As the excited shouts in the sparsely populated Croke Park stand were filling the air, the entire parish - or at least 98% - of Inistioge knew that the never to be forgotten experience of winning a club All-Ireland hurling final was about to morph from hopeful into reality, writes Barrie Henriques.
We are looking at the slow moving hands of our watches. That colossus of a warrior Joe Lyng, as tough as a bag of chisels, collected a clearance from his cousin, another knight of the hurling realm, Sean Cummins. The latter galloped forward through a near army of sturdy Galway hurling defenders, who melted in his wake at the point of confrontation.
We roared “Go Big Joe.” He turned outfield as the ball shot through the rain and cold breeze. He shot his right fist Heaven-wards, in acclimation or possible defiance at the darkening spirits. In a way it was the final defiance and Joe seemed to say: “Do what you will with that, but you will not stop us now.”
We gave greater vent to the war-cry “Go Big Joe” and decorated it with the philosophy that a man will always be a man, and ‘Big Joe’ was the “go to man” in every sense.
Speak of the day fado, fado
His cousin, Sean Cummins was not a millimetre behind!
Generations from now, when many of the current supporters are sitting beside their atomic-powered fires, they will speak of the day in Croke Park fado, fado when their young lads brought home the only All-Ireland club intermediate hurling title.
When swallows build their nests in old men’s beards, they will talk about the exploits of ‘Big Joe’, bigger Sean (Cummins), little Ciarán Ryan, the power-house duo of David Lyng and Tom Murphy, Commander-in-Chief Kieran Joyce, Doyles’, Tierneys’, Grace, Bolger, Paul Sheehan, James Cassin and Conor Joyce.
One suspects that the conversations will embrace more than the final. The how, when, who, where of the occasion will get plenty of deliberation.
The stories will travel beyond credibility and they will be adorned with an embellishment beyond belief. When we were among the grand, hospitable people of the Rower Inistioge club last week we heard the words “community and family” liberally mentioned.
On Saturday the armada of cars and busses travelling the M7 was remarkable. The Rower-Inistioge family were on the move. Only God in his Divine Majesty could deny them. But they had no worries on that score either, as their much- respected and admired Parish Priest, Fr Dick Scriven was in the vanguard.
Rewrite Parish Newsletter
In fact, after the game he returned post haste to the Parochial House to re-write the Parish Newsletter before the victorious team came across the Brownsbarn Bridge at 2100 hours. It was a long day. He told us that the opening sentence would now read (with due deference to Willie Shakespeare) Veni, Vidi, Vici.
That is quite simply what every man jack in the parish did on Saturday, February 8, 2014 in Croke Park.
All of the people we met last week were waiting the arrival of their favourites around their Community Centre. Word came to their chairman, the ebullient Jackie Lyng that the team bus had reached the outskirts of Thomastown.
It was long passed eleven bells in the darkness and bitterness of the night. Even the swans, who had come to visit during the week, making themselves very familiar with the rising flood which covered the entire hurling pitch, had returned to their nesting place for the night.
The Community Centre was a hive of active expectancy. The youngsters had long since been deposited into the warmth and comfort of their beds. Baby sitters had been booked.
What valuable people grannies and grandads! They were only delighted to be involved.
It made them feel that they were contributing something to the collective effort. We met one of the ‘Terrible Twins’, Declan Byrne. He was speechless beyond redemption. His other half - Mick - was on the bus, not yet arrived.
Every element, no matter how minuscule, had been planned for this occasion. There was nothing left to chance. Everybody had their job to do. The plan was not dependent on a victory.
It was a win or lose scenario. Because of the late starting time of the game, the club decided that everyone would return to the welcoming arms of the little village, without exception. The players would be a little behind the rest of the gang, for obvious reasons.
Certain protocols would need addressing in Croke Park before departure. The fact that there were two extra time finals put the timetable a little out of kilter, but nobody minded. Their boys were returning with the job done....victors.
That is what they were sent out to do. Inside the ’Centre, holding mobile ovens were bursting with prime beef, cooked chickens, spuds, carrots and cauliflowers, boiled rice and sauces. Apple tart and fresh cream would finish the banquet quite nicely.
A rush outside into the rain emptied the ’Centre, and a flag-bedecked guard of honour was swiftly formed as the headlights of the Kilbride bus breasted the slight incline on the village periphery. There was an air of emotion, pride, appreciation.
Mary Lyng, whose two sons, Neil and Conor, were on the panel, probably put it better than most.
“This is the culmination of an awful lot of hard work by the entire parish,” she insisted. “There are people here who would not have a real big interest in hurling, but they want to come out and applaud, to share in the occasion, to be part of what is a great occasion.
“Of course it is historic, and there is a reflected glory in the entire occasion, and everyone wants to be part of it.”
We chanced upon one of the all-time great hurlers of ours or any other era, Eddie Keher. He was positively hoarse with emotion, as the horn-blowing bus, followed by a cavalcade of cars, crept closer and closer.
A man of strong opinions, the great Keher offered a thought on what the winning of this All-Ireland meant to the parish.
“Whilst the winning of the game is so important to many, in particular the players, there is a far greater value in it for our parish,” Eddie explained. “We all glory in our county teams going to Croke Park, and some of us were very fortunate to be part of those occasions. But this is different.
“Today was the big day for the little men. Today the sons of Rower-Inistioge mothers and fathers were very personal ambassadors of everyone in the parish. We see them walking around our village every day. We see them at Mass; in pubs or at club functions. We watch them training in our pitch.
