‘Fever Pitch’, by Ben Bares

The scenes of rural tranquility finally began to give way to a suburban landscape as we wound our way along N85 from Lahinch to Ennis. In typical Bares Family fashion we’re running behind and the caravan of four cars we left Lahinch with was now down to just two. I’ve been trailing behind Edward O’Loghlen and doing my best not to lose sight of him, as there will be no way we’ll make it to the game in time if we get split up. It’s Sunday June 16th and we’re just three days into our family trip to Ireland. We’re already on rental car number two, but that’s another story best told over a tall drink. I’m bound and determined not to let the rough start to our vacation distract me from our plans today – to watch the County Clare versus County Cork Senior Hurling match at Cusack Park in Ennis. Surely this promises to be a highlight of the trip.

The late morning rain along the coast finally gave way to intermittent sun and billowing cumulus clouds as we roll into Ennis. Edward had suggested we try to arrive well ahead of time to find a decent place to park, take in the game day atmosphere, and secure a place under the north stands awning – key, if the weather turned on us. The traffic began to stack up as we closed in on the stadium and groups of spectators clad in red and white let us know the Cork supporters had traveled as well. The throng of fans began to spill onto the streets as we approach Club Bridge, and our vehicle is now slowed to a crawl.

Beautiful weather before the game at Cusack Park

Just as I begin to think we’ll be lucky to make the throw-in, Michael O’Loughlin, Rushaun, Kilnamona emerges from the crowd and begins to part the crowd for us like Moses parted the Red Sea. It’s nothing short of a miracle, as Michael secured us prime parking in a lot adjacent to the stadium. Even the attendant commented as we drove in we must’ve known the right man to receive this kind of special treatment. Quickly collecting our rain-gear, we fell in line with the masses entering through the turnstiles and into Cusack Park. The coveted north stands appeared to be at capacity, but here again Michael came through and the stewards allowed us to enter the packed standing-room only section.

Connor Galvin is off the races at the start of the match

Before we had a chance to truly take in our surroundings the game was under way, and what a quick paced game it is – speed, skill, and agility at its finest.  Unlike most sports that have a start and stop approach, hurling is played at a frantic pace with breaks in the action set for penalties, injuries, sending the ball out of play, and scoring; however even in that regard play is resumed quickly. As the play intensified so did the chorus of cheers and use of colorful language – hopefully some of it was lost in the heat of the moment, but our kids still got an education!

Shane O’Donnell fights for control of the ball

Clare took an early lead which only heightened the hometown crowd’s enthusiasm. “Come on Shane!” was shouted more than once as Clare’s ace on the full forward line, Shane O’Donnell made his runs towards the Cork goal area. Though playing at the pinnacle of the sport, these athletes are still amateurs, and once their hurling boots are hung up for the day they go to work just like the rest of us. 

About midway through the first half it began, just a light sprinkle – nothing too concerning and more or less expected. After all it was just a little drizzle. We’d been warned ahead of time to be prepared for intermittent rain showers to materialize out of nowhere, during our trip and we came well prepared. The rumbles of thunder and flashes of lighting were something altogether different. Being from the Midwest, thunderstorms are a regular occurrence, but something we don’t take lightly during sporting events – especially those on an open field. We were surprised to see the teams play on as if was just another day in the park when the flashes of lighting were clearly visible. As the game wore on the heavens opened and the light drizzle developed into a driving rain.

John Conlon loses his helmet, but won’t be denied his point

Throughout the downpour physicality of the game was on full display, and passions ran deep.  When a Clare player appeared to take an unnecessary blow to the head, the team manager stepped in to defend his player. Unfortunately in the process he knocked over the offending player and was ejected from the game as a result. It was evident there was no love lost between these two squads. The tensions even spread to the sideline when the team trainers took offense to each other and they too needed to be sent off!

Donal Tuohy organizes the Clare defense for a penalty shot

The match had been fairly close throughout, with Clare holding a slight lead. Cork was able to narrow the gap to two points in the final minutes, but Clare were able to persevere and came out with the victory. 


Clare comes out on top at the final whistle:

Needless to say after the match we were a little water logged, but none the worse for wear. The excitement of the match, the festive atmosphere, and the eventual outcome all made it worth the while. Although we didn’t have the chance to find them in the crowd before the match, we were able to meet up with Michael, his son Michael, and his daughter, Catherine OLoughlin – she herself, was an All-Star Award winner with the County Clare Camogie Team in 2005 – in front of the statue of Michael Cusack at the main gate. Then it was off to dry out, find a pint, and recount a day I won’t soon forget!

The statue of Michael Cusack (Micheál ÓCíosóig), located at the entrance to Cusack Park, Ennis

 

–  Ben Bares, Wisconsin USA

Notes by Edward:

Cusack was native to the parish of Carron, north Clare, born there in 1846. Michael later founded the sporting organisation, Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) at Thurles, county Tipperary in November 1884.

The statue of Michael Cusack was sculpted by Michael McTigue, Kilnamona, county Clare using some five tons of Kilkenny limestone. Michael McTigue’s mother hailed from county Clare OLoughlins.

 

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