John Arnold: I remember my first time watching Cork in an All Ireland final in Croke Park

Looking ahead to the All Ireland hurling final, John Arnold recalls his first one in Croke Park
John Arnold: I remember my first time watching Cork in an All Ireland final in Croke Park

Cork and Kilkenny in action in the 1972 All-Ireland hurling final — the first one John Arnold attended.

WHEN it comes to driving, I’ve a woeful sense of direction.

I know that nowadays lots of people have apps and sat navs in their cars. All you have to do apparently is tell the car where you want to go and it’ll find the shortest route to get to that destination.

How the car knows where you’re starting from was always a mystery to me, but again, thanks to modern technology and GPS satellites up in heaven, that’s all taken care of!

And, of course, there’s also a new thing now called Google Maps which has every place in the country mapped, shure what would you want a brain for at all?

Last week, I went with a friend to the Munster Minor Hurling Final in Thurles. He was driving and I was the navigator. I can remember terrible traffic hold-ups over the years on that same journey. Granted, ‘twas usually of a Sunday with a crowd of close on 50,000 anticipated.

I know only 4,000 were allowed in Semple Stadium that Monday night, but my innate paranoia about slow traffic prompted me to take evasive measures. Up to Cashel we went, and turned off before Pat Fox’s. On then to Knockavilla, Dundrum and turned there for Thurles.

We didn’t meet a sinner. You’d think you were going wrong when taking a sharp right into the little hamlet of Ballagh. When my driver saw wigs of grass growing in the middle of the road, he thought we’d end up in a Bord na Mona Bog!

“Oh ye of little faith,” says I, and we parking alongside Bohernanave Church — about 30 yards from the pitch. “The longest way round is the shortest way home,” I reminded him. When we heard later of a major snarl-up between Horse and Jockey and Thurles, weren’t we glad of my navigational capabilities!

Ah yes, there’s a beautiful song recorded many years ago by Joe Dolan, My Own Peculiar Way, and a line in it includes the phrase ‘If sometimes my mind should wander to a suddenly forgotten yesterday’. Well, it’s a bit like that for me this week.

Since 1972, for me, All Ireland Hurling Final weekend was at the very end of August or generally early September. Covid and some crazy decision-making has changed all that, shattered the autumnal certainty that was always such a given, such a constant in my life.

You know, for thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands of people, who have no interest in sport, they may wonder this week what all the hype is about. Each to his own, but personally, hurling is more than a game, a sport, a pastime or a form of recreation.

This week, my memory and imagination are pregnant with recollections, hope and memories of wins and losses, great teams and great players. I suppose I should change Joe Dolan’s lyrics to ‘a suddenly remembered yesterday’.

Stopping for refreshments on our way to the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick to see Cork playing Tipp’ in 1972, we called in to a brown painted small pub somewhere near Galbally. Dave Ryan had a pint while myself, Dan Dooley and Pad O’Connor all had lemonade with our sandwiches.

What I remember most of that pitstop was the outside toilet across the yard. The proprietor of the hostelry was also a farmer and in the haggard was a sheep with three legs and one eye and a hen with one leg! Somethings you’d never forget!

In my mind’s eye, so many hurling memories are linked to others and often connected with other more mundane matters. During this week they all come tumbling back joyfully and happily. Like Mick O’Neill’s pub in Hospital, with all the pictures of old hurling teams and great hurlers.

We lost the 1972 final to Kilkenny on my first ever visit to Croke Park. 

Getting to buy the Sunday Independent on O’Connell Street in Dublin around 11pm on the Saturday night was just amazing — tomorrow’s paper today!

Last Sunday was the Church Holiday, August 15. ‘Twas on that day back in 1985 that Paddy Geary, who lived and worked with us for nigh on 40 years, died. I remember he was in Fermoy Hospital just before the Centenary Final in Thurles in ’84, we called to see him on the Saturday of that final.

Anyhow, Sunday night last I was at his graveside in Gortroe. Another couple we know were there saying a prayer at a relative’s grave. I told her we’d two lads playing with the Cork Minor team in the Minor Final against five-in-a-row seeking Galway on Saturday evening. One of the lads, Adam Walsh, is her first cousin, once removed. A granduncle of Adam’s, Dan Dooley, worked on our farm occasionally when I was young. He actually wired our house back in the 1950s.

Like my own father, Dan Dooley was a genius with his hands as regards electricity or machines. I don’t know did he ever hurl himself but in the late 1950s, when the game was at a low ebb here in this parish, he organized a juvenile team. They played practice games in the Inches near Bluebell Forge — ‘The Bartlemy Blues’, Dan called his team!

Talking of the Cork Minors, we haven’t won that particular crown since 2001, a long time for a county like Cork. Going down ‘boithrin na smaointe’, I recall that match when we beat Galway. Cork had lost to Tipp’ in Munster but availed of the newly- designed ‘back-door’ to win the All Ireland.

Tomas O’Leary was the Cork captain. Son of Seanie O’Leary, Tomas’s grandfather, a Ballingeary man, Seamus O’Leary, was a national Teacher in Clonmult NS in Dungourney. A namesake of my own, John Arnold from Waterford, had, in earlier times, occupied the same educational post in Clonmult School. Here’s another connection! That John Arnold and his wife are both buried in the Old Cemetery in Clonmult. In the next grave to the Arnolds lie the mortal remains of Jamesy Kellher — a hurler on par with Ring and Mackey. Kelleher led his famous Dungourney to County and All Ireland success in the early years of the last century. His famed club will be represented on the Cork Minor team on Saturday night by Jack Leahy — born and reared in the townland of Ballynona where Fr Edwin Fitzgibbon grew up — he donated the cup that is still played as an All Ireland University Competition.

That reminds me of the habit a son of John Arnold, the teacher, had. As patrons left different public houses in Midleton, Johnny Arnold would greet them with the query ‘Hi, tell me now, what did the Isrealites do when they came out of the Red Sea?’ The person being asked the question would invariably shake the head and reply ‘I don’t know’, and immediately Johnny would give the answer: “They dried themselves”, and off he’d go laughing loudly!

I recall another day at a Munster Final in Thurles. Ned Keeffe from Lisgoold had travelled with me. We won, I think, that same day but the traffic afterwards was brutal.

We had waited for the presentation and were out on the pitch afterwards basking in the Rebel glory. I was parked near the dog track and when we got back to the car it was sheer gridlock. It took us an hour to get out of the car park and even then we just sat there in vehicular constipation.

Every road towards Cork was jammed so I decided we’d chance an alternative route. We eventually got going and were on the road towards Upperchurch. The road was quiet so we kept going in a slightly north westerly direction. Mapless and phoneless, we drove on with no traffic problems whatsoever.

We felt we should be veering a bit left to more or less circumvent Thurles, if you know what I mean, but road signs were scarce. We went of on a side road which I thought was generally southwards but I was wrong! We met a man by the roadside and asked which was the best way to Cork. He looked at us as if we had three heads and never heard of Cork.

The road we were on, he said, if we kept going on it long enough, we’ d be heading for Knock! ‘Twas still only about 7pm so we kept going.

At last, we got on to another main road and, lo and behold, weren’t we in Moneygall — nearly 40 miles from Thurles! At least now we knew where we were so we turned the car, faced for Nenagh and Birdhill and came home via Limerick city!

‘Twas a long trip home but we saw a powerful amount of new places! I think I’ll get someone else to drive on Saturday evening.

‘Oh how ‘oft do my thoughts in their fancy take flight...’

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