was home for a brother’s funeral in Limerick and the priest, Father Houlihan from Kilmallock, said to me: I remember the day you and your brother played against each other and there was a bit of a scuffle. Michael O’Hehir was broadcasting and he said: ‘The two Reas are having a bit of a word with each other, but I don’t think they are talking about saving hay!’”

Limerick went on to win the All-Ireland that year and whoever wins on Sunday, those here at the table are certain to host new arrivals from both counties in the coming months and years.

Also, if previous form is anything to go by it’s possible there might be future All-Ireland winners.


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