Drimnagh Castle, 21st November 2015
The annals of history are littered with these kinds of stories. A burgeoning nascent state, its independence finally recognised, self-detemination hard fought for, respect hard won. And then...descent in acerbic in-fighting and score-settling. Chaos....anarchy....Civil War. From Spartacus' attempt for basic human liberties to Bashar al-Assad's attempts to suppress them, these are always the bloodiest of battles. Former comrades, colleagues, friends who once stood shoulder to shoulder in challenge to a common adversary, now staring at each other with bayonets drawn. No quarter given or asked. Brothers in arms no more.
As the opposing forces from Munster and Leinster took to the Drimnagh battle ground on a cold November morning, it was clear there was more at stake than a hurling match. One thousand years after similar forces faced each other on the shores of Clontarf, scores still needed to be settled. This was no mere game. Opposing generals bringing to mind legendary American commanders-in-chief of yesteryear. Dave Sheehan, like Franklin Roosevelt, crippled in his prime, but tactically astute and battle hardened nonetheless. Colm Gahan, inspiring by force of action rather than philosophical rhetoric, leading the cavalry charge from the front line. Unadulterated war - tremenjus fun for all the family.
This was hurling at its most primal. Frantic, frenetic, fierce, ferocious....so many f words can be used to describe this match, and a lot of them were used in Drimnagh. The opening exchanges were a frenzy of energy-letting and scorched earth tactics unseen on these shores since Cromwell's razing of Drogheda. The current version of Leinster men were not as easily cowed though. Gahan himself, calling to mind his forebears, the precocious Wexford boys of '98 struck an early hammer blow. His battlefeld commander Shane Murphy following swiftly with another incendiary fired into the Munster rear-guard. Shell-shocked, overrun and retreating, Munster needed respite. The noose tightening, battle-lines had to be redrawn to break the encirclement.
Guerilla tactics were required. Having served so well against marauders in many unyielding hinterlands, they needed to be adapted to deal with this new, familiar enemy on home soil. Cian Liddy led the flying column deep into enemy territory striking an immediate counter attack. Podge Buckley, who would later declare his phenomenal emotional, but not financial, attachment to this club, became his aide-de-camp. Together they led multiple sorties which took their toll on the Leinster cover. Two more majors were claimed - emphatic blows but not yet decisive. With Munster leading three artillery strikes to two, defensive warfare was required. The big guns would sound no more.
Time to revert to street fighting and sniping to win the day. Conor Maharaj and Kevin Ryan, the Connacht mercenary, for Leinster and Martin Murphy and the enigmatic Conor O'Halloran, who was unknown in military circles until that day, for Munster, will enter forklore for their respective provinces. Their long range exploits were vital propaganda victories for their respective camps on that fateful day. Minstrels may well sing many songs of their achievements. While the heat and bluster of battle raged like a torment around them, they led the charts on confirmed targets hit with exceptional accuracy.
With bodies spent and littering the battlefield, stalemate ensued. But this was civil war...there had to be a victor. Once more into no-mans land. Unchartered territory. Light fading, temperatures dropping, night closing in. Brian Boru's millennium-old score still unsettled. Spirits on either side never fading, energy never flagging in a desperate attempt to wrench the prize of victory from their unyielding foe. Cian Liddy nearly suffering a similar fate to Robespierre, being guillotined by his former comrades during the French Revolution. Old veterans Harry Stone and Ciaran Butler entering the fray to inspire and cajole war-weary troops. Unadulterated war we said - every man was required.
In one way, in the end, hurling was the winner. Over 45 brave soldiers taking to the battlefield at Drimnagh Castle to give their all to represent their province with honour. However, in another more important way Munster were the winners. This battle is over but the war rumbles on. No doubt, there will be another chapter to this story.
Munster: Cathal Mulkere, Mike Richardson, Derek McKenna, David O'Connell, Eoin O'Dwyer, Niall Mullane, Ronan Moloney, James Kenny (capt), Brian Gavin, Kieran Kelly, John Tarpey, Conor O'Halloran, Padraig Buckley, Martin Murphy, Cian Liddy
Stephen Barry, Stephen Casey, Gavin O'Connell, Kevin Cormican, Gavin Deacon, Kevin McEvoy, Jack McNamara, Eoin O'Sullivan, Brad Harte, Ciaran Butler
Leinster: Marc MacLiam, Kevin Deady, Eoin Fitzpatrick, Ultan Dillon, Barry Ruth, Cathal Hester, Tom Kehoe, Conor Maharaj, Kevin Ryan, Jamie O'Hara, Denis O'Sullivan, Eoin Ryan, Shane Murphy (capt), Colm Gahan, Martin Murphy
Caomhin Concannon, Ger Kennedy, Cillian Thornton, Leon Flanagan, Kieran Parrock, Harry Stone