Category: Archive


February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

“Boys, will ye cop on to yourselves,” says Offaly’s Johnny Pilkington. “I’m after getting beaten by Antrim and Down and Mickey Mouse teams like that. It’s a privilege to be beaten by Cork.”
Wherever you hailed from in the hurling world, it was always easy to maintain a soft spot for the Offaly team of the nineties. They did things their way and Pilkington was symbolic of that attitude. He could hurl with the best of them. When he wanted to. At a time when the zeitgeist was for counties to embark on commando-style training programs, Offaly won two All-Irelands working at their own pace, confident in the quality of their hurling, and happy with their lot.
In his new book “Hurling: The Revolution Years”, one of Denis Walsh’s many achievements is lifting the veil on the enduring mystery of Offaly’s success. Through interviews with key protagonists like Pilkington, he comes as close as anyone ever has to finding out the secret of their, at times, unlikely success. Better yet, he does so in a way that is often hilarious. Perhaps for the first time since Breandan O’ hEithir’s “Over the Bar,” the humor that whirls around GAA teams at all levels is captured in print.
Walsh has compiled an epic account of an era in the sport’s evolution, charting the growing profile of hurling through the teams and central characters.
Everybody knows the broad outline of what happened the game from the mid-nineties onwards but he paints the picture in vivid color, with eye-catching detail. Eschewing the obvious route of redacting match reports, the quality of quotes he elicits in interviews is surpassed only by his own exquisite prose as he revisits the rise of Clare, takes us through Wexford’s one glorious summer, and then gauges the reaction of Cork, Kilkenny and Tipperary to the attempted new world order.
Apart from everything else, the beauty of Walsh’s book is that it has serious historic merit. Decades from now, it will offer new generations a chance to savor a tumultuous decade.
For instance, the chapter on the Cork hurlers’ strike contains plenty of new revelations about the conduct of negotiations and the mindset of the players. There is a genuine sense of being taken behind the scenes and offered a full view of exactly what went on in the meeting rooms. Enthralling as that is, one also comes away from those pages starting to understand a lot better just why this remarkable group of individuals are now on the cusp of three All-Irelands in a row.
For bringing us the best hurling book in memory, Walsh deservedly won the inaugural Boylesports Irish Sports Book of the Year award last month. The funny thing about the accolade is that a few years ago, the organizers would have struggled to find three Irish books worthy of making a shortlist. Now, the competition is fierce. Walsh beat out another hurling book Christy O’Connor’s “Last Man Standing” and Dessie Farrell’s autobiography “Tangled up in Blue.” It says much for O’Connor’s work than in any other year, it would easily have been the finest hurling book to be published.
Delving into the lives of hurling goalkeepers from all over the country, O’Connor goes a long way to explaining why every set of goalposts should have stickers reading: “You don’t have to be crazy to work here but it helps.”
Like Walsh, he succeeds in getting his subjects to open up to him, and to his credit, he also includes some lesser known custodians like Antrim’s DD Quinn and Down’s Graham Clarke in his survey. The insights into the trials and tribulations of the lesser-known goalies serve as wonderful counterpoints to the interviews with the leading triumvirate of Damien Fitzhenry, Donal Og Cusack and Davy Fitzgerald. Indeed, the next great hurling or Gaelic football book might well be a journeyman’s diary a la Eamon Dunphy’s soccer classic “Only a Game”.
Fitzgerald’s own autobiography “Passion and Pride” has just come out and is a fascinating read too. Love him or loathe him, you can’t really ignore him. Although the Clare goalkeeper’s persecution complex is so wide-ranging it becomes a little tiresome towards the end, he and his ghostwriter Jackie Cahill are to be admired for the candor and honesty of their narrative.
No detail about his life, personal or sporting, appears off-limits and it’s a compelling read for that reason. An alternative title however could have been “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not all out to get me!”
In a similar vein, former Kilkenny captain Charlie Carter has — with the assistance of Sunday Tribune hurling correspondent Enda McEvoy — written “Triumph and Troubles”, an account of a career eventually derailed by the breakdown of his relationship with Brian Cody. Having walked away from Kilkenny in controversial circumstances in the summer of 2003, during a championship in which he should have been captain, his account of subsequently watching them win the 2003 All-Ireland final on television is poignant stuff. Again, it’s a book laced with the sort of frankness and sincerity that is a welcome feature of what some have dubbed the new sliotherature.
The great American journalist George Plimpton once posited a theory about sports books. He reckoned the smaller the ball involved in the game the better the writing about it usually was. Plimpton based that belief on the fact golf and baseball, for the most part, inspired far better literature than gridiron and basketball.
It wasn’t a notion that traveled very well because up until the time Brendan Fullam began a series of beautiful tomes in the mid-nineties, and Seamus King penned his exhaustive history, hurling was a sport that never got the books its majesty deserved. Until now.

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