Bringing Cork's hurling history to book a pleasure: New Game of My Life book covers the Rebels

Denis Hurley spoke to 25 Cork hurling stars who recounted their favourite game for the county in Hero Books publication
Bringing Cork's hurling history to book a pleasure: New Game of My Life book covers the Rebels

Tom Cashman (left) and Johnny Crowley lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup at the Cork hurling team's homecoming after winning the 1986 All-Ireland. Both feature in the new book, Game of My Life: Cork Hurling

In mid-2019, I was offered the chance by Liam Hayes of Hero Books to ghost-write the autobiography of Larry Tompkins.

It was an opportunity I jumped at – Tompkins was and is a huge name in GAA circles, both in Cork and nationally, and, while there was definitely a sense of impostor syndrome on my part, I was delighted to be the one to tell his story. It was one that stood on its own feet and all I had to do was ask Larry the right questions.

As the project progressed, Covid-19 took hold. With little happening in the first half of 2020, it was something to focus the mind, though the pandemic did mean that there was no proper launch party (and I was even forced to miss the press conference as I had to take a PCR test).

Thankfully, Larry and Liam – a former Meath footballer, who opposed Larry in those epic battles of the late 1980s and early 1990s – were satisfied with the finished product and so, when Liam asked at the start of last year if I was up for another assignment.

Hero Books has come up with the great idea of the ‘Game of My Life’ series, with stars from each county recounting the tale of their favourite matches. I was only too happy to take on the Cork hurling and football versions, though, with last year again fragmented – and incredibly busy once action started.

Liam’s patience as circumstances forced me to delay the publication dates was greatly appreciated and, now, thankfully, the hurling book is ready to go, with the football one to follow later in the year.

There are 25 different former Cork hurlers featured, from Gerald McCarthy (1966 All-Ireland final) up to Daniel Kearney (2019 Munster SHC v Limerick). The current squad was avoided as, hopefully, the game of their lives is still to be played, in a successful All-Ireland final in Croke Park.

Daniel Kearney on the ball for Cork against Limerick. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Daniel Kearney on the ball for Cork against Limerick. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Some Cork stars have brought out their own autobiographies while Adrian Russell’s superb 2019 book The Double also featured great insights and so, rather than rehashing those publications, I tried to get fresh perspectives as much as possible. Each player brought his own unique memories, with the stories then brought together to hopefully provide a narrative covering more than half a century. Thanks to all of them, who willingly gave their time and reminiscences. Essentially, they are the authors and all I had to do was make sure I got the transcription right and didn’t libel anyone on their behalf.

A couple of themes emerged through the various interviews. Fr Michael O’Brien – ‘the Canon’ – was a big character who played such a key role in the lives and careers of the players who came under his tutelage, whether with successful Cork minor sides of the 1970s, Farranferris, UCC or the Cork senior side.

As well as that, you realise that the Cork players, these warriors carrying out great deeds in red and white, were all influenced by those immediately before them, scarcely able to believe they were sharing a dressing room with such famous names. Before they were Cork hurlers, they were Cork fans and that didn’t stop just because they happened to be wearing the red and white battle armour on the field. 

None of them ever took the Cork jersey as anything less than a privilege and that love and honour shines through in the 25 accounts.

There is the serious matter of trying to win matches combined with levity – the sing-song in the bus on the way to one All-Ireland final, helping to ease nerves; the pre-match trip to a convent;  the player who spent one summer flying to training sessions; and Dr Con Murphy coaxing two goals out of a player by telling him he was about to be brought off.

Interestingly, just one of the games features Kilkenny as opponents, perhaps backing up Jack Lynch’s old assertion that it was the Cats who won the classics. As well as that, only two of the 25 matches took place at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, one of those the last one, against Limerick in 2014. Thurles and Croke Park feature far more strongly.

An excerpt from the book will appear in these pages in the coming weeks, with readers given the chance to win a copy. Hopefully you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

Seanie McGrath when Cork met Waterford in a League final back in 1998. 
Seanie McGrath when Cork met Waterford in a League final back in 1998. 

The players featured are: 

Gerald McCarthy, Tony Maher, Brian Murphy, Martin Coleman, Tom Cashman, Ger Cunningham, John Fenton, Johnny Crowley, Jimmy Barry-Murphy, John Considine, Ger Fitzgerald, Tony O'Sullivan, Tomás Mulcahy, Seán O'Gorman, Denis Walsh, Seánie McGrath, Wayne Sherlock, Ronan Curran, Kieran Murphy, Tom Kenny, Ben O'Connor, Shane O'Neill, Stephen McDonnell, Anthony Nash, Daniel Kearney.

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