Nestled neatly between Urlingford and Two-Mile-Borris lies the sleepy village of Gortnahoe.
Driving from Urlingford, it quickly becomes apparent that you are entering Shane Long country. Green, white and gold bunting flies proudly from houses but so too do Tipperary flags ahead of Sunday’s Munster hurling semi-final, and we also spot a Waterford one along the way.
Entering Gortnahoe, we’re greeted by a ‘Euro 2016 – You can do it Shane Long’ banner and the central hub or locals on Saturday is Prout’s pub.
Prout’s is located directly across the street from the local Church with the name ‘D. Maher’ over the door.
Dinny Maher was a former owner here before the late John Prout, who passed away in 2014.
The premises was leased for a spell before current owner Martin Barnaville took over late last year.
Business is brisk, Martin confirms, and a strong local sporting heritage helps that.
They’re into their hurling here, big time, while the rise of Shane Long to Premier League and international stardom has sparked further interest in soccer.
Long himself frequents Prout’s on visits home and he keeps in touch with the fortunes of Gortnahoe-Glengoole GAA club and the local soccer club he first played for, Two-Mile-Borris St Kevin’s.
The locals are immensely proud of Long’s achievements and before kick-off against Belgium, Mark Ryan is confident of the right result.
“They were saying that their backs are supposed to be slow,” Ryan says. “Hopefully, Shane can beat them for pace up front — that’s one of his strong points.
“It was disappointing he didn’t the goal or the ball against Sweden but we’d be fierce keen for him to get a goal.”
Ryan’s heavily involved in the GAA club and he’s chatting with another local man, PJ Campion, outside Prout’s as the clock ticks down. “He (Long) comes into the hurling training,” Ryan adds proudly.
“PJ’s a junior and I’m over the juniors. Every time he’s available he comes in; he trains and pucks around with the lads, he comes to the matches if at all possible.
“His brother Jamie was playing junior up until a couple of years ago, his other brother Ogie (Eamon) played too and his sister Elaine is heavily involved in the football, they lost a league final a couple of weeks ago.”
Barnaville adds: “This is a tight-knit place. Everyone knows everyone. I wouldn’t have a major interest in the soccer myself, only for the likes of this or the World Cup, but people are great to support the hurling and the soccer, and there’s a local golfing society too.”
Minutes before kick-off, another well-known Tipperary man makes an appearance.
New TD Jackie Cahill is doing the rounds and has popped into the village to sample the atmosphere.
“We were doing a leaflet drop around the village,” Cahill reveals. “Our contact details are on it, we’ve done every house in the village. I was in Portroe and Ballina yesterday, I’m a new TD so it’s just to show people and get across the message that I’m not gone missing post-election. We’re going into the pub now to watch the match. People were surprised to see us, that we weren’t looking for a vote.
“It’s lovely to not be under pressure, that you can stand and talk to people. There’s a few issues here in the town, the county council have €250,000 allocated to the roads here in the village. That’s going to solve a lot of the local issues.”
Cahill and a large pub crowd settle in to watch proceedings unfold from Bordeaux and the general consensus at half-time is that Ireland are under pressure and hanging on. There are big screens aplenty but one section of the pub has a TV beaming match coverage a couple of seconds quicker than the section close to the beer garden.
“Let’s let out a roar in here and they’ll think we’re after scoring inside,” laughs one punter.
Smiles turn to groans in the second half as Belgium rattle in three quick goals. There’s anger as local hero Long is denied a penalty for a high boot in the penalty area and Belgium break quickly for their first goal, coolly slotted home by Everton star Romelu Lukaku.
The former Cork City player cut an isolated figure up front, touching the ball just 27 times, but he works hard before being taken off.
It’s difficult to see Ireland emerging from the group now, the locals agree, and Barnaville sums up the mood as he continues to serve thirsty and disappointed punters.
“Not unless they get a heap of goals against Italy,” he says. “They had their chance (against Sweden) last week, that was the one, the own goal topped it off.”
As we depart, the focus shifts towards the Ireland-South Africa rugby match while others check in a local ‘feis’ in progress, while there’s also activity at the local GAA field.
Soccer’s not the only show in town, but thanks to Shane Long, the locals will be back in Prout’s on Wednesday evening for part III of Ireland’s Euro 2016 adventure.
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