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High stakes as old foes meet again

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 12-Nov-2009

OLD foes will meet on a familiar battleground when reigning All-Ireland Club kingpins Portumna and 2006 county champions Loughrea face off in the long overdue Galway senior hurling final– degraded and dogged by controversies in recent weeks – at Pearse Stadium on Sunday (2:30pm).

In many respects, the good has been taken out of Galway’s hurling showpiece. Originally fixed for October 25, then November 8, before being assigned its current date of November 15, the decider has been tarnished by the ongoing controversy surrounding the fall-out from the Mullagh and Loughrea semi-final.

The saga took another twist last weekend when local referees indicated they were considering strike action after the County Hearings Committee reduced 48-week bans imposed on three Mullagh players for allegedly striking match referee Christy Helebert to 12 weeks.

While the position taken by Galway’s referees did cast another doubt over the county senior hurling final, in a statement from Galway Hurling Referees this week they have agreed to officiate the fixture, but “under protest”.

The gesture has been welcomed by all concerned, with Loughrea manager Padraig Duddy stating: “It is a huge occasion for Loughrea and Portumna and for the county. A good county final is what is needed after the last few weeks and, hopefully, we will get it on Sunday. I think it is important, though, that the referees are looked after and supported as well. They are coming out to ref this match and fair play to them for doing it.They are an integral part of the GAA.

“I don’t know the ins and outs (of the Mullagh controversy) – and I don’t want to go into that particular case – but we would not have the match on Sunday if we didn’t have the referee. There would be no hurling match played without them. Fair play to them for refereeing the match on Sunday and, hopefully, things in the whole county will be sorted out after this.”

Of course, the current fall-out occurred following Loughrea’s dramatic semi-final victory over Mullagh. Rejecting that his charges were lucky to come out of Kenny Park with the win, Duddy adds: “We got a decision, we got a free, and we took it. Christy Helebert had a call to make and he made it.

“I don’t think we have been lucky. We have had tough, tight matches and I think that is where the mental strength of the lads shone through. That is what I would take from it. The lads’ mental strength, against Beagh and against Mullagh, shone through and that is what I would be happy about.”

No doubt, Loughrea – who are chasing an historic treble, having already claimed the minor ‘A’ and junior ‘A’ titles – are in the decider on merit. Unbeaten in the group stages, they recorded victories over Killimordaly, Carnmore and Castlegar, while drawing their other Group D encounter with Ardrahan on scoreline of 0-14 to 1-11.

They continued to drive on in the knockout stages, accounting for Kiltormer by 1-15 to 1-5 in the preliminary quarter-final. They were subsequently held by an ever-improving Beagh outfit, 0-13 apiece, in the quarter-final, but showed their steel to see the job through in the replay, winning 2-12 to 0-14.

This set up a county semi-final meeting with Mullagh, which finished in acrimonious circumstances after referee Christy Helebert made the hard call of awarding Loughrea a free in injury-time and the placed ball was converted by minor star Neil Keary to secure his outfit a 0-16 to 0-15 victory.

Certainly, coming through these tight scrapes has fostered a winning mentality in the club – also evident in the minor and junior championship wins – but Duddy agrees Loughrea face a very different challenge on Sunday.

“No one can argue with what Portumna have done and what they have achieved in the last few years,” continues the Loughrea boss. “But we have just been concentrating on ourselves all year and we are just glad to be in a county final, no matter how we got there.

“Definitely, those close games will stand to us, and when you get through a tighter match you appreciate the win more. So, definitely, the two matches against Beagh would have helped to come through the Mullagh match. The tight games have helped us.”

They will also be buoyed by the fact that when these sides last met in a county decider in 2006, Loughrea entered the contest as underdogs. However, after a severely bruising and physical battle – that held the monopoly on media headlines for all the wrong reasons afterwards – Loughrea emerged victorious on a scoreline of 1-13 to 0-15.

One would hope the scars of that particular battle have long healed, and speaking to Portumna manager Johnny Kelly, he is adamant his charges only focus on the game in hand. That they do not dwell on the past, that they do not daydream about potential three-in-a-rows, and that they do not get caught up with records.

