A broken down bus and trip to mass at Watergrasshill... the magic of following the hurling championship

A broken down bus and trip to mass at Watergrasshill... the magic of following the hurling championship
A view of the parade on Sunday. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

The Peter McNamara column

PICTURE this: The travelling contingent are not too far from approaching the toll in Watergrasshill en route to Thurles only for the driver to turn to you and suggest all is not right with the bus underneath us.

Cue quizzical glances left, right and centre within said vehicle. 

Fifteen Leesiders, individually motoring well and fuelling for the day in front of us, stopped in their tracks. 

Literally, as it would turn out. Though temporarily.

The driver, sounding ironically similar to Manuel from Fawlty Towers and new on the job by all accounts, elaborated: “This really isn’t good. We need to turn back, switch buses in Curraheen and go again.”

Not ideal. 

We all saw the humorous side of it so we settled on him dropping us in Watergrasshill while he returned for a sturdier set of wheels.

Thing was, he pulls in next to the local church as mass is taking place outside due to renovations.

So here’s our group, hopping off in front of the church grounds armed with a boisterous vibe and our late-morning eh, refreshments.

A term we’ll use loosely in this instance. It’s 11.25am.

Again, not ideal.

Fortunately, the beer garden of the pub next door provided us with a safe haven to wait it out for our substitute bus to arrive.

So we’re there sipping away in the shelter more commonly used for smokers while, immediately to our right, the parish priest is dishing out communion to the congregation.

It was as bizarre a scene as you could imagine. You really couldn’t make it up.

However, there was some craic had in that shelter all the same.

People were pitching in with their favoured moments from Only Fools and we were rolling with the punches.

Eventually, our upgraded chariot showed and soon we were back on the road to the Premier landscape.

There were tailbacks forming on the tarmac akin to those in the noughties when the Cork hurlers and footballers were challenging for silverware constantly, it seemed.

I think everybody would agree they were costly times for supporters financially. But then, memories of that period are priceless.

While car after car opted to take the turn off towards the Horse & Jockey, our boy Manuel (we’ll stick with Manuel for purposes of this exercise. And what a character Manuel was, it must be said. Top man) took us into the heart of the town via Urlingford.

It was the shrewder move, tactically. The panellists on this particular team coach were eager to drive on and acquire the last remaining Town End terrace ticket we needed and, by now, it was 2.15pm. Not that we were going to miss out or anything, but, as everybody appreciates, on days like Sunday, you need your ducks in a row before focusing on the main event itself.

Storming through Kilkenny prior to turning to Thurles, there was a little eulogy for the previous passing of Josephine’s.

What a contribution that place made to Irish society on championship Sundays. The stop-off to beat all stop-offs, really. Rest well, old girl.

On then to Liberty Square before making that traditional walk along Parnell Street.

The sea of red, white and blue was a sight to behold and a throwback to the days when the counties met on so many occasions during that memorable spell in the noughties. The best of battles.

The heat was simply off the charts, however. In fact, it was such an issue bottles of water soon became unavailable in and around Semple Stadium for patrons.

Again, not ideal.

And yet, this was the best of days. Every little detail adding to the tale.

I had to make a quick detour when heading into the ground to catch up with Ed Donnelly of the Munster Council, a gentleman who accommodated yours truly down and into the Town End to meet the crew again.

As we made our way from the press section down to the terrace we walked at pitch level and the heat there even seemed worse than in any other part of the ground.

Imagine how hot it must have been playing, wearing helmets?

Sunday represented the most atmospheric a stadium has been for a Munster senior hurling championship encounter for quite a while.

Cork supporters after defeating Waterford. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cork supporters after defeating Waterford. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

In recent seasons, attendances have dwindled but there was an outrageous buzz in the old ground on this occasion.

Then again, there is always something unique about the Cork-Waterford fixture in Thurles. The electricity across the Town End was palpable.

The match itself was obviously not a classic, certainly, the Déise supporters wouldn’t have thought so.

However, for Cork folk it was massively significant in the sense it cemented the thought-process that this group is one that will be taken into the hearts of the public.

Kieran Kingston’s Class of 2017 are bold as brass and that is a welcome trait for the panel to possess.

Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Still, though, Derek McGrath will be frustrated with the fact his players hit 16 wides which reiterates the theory the Rebels remain a team on a journey of redeeming Cork’s reputation as perennial All-Ireland contenders.

Kingston’s charges are miles off being considered close to the finished article but Sunday illustrated they are on the right road.

Celebratory beers and a decent sing-song followed on the bus back to Leeside afterwards.

Yet, there was time still for one last anecdote to be added to the scéal.

We were, as people can appreciate, by now, quite merry. Yet, during a temporary pitstop at the side of the road, some of the lads are asked if they could change a tyre on a jeep before us.

Now, in everyday circumstances, this would not have been any sort of problem, especially as there was a mechanic among us.

However, for health and safety reasons the responsible shout was to pleasantly decline and encourage a call to AA, despite the ambitions of some who thought nothing of it.

Nevertheless, moments such as those made what was a thoroughly enjoyable roadshow to Thurles all the more comical.

The magic of championship Sundays really is unrivaled.

The match-day squad was as follows: Michelle McNamara, Emma Barry, Claire Moloney, Jenna Oppel, Jane Delaney, Emma O’Mahony, Shane Goulding, Brian Gilhooly, Michael O’Sullivan, Mark Maher (son of Cork All-Ireland senior hurling medal winner Tony), Wayne MacAdams, Gavin MacAdams, Adrian Kennedy, Craig O’Sullivan.

Patrick Horgan congratulated by board chairman Ger Lane. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Patrick Horgan congratulated by board chairman Ger Lane. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

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