“We can talk to them, and they to us without any constraints. They are part of us, and we of them. They are the manifestation of the much spoken of, but often ignored grass roots of our ’Association. I don’t often get emotional, but when I watched our Michael Grace going up for the cup there were some moist eyes. That is the true value for the people of the Rower-Inistioge.”
And then he broke off to greet his neighbours children.
The bus came to a halt, and in my opinion, there was a very mute kind of courteous but continuous applause. I felt that many were still in an unbelieving zone. They were afraid that they might waken up to find that they had been living a dream. It was no dream as Michael Grace, with cup aloft dismounted followed by the day’s heroes.
Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins and pretend relatives for the occasion rushed to acclaim. Noreen Tierney came on to our radar. Now here was emotion as only a mother can possess.
When you tragically lost your husband Pat, leaving you with two baby twin boys, your world caved in around you. In those dark days, and many subsequently, you could not envisage this day, Noreen?
“Certainly not,” she replied, her voice full of emotion. “On the steps of the Cusack Stand as the lads watched their captain collect the All-Ireland cup, many emotions welled up. Those long years ago, the parish was so supportive. We have a tremendously caring and humane community in Inistioge, where pain, loss, trouble are a shared brief.
“I remember taking the two lads, Padraig and Liam out to the garden with hurleys and we hitting the ball. They were hardly able to walk. We went everywhere with them. Of course their dad Pat was very much a part of my thoughts, and I know for certain that he was looking down on them today. There was no prouder dad in Heaven.
“Emotional? Yes, but still a day that will never be forgotten by me, the lads and all of our Inistioge family, ever.”
She too was gone like the wind to vie with others to hug her two babies. Yet another proud mam, Mary Sheehan was inveigled to talk. You have to be a proud?
“I am one of the proudest mothers here tonight,” she admitted. “I am too shy to talk, but like all of the rest of the mothers, we reflect in the contribution made to this historic day by all of the sons of the Inistioge mothers.”
Mary Sheehan had a real good reason to be proud of her son Paul. His contribution to the Rower-Inistioge has been immense over a long number of years. It is often said that if Sheehan hits form - he more often than not does - the Rower-Inistioge collect the points.
His intro to the Croke Park fray was the stuff of legend. His first touch was to hit a long-range free, a demand proving a difficult call to others. He nailed it. His contribution of two frees, one 65 and a beauty from way out on the sideline will earn him hurling immortality in the annals of the Rower-Inistioge GAA. His introduction by the selectors was a master stroke.
And speaking about the most maligned sector of most teams, the management team, one would have to say that their every move was a match-winning one. Their substitutions were gold in value.
Moving young Ciaran Ryan to midfield at half time was inspirational. The introduction of Paul Sheehan was so right. Bringing in James Cassin was spot on in expediency and timing, and Conor Joyce’s substitution was the real alley daly.
So take a bow Ger Morrissey, Pat Dunphy and Robbie Hennessy. You may not get it as right again, but you certainly earned your acclaim for a job superbly done on the biggest day in the history of your club.
After a super dinner, where the entire population of the place -or so it seemed - were foddered, Jackie Lyng spoke with feeling about the occasion, its meaning for the parish, the Trojan work done by so many, the pride and the emotion.
Listening to Jackie, one was reminded of the observation by a great West Indian cricket player, Sir Leary Constantine when asked about what winning a Test match against England meant.
“Someday Sir you are the pigeon, and some day you are the statue. Today we were the pigeon. The pigeon days don’t come too often, but when they do Sir, embrace them and squeeze the life from their bones.”
One suspects the Rower-Inistioge family will not need too much encouragement in that regard. Who could blame them?
What is seldom is beautiful!
Manager Ger Morrissey was passionate when he addressed the diners. He spoke at length about the various meetings prior to season start. He spoke with not too little pathos about some of the character in the team.
He lauded his fellow selectors, and like the chairman, he was close to tears when paying his greatest respect and gratitude to so many people but for whose contribution the thing might never have happened.
We met many, many more people, most of them had already featured in last week’s piece.
Were they happy campers? You betcha.
We got to talking to Joe Joyce. He too was overjoyed. He was loud in his praise of the management team, who put the squad together, laid down the ground rules and made demands that were so important in winning championship games.
“Twelve months ago we would not have won that game,” he remarked, “but that has been the hallmark of this team all season. We have been put to the pin of our collar to win, and we showed tremendous character to get over the line in front in every one of the games by small margins. I give great credit to the management. They never put a foot wrong.” Your lads played well, and Kieran was foot perfect all the way?
“Ah sure, they all played well, and the result was right in the finish,” he said before he vanished.
In front of the what appeared to be the entire village, the team and management were introduced to the crowd on Sunday afternoon by MC, Jackie Lyng, from the Millennium Garden site. Then they celebrated!
Write the history books now. The Rower-Inistioge men of 2014 have rewritten the script. There is no doubting the achievement and greatness of these heroes.
In the pantheon of greatness, Croke Park on Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 1950 hours the men from the Rower-Inistioge club achieved greatness. This was a beautiful experience. This was a magical occasion. This was pure ecstasy.
This was worth being alive for. I am quite sure that any Rower-Inistioge man or woman will speak of this day for as long as there is breath in their bodies. How could you not enjoy this? It added to those who had gone before, including the great men of 1968.
Enjoy every living second of it! It is rare, and as they say, what is rare is wonderful. You deserve what your sons, your brothers, grandsons and nephews have brought back from the battlefield to you all to share and enjoy.
You all deserve it, of that there is no doubt.