“No, we don’t speak of the three-in-a-row here at all,” says Kelly. “I mean, it would be foolish to do so, I think anyway. It has never been spoken about and I would be completely honest about this. We don’t speak about three-in-a-rows and we don’t speak about records. We try to go out and give as good an account of ourselves every day as we can and that is what we will be trying to do on Sunday as well.”

Without a doubt, Portumna have been the team of the decade so far. This Sunday, they will appear in their seventh consecutive county decider, having already won four county cups in their previous six appearances. In addition to this impressive record, Portumna have also won three All-Ireland club titles, and this season they are also chasing an unprecedented three-in-a-row nationally.

First up, though, they must negotiate their old nemesis Loughrea if they are going to secure a coveted three-in-a-row at local level and on this year’s form they would appear to be raging hot favourites to do so. Portumna started 2009 as they finished 2008, tearing apart Kilkenny champions, Ballyhale Shamrocks by 5-11 to 1-16 in the eagerly anticipated All-Ireland club semi-final back in February, before they quashed Waterford and Munster representatives De La Salle by 2-24 to 1-8 in the All-Ireland decider in March.

Back in the Galway championship, Kelly’s men subsequently topped their group, completing the clean sweep when winning all four games against Athenry, Beagh, Turloughmore and Tommie Larkins. They devoured St. Thomas’ (5-13 to 0-12) and Castlegar (3-18 to 1-11) in the preliminary quarter-final and quarter-final respectively, before coasting past Gort in the semi-final.

The latter was an odd affair. Having controlled the game for 50 minutes of the tie, Portumna, incredibly, then conceded 4-1 in the dying minutes. Fortunately, they had already built up a 14-point lead by this stage and they tagged on two points themselves late on to win 4-14 to 6-5.

Still, it raised a few questions about the Portumna rearguard, while the absence of Galway midfielder Eoin Lynch – forced to withdraw with a shoulder injury early in the contest – was distinctly noticeable.

“Yeah, Eoin picked up a pretty severe shoulder injury in the county semi-final against Gort and his absence would have been sorely missed coming towards the end of the Gort game,” agrees the Portumna mentor. “So, at least the break has given Eoin the chance to recover completely from what was a fairly hefty challenge. We would be happy enough that he will be starting on Sunday.”

Indeed, with Lynch once again available, the reigning champions boast a full bill of health for this clash. Consequently, Ivan Canning will line out in goals, while Eugene McEntee, Ollie Canning and Micheál Ryan will lead the defensive unit. Lynch and Leo Smith will make up the midfield pairing.

In attack, Kevin Hayes, Andrew Smith and Niall Hayes can be relied on to produce consistent performances, but, of course, the real scoring threats will come from Joe Canning and Damien Hayes who have tallied 7-57 and 8-16 respectively in the county championship.

As for Loughrea, their main striking duo to date has been Johnny O’Loughlin (2-41) and All-Ireland winning minor Neil Keary (0-27). Keary’s addition – along with that of fellow county minor Johnny Coen – to the forward unit has certainly been critical to the Town’s progress, as two of their big name forwards, Johnny Maher and Kenneth Colleran, have been dogged with injuries this year.

They also boast a steady midfield unit in Gavin Keary and Brian Mahony, while in defence, goalkeeper Stephen Morgan, full-back Damien McClearn and captain Thomas Regan have backboned their endeavours in this sector.

Unfortunately, they will be without their centre-half back Nigel Shaughnessy, after he picked up a suspension following his sending off against Mullagh, while there is also an injury doubt over corner back Dermot Melia (foot injury). That said, Duddy has not ruled out a return for Gregory Kennedy, although it is unlikely as he just underwent an operation on a shoulder injury over a fortnight ago.

If there is one team that seem to get under the champions’ skin, it is Loughrea, however, all the signs for Sunday – semi-final jitters aside – point to a Portumna victory.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Henshaw and McSharry set to field for Irish Wolfhounds in clash with England Saxons

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

CONNACHT’S rising stars Robbie Henshaw and Dave McSharry look set to named in the starting xv for the Ireland Wolfhounds who face the England Saxons in Galway this weekend when the team is announced later today (Thursday).

