Keeping things pitch perfect at the home of hurling

I retired two weeks ago from Semple Stadium. Even though you’re officially the groundsman, there’s a lot to do that doesn’t involve marking out the 65s or looking after the playing surface.

For instance, something a lot of people don’t realise is that the players often need to make a quick visit back to the dressing room after they’ve gone out for the warm-up.

It’s not because they’ve forgotten anything — usually it’s to the toilet. They all know the importance now of taking on water, and they’re sculling that into them all day long when they’re playing matches, and then you have the tension of the occasion, when the importance of the game hits them... so it’s no surprise that they have to head back in before the game begins at all.

Because of that, you need to have someone at each of the dressing-room doors until the game starts to let them in and out. Small thing but very important.

Obviously your work doesn’t finish at the final whistle, either. You’re in the stadium for a good while after that. And sometimes you get a call back even when the place is almost empty.

A few years ago, after a Munster final, I was down the town when I got a call on the mobile: there was a particular problem back in Semple. When I got back, it turned out that one of the sports journalists had gotten himself locked into the toilet up by the press box. Tricky.

I tried to get the door open a couple of times but it was no good, and I had to get the hammer out to take down the door frame in the end. He was grateful. Hungry, but grateful.

Strange incidents in the dressing room? There weren’t that many over the years — remember, once the teams go in there it’s their space and you wouldn’t be going in to bother them.

But there was one time...

Bobby Mockler, who’s one of the groundsmen, once mentioned an inter-county hurling match a few years ago in Semple Stadium, where a corner-back was cutting rashers off a corner-forward early on.

Eventually the forward had enough of it, and when one ball came in he pulled hard: he made contact with the other man’s hurley and the handle shot back into the corner-back’s privates. A desperate shot.

The corner-back was down on the ground rolling around in agony and the physio went out to him. She had a look and gave him a rub and sprayed something on the injury and he jumped up, right as rain, and hurled the ears off the forward for the rest of that half.

Bobby left them into their dressing room at half-time and the physio came over to the back to see how he was doing.

“That’s grand,” he said, pointing at his privates.

“My finger’s still broken, though.”

* As told to the journalist he liberated from the loo, Michael Moynihan.


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