Earlier this year, after Cork beat Tipperary in the Munster SHC, I wrote about the spiritual experience of visiting Thurles.
It’s a regular trip that never feels mundane, simply because of the history, of the venue itself and my own memories built up over three decades or more. If there was a club ground equivalent in Cork, it would the place named after a fellow clan-member, Charlie Hurley Park in Bandon.
The first time must have been in the late 1980s, most likely a Carbery junior A championship game that felt like an All-Ireland to a five-year-old; last Sunday was the most recent visit, the Premier SFC double-header featuring Clonakilty-Newcestown and Carbery Rangers-Éire Óg.
As a native of Kilbrittain who now lives in the parish Innishannon & Knockavilla, Bandon (and Courcey Rovers) should in theory be the blood enemies – especially given the memory of underage defeats to the Lilywhites like the 2000 Carbery MAHC final (2-17 to 0-3), but of course it doesn’t work like that. Working as a journalist brings natural objectivity but, in any case, I have family and friends in Bandon and have been lucky to be present at big days for the club over the past decade and a half.
What makes the venue so special, beyond the name link? Well, first of all it’s important to declare any potential conflict of interest – the hospitality laid on for journalists and match officials is superb and the lady overseeing that is my aunt, Bernadette Lucey. Even if I wasn’t her nephew, though, she would be going above and beyond, like other club members on duty on Sunday – former chairperson Colman O’Mahony at the gate, current chairperson Ian Doyle operating the scoreboard, Mickey Kelly and Gerard Collins at the entrance to the pitch. They are the embodiment of the GAA volunteer – like the old AIB ad said, “You don’t support the club, you are the club.”
The bank makes it a good place for spectators to watch a game and the pavilion is situated so that upstairs is ideal an viewing point for the media – though of course you can watch from the dugout if you so wish.
Bandon’s location means that is ideal as a venue for derby clashes between surrounding clubs – when Kilbrittain finally won the IHC in 1995, the semi-final was a victory over Newcestown in Bandon. The score was 0-9 to 0-7 and it was an awful match, hardly surprising given what was riding on it, but the result was all that mattered. On top of that, it serves as the perfect staging point for marquee fixtures between city teams and clubs from further west – in 1994, Castlehaven edged Nemo Rangers in an SFC semi-final that crackled with tension, Larry Tompkins and Niall Cahalane winning the midfield battle against Steven O’Brien and Shea Fahy.
In the mind’s eye, the weather was always perfect for such games and perhaps that’s why Sunday triggered the memories – the split season and meaningful club games earlier in the year coupled with the heatwave.
When we were younger, the Bandon players would proudly note how the pitch – almost always in good condition – was exactly the same size as Croke Park, but in the earlier age-grades it was in the top pitch that you served your time. That same plot of land would be the site for laps and laps and laps prior to school team training sessions. In transition year, Thursday afternoons would feature games of soccer in the patch of land below the top pitch, accessed by going down the slope behind the western goal of the main pitch – on Sunday, it was the main car park, ensuring little or no traffic issues as the event was brilliantly run.
Obviously, proximity to the venue makes life easier for the journalist with domestic duties – it’s quite a luxury to leave home a half-hour before throw-in and still be in good time – but even if were a trek, it would be one to look forward to.
On the field, it has been a tough year for Bandon’s intermediate and junior hurling and football sides, but these things go in cycles and the good days will come around again. The quality of people involved should ensure that.
In the meantime, it will be a popular choice of venue – Nemo Rangers take on Clonakilty in there in the final round of Premier SFC fixtures, with the city club’s intermediates up against Iveleary earlier that day.
Down the years, Kitty Crowley’s pub on Bandon’s Oliver Plunkett St was always a popular after-match venue for the faithful; that is gone now, indicative of the changing nature of the town. The GAA club and Charlie Hurley Park remain constant, though – long may they stay that way.