Robbie Henshaw is the only out-and-out full-back that was named Tuesday in the 23-man squad that will take on the English at the Sportsground this Friday (7.45pm).

Connacht’s centre McSharry and Ulster’s Darren Cave are the only two specialist centres named in the 23 man squad, which would also suggest the two youngsters are in line for a starting place.

Former Connacht out-half, Ian Keatley, Leinster’s second out-half Ian Madigan and Ulster’s number 10 Paddy Jackson and winger Andrew Trimble, although not specialist full-backs or centres, can all slot into the 12, 13 and 15 jerseys, however you’d expect the Irish management will hand debuts to Henshaw and McSharry given that they’ll be playing on their home turf.

Aged 19, Henshaw was still playing Schools Cup rugby last season. The Athlone born Connacht Academy back burst onto the scene at the beginning of the season when he filled the number 15 position for injured captain Gavin Duffy.

The Marist College and former Ireland U19 representative was so assured under the high ball, so impressive on the counter-attack and astute with the boot, that he retained the full-back position when Duffy returned from injury.

Connacht coach Eric Elwood should be commended for giving the young Buccaneers clubman a chance to shine and Henshaw has grasped that opportunity with both hands, lighting up the RaboDirect PRO 12 and Heineken Cup campaigns for the Westerners this season.

Henshaw has played in all 19 of Connacht’s games this season and his man-of-the-match display last weekend in the Heineken Cup against Zebre caught the eye of Irish attack coach, Les Kiss.

“We’re really excited about his development. He had to step into the breach when Connacht lost Gavin Duffy, and he was playing 13 earlier in the year. When he had to put his hand up for that, he’s done an exceptional job,” Kiss said.

The 22-year-old McSharry was desperately unlucky to miss out on Declan Kidney’s Ireland squad for the autumn internationals and the Dubliner will relish the opportunity this Friday night to show-off his speed, turn of foot, deft hands and finishing prowess that has been a mark of this season, in particular, with Connacht.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Drinks battle brewing as kettle sales go off the boil

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

You’d have thought there might have been three certainties in Irish life – death, taxes and the cup of tea – but it now seems that our post-tiger sophistication in endangering the consumption of the nation’s second favourite beverage.

Because with all of our new-fangled coffee machines, percolators, cappuccino and expresso makers, sales of the humble kettle are falling faster than our hopes of a write-off on the promissory note.

And even when we do make tea, we don’t need a tea pot – it’s all tea bags these days because nobody wants a mouthful of tea leaves, unless they’re planning to have their fortune told.

Sales of kettles are in decline as consumers opt for fancy coffee makers, hot water dispensers and other methods to make their beverages – at least that’s the case in the UK and there’s no reason to think it’s any different here.

And it’s only seems like yesterday when, if the hearth was the heart of every home, the kettle that hung over the inglenook fireplace or whistled gently on the range, was the soul.

You’d see groups gathered in bogs, footing turf and then breaking off to boil the battered old kettle for a well-earned break.

The first thing that happened when you dropped into someone’s home was the host saying: “Hold on until I stick on the kettle.”

When the prodigal son arrived home for the Christmas, first item on the agenda was a cup of tea; when bad news was delivered, the pain was eased with a cuppa; last thing at night was tea with a biscuit.

The arrival of electric kettles meant there was no longer an eternal search for matches to light the gas; we even had little electric coils that would boil water into tea in our cup if you were mean enough or unlucky enough to be making tea for one.

We went away on sun holidays, armed with an ocean of lotion and a suitcase full of Denny’s sausages and Barry’s Tea. Spanish tea just wasn’t the same and there was nothing like a nice brew to lift the sagging spirits.

We even coped with the arrival of coffee because for a long time it was just Maxwell House or Nescafe granules which might have seemed like the height of sophistication – but they still required a kettle.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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