Cork play Kilkenny this evening in a senior hurling challenge in Páirc Uí Rinn (7pm), but the dominant narrative isn’t Cork’s preparations for the league final, or Brian Cody’s integration of new faces into the Cats’ set-up.
The game has been organised by the Friends of Jamie Wall, a group raising funds for the former dual Cork minor and U21 player paralysed by a spinal abscess.
At a time when the 23-year-old should be focusing on his chances of progressing to either the Cork senior hurling or football team, he’s occupied with rehabilitation and physiotherapy.
Wall has already benefited from huge support in his native Kilbrittain and beyond: there have been fun runs and Santa Dashes, his cousin Mike Wall’s Christmas day swim, table quizzes and collections. Four men - Vincent Dullea, John Hayes, Michael Crowley and Shane Jennings - drove all 32 counties of Ireland in less than 32 hours in aid of The Jamie Wall Trust.
The money raised from these events has sent Wall to facilities such as Prime Physio Ltd in Cambridge, and tonight’s match continues that good work. The man himself can at least look forward now to the game.
“At this stage, the work’s done. In fairness to the Cork County Board and the Kilkenny County Board, they’ve been outstanding. The people at home on the committee have done huge work as well. They’ve been driving the roads and putting up posters, everything they can do to get the word out.
“As for myself, this week it’s mostly been a matter of touching base with people to publicise the event, to promote it - to make sure as many people as possible know it’s on and they can go, basically.
“We’re trying to get as big a crowd as possible for a lot of reasons, and the fact that it’s Cork versus Kilkenny, particularly with the Cork hurlers going so well at present, we’re hoping we get a good crowd in Páirc Uí Rinn this evening.
“There’s a fierce buzz about the hurlers in Cork and that’s good for a lot more people than just me. It gives everyone a great lift when the team is going well, that bit of excitement is something that makes you look forward to the summer.”
“The response has been fantastic. I suppose in many ways it’s the kind of response that GAA people tend to give a good cause - they row in behind it in a huge way. The wide base of support that’s come to support this, you see it for a lot of causes.
“When it’s over, I’ll be having a bit of a rest. I was in Cambridge for a week recently, so I’ve been fairly busy between that and promoting the game.
“After the match, I’m looking forward to ploughing on with my rehab. There’s a physio I go to in Kinsale twice a week, and I have a few pieces of equipment sorted out for a gym at home, so that kind of thing will definitely keep me occupied for the next part of the adventure. Whether that involves another trip to Cambridge, or further afield, we’ll have to see.
“As they say, this has turned into a marathon rather than a sprint, and it’s a question of me keeping my focus to keep improving myself. The gym at home, for instance, has come about directly as a result of the kind of fundraising that we’re doing this evening: that means I have the luxury of continuing with various rehab programmes when I’m at home.”
Wall’s positive outlook has been commented on by many - Arsenal star Jack Wilshere recently tweeted his support (“Does this mean that I have to start supporting Arsenal now?” was Wall’s response).
He’s gotten support from plenty of inter-county players such as his Collins cousins from Clare. To those familiar with the rivalries in his part of the Rebel County, the support from the likes of Courcey Rovers and Newcestown might appear more remarkable. His enthusiasm is deep and genuine, and his focus is not just confined to his own case.
Last November nearly 400 of his friends and supporters, were kitted out as “Team Jamie” and took part in the Cork leg of Mark Pollock’s “Lifestyle Sport’s Run in the Dark”, a worldwide race which raises funds to research a cure for paralysis. Wall himself completed the race in Dublin, and others raced under the “Team Jamie” banner in races all over Ireland as well as in San Francisco, Boston and Sydney.
Last week Wall took part in the WheelPower Inter Spinal Unit Games in Stoke Mandeville Stadium, earning a gold medal in tennis and a bronze medal in pool; he also plays wheelchair basketball and is determined to keep himself fit and active.
That determination is articulated simply but powerfully by Wall in his own words: “I decided day one that I had no intention of accepting this. I despise the word accept, I prefer the word acknowledge.
“It’s not for me to advise anyone else, I believe we all have our own journeys and our own paths. My path is no better or worse than anyone else’s - it’s just my path.
“Courage is an abstract concept, sometimes the ‘courage’ I present is actually a personal survival mechanism.”
His parting message to those supporting him is equally straightforward. Equally strong.
“A simple, heartfelt, genuine thank you. The support I receive inspires me every day to fight.”
*Cork v Kilkenny, Páirc Uí Rinn, 7pm; for more information log onto friendsofjamiewall.ie
CORK: A Nash (Kanturk); S O’Neill (Bishopstown), A Ryan (Midleton), W Kearney (Sarsfields); B O’Sullivan (Fermoy), M Ellis (Millstreet), K Burke (Midleton); B Lawton (Castlemartyr), Andy Walsh (Killeagh); P Cronin (Bishopstown), B Cooper (Youghal), D McCarthy (Ballymartle); J Coughlan (Newtownshandrum), P O’Sullivan (Cloyne), S Moylan (Douglas).
Subs: P Collins (Ballinhassig), D Cahalane (St Finbarr’s), S McDonnell (Glen Rovers), L MacLoughlin (Kanturk), C Murphy (Mallow), Aidan Walsh (Kanturk), C Lehane (Midleton), S Harnedy (St Ita’s), P Horgan (Glen Rovers), A Spillane (Castlelyons), L O’Farrell (Midleton), A Cadogan (Douglas), R O’Shea (Carrigaline), J Cronin (Lisgoold).
KILKENNY: Eoin Murphy (Glenmore), Shane Prendergast (Clara), Joey Holden (Ballyhale), Kieran Joyce (Rower Inistioge), Padraig Walsh (Tullaroan), Robert Lennon (Bennettsbridge), Diarmuid Cody (James Stephens), TJ. Reid (Ballyhale), Richie Hogan (Danesfort), Matthew Ruth (James Stephens), Colin Fennelly (Ballyhale), Richie Power (Carrickshock), Jonjo Farrell (Thomastown), Kevin Kelly (St. Patricks), Chris Bolger (Clara)
Subs: Richie Reid (Ballyhale), Brian Troy (Emeralds), Conor Ó Shea (Clara), Joe Lyng (Rower Inistioge), Conor Martin (Emeralds), James Meagher (St. Lachtains)
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