G.A.A. Rivalries

Tipperary G.A.A. Yearbook 2014, p. 77


A friend of mine recalls a customer from Holycross coming into his store in Boherlahan prior to the 1996 county final for which the local club had qualified after many years in the hurling wilderness.

My friend was full of enthusiasm and excitement about Boherlahan's success and was perplexed by his customer's apparent indifference.

'Will you not be shouting for Boherlahan on Sunday?' he eventually asked.

'No,' came the reply. 'If Boherlahan were playing China to-morrow, I'd be shouting for China!'

An extreme example, perhaps, of the intensity of the rivalries that exist between clubs, and also counties, where the G.A.A. is concerned, but such rivalry is the stuff of success, the motivation that drives clubs on.

In fact it has often been said about such local rivalries that the motivation is as much negative as positive. As the man mentioned above put it the important thing was not who won, as long as it wasn't your rival who was successful.

The founding fathers of the G.A.A. pulled a great stroke when they based the club on the territory of the parish. They knew the strength of attachment of Irish people to land and place.

The intensity of this rivalry can be as great between counties. Tipperary is surrounded by more counties than any other in Ireland, eight in all. When it is realised that virtually all the strong hurling counties are included, Offaly, Laois, Kilkenny, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Clare and Galway, it is understandable that many rivalries exist.

The feeling is usually more intense in border areas. The Limerick-Tipperary feeling is strongest in the Newport-Castleconnell area and has a long history. The story is told of Tyler Mackey, the father of John and Mick, bringing a team of Ahane players to Newport for a challenge one day. At the time the great Ahane team would normally beat Newport out the gate but on this occasion Newport triumphed. Tyler was so disgusted at this humiliation that he made the players walk home. The great cant at the time was 'Come on Ahane!' The Newportians took pleasure in adding a rider: 'As far as Newport!'

The intensity of the rivalry can ebb and flow depending on the hurling fortunes of the county. When I was growing up in Lorrha, which is in the very north of the county, in the nineteen-forties and fifties, the hurling fortunes of Galway and Offaly were at a low ebb. Then when both counties began to come good in the eighties, I was enthusiastic for their success.

Of course I had left the area for a long time and hadn't realised that whatever latent rivalry was there in my time had now come very much into the open with Galway's and Offaly's emergence as meaningful rivals to Tipperary on the hurling field. My brother was none too pleased with this development: 'Shure you can't go into Portumna or Birr anymore but you have to listen to them!'

I suppose as a true blue Tipperary man he had a point but there was no recollection of them having to listen to Tipperary people doing their shopping in both towns for decades!

Probably the rivalry with Kilkenny is at its most intense at the moment. Tipperary supporters find it hard to live with their rival's many recent successes especially as they remember that Tipperary dominated Kilkenny on the hurling field up to 1967. The boot is very much on the other foot now as Kilkenny are way out in front in achievement and ability. Tipperary's All-Ireland win in 2010 was supposed to break the black and amber monopoly but it failed miserably and Kilkenny, Cody and King Henry were top dogs in the hurling world until this year. It's very difficult for a Tipperary person to accept that the county has seven All-Irelands more than Tipperary.

One of the most interesting hurling rivalries is with Cork. It's as old as the G.A.A., in fact predates it by a number of years. It is unusual in that it carries a high level of mutual respect. But it has gone through periods of great intensity as well. The fifties was a time when this was at its greatest. This was the period of the great Christy Ring, a player most feared by opposing players and supporters. He seemed to be the embodiment of every skill and cunning. It must have been this that caused my mother to get upset. Not a woman for going to matches but she would listen intently to Micheal O'Hehir's broadcasts and occasionally she'd get up off her chair and walk around to stop the palpitations in her heart: 'Oh, that Ring. He's a terrible man!'