I am rotten at portraits or at least making them look like who they are supposed to look like. This is a portrait I have been trying to do for years and could never get it quite right but I gave it one more try for the day that’s in it for today Waterford meet old enemies Tipperary in the Munster Senior Hurling Championship. I hope the subject who shall remain nameless forgives me…
The GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), the home of hurling, with its original ties to Republicanism and the church and its popularity in rural areas used to speak of a backward Ireland of old so it was not popular with my generation of artists eager for the new, the urban and I came to hurling fandom late, about 11 years, ago just as Waterford were developing into the team that looked like they would break a half century of bad luck.
Hurling is a fast and furious game played with Hurley sticks and a hard ball called a sliotar. Brawls and spilled blood are not uncommon while grown men cry in the terraces. In fact it possibly was the novelty of having a male friend sob on my shoulder at one such game that sealed my fandom not just because a game that could evoke such passion must be worth exploring but also I thought I might learn how to induce such behaviour myself…
In Hurling everyone’s an old enemy but most reserve specially enmity for neighbouring counties. In Waterford that’s Cork, Tipperary and Kilkenny, Kilkenny being our utter nemesis (though some people get very annoyed about Tipperary). Poor old Wexford hasn’t aroused much ire. Yet.
For much of the decade of my fandom I worked long shifts at the weekends and so if I was working a day shift I would miss the Sunday matches. We had a boom box at work though and everyone took turns to stop and listen, relaying progress back to the rest of the team. With my hearing being so bad I relied on my pals to tell me what was going on. This portrait of one of them as she listens to a match. I can’t remember what match it was but I do know it was one of many where every point counted, where hope sprang eternal even as the dogs of despair hounded our heels.
Our run of bad luck did not end and after years on the rollercoaster of emotion that being the fan of an under dog team brings I realised that I did not have what it takes to be a true follower, that I could no longer take the extremes of agony as I watched our lads repeatedly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory so, as our heroes one by one retired to be replaced by the young and untested, I threw out my television resolving to come back to the game when our team had developed.
But, far sooner than expected it looks like we are in with a chance again and after hammering old enemies Cork in June we have made it to the Munster Final. If we win today we may have a chance of winning the All Ireland hurling Championship for the first time since 1951. Then the county will absolutely implode with joy.
Back in the mists of time there was a tribe of native Gaelic people called the Deisi and the old name for Waterford is the Déise (Day-Sha). So don’t be surprised if you hear a roar or feel the ground tremble wherever you are today, because hope does spring eternal and the legions at Semple Stadium in Thurles or at home in front of the television, the faithful long-term fans and the more fragile fairweather ones too, will be howling from the heart:
C’MON THE DEISE!
UPDATE:We lost after an excruciatingly close game and much screaming…but in the end Tipperary were better. It reminded me why I stopped watching in the first place. My nerves just can’t take it. Oh well…