Sunday 7th September 2008 dawned bright and clear. A good day for a trip, and a good day for a match. Waterford were to meet Kilkenny in the All Ireland Hurling final and expectations were high. The season had got off to a slow start, with some controversy but had improved as the summer went on. My wife, Deena had been to almost every match with our son Joel and our eldest daughter Hannah and they had even featured on the Sunday Game in Thurles, and been spotted as far away as America, Dubai and Australia. But that Sunday she was journeying back from a wedding in Barcelona, the family car sitting at Cork Airport for her return. So it fell to me to get our son Joel to the match at Dublin’s Croke Park.
As we hadn’t got the tickets until late in the week (somehow Michael Spud Murphy wrangled a pair) the buses were sold out, as was the special event train. Luckily a neighbour, Ray McGrath, who had retired from teaching in Canada, was planning to go and he proposed we journey with him. We set off bright and early with the intention of getting the train from Wexford. But as we drove into Passage East to take the car ferry across, something was very amiss. The ferry was tied up at the quayside and there was not a crewman in sight. We wondered if we were too early, but with time ticking, Ray spun his battered Ford around and hurtled out of the village and up the new line. It might have been considered an ill-advised speed on any other occasion, what with the age of the car, and the condition of the roads, but not on All Ireland Sunday.
By New Ross, a new plan had formed. As we were this far, why not head to Enniscorthy and board there. Less of a drive, and we’d be quicker home. Arriving at the station, we got a bit of a start. There was no one else there. Dark thoughts started to enter the mind, but no words were spoken.
Five minutes later the first of a flood of cars arrived, and with it a lift in our mood and some lively banter. But it was not to last. A Kilkenny man, they were mostly black and amber about us, caused some upset when he queried if we had booked our tickets. Of course, we hadn’t and shur why would we. Then the cutting line…”shur everyone knows to book the Wexford Train on All Ireland Sunday, everyone who is used to heading to the All Ireland that is”. The emphasis on the word used not missed by any of the assembled Déise.
When the sound of the train was heard there was a surge of people towards the platform, but the Station Master appeared magically from out of the building, raising a commanding hand, and asking for ticket holders only. Ray turned to me and Joel and winking conspiratorially said “play along”. Grabbing Joel by the collar he turned and propelling him forward like some shield for protection he drove through to the official. Words were exchanged, but no movement was allowed. No ticket, no train. With this Ray launched into an impassioned oration. Reminding the official that this ad hoc rule was nowhere to be found on the CIE website and that this lus non scriptum was tantamount to an attack on our rights as citizens. At this, I perceived a marked thawing in the official. But Ray was only warming himself up and it was followed with a short and emotional recounting of his view from his father’s shoulders of the 1959 match. With this, he wheeled round to the gathering, and as if drawing encouragement and energy from the group he returned his forceful gaze to the official and went for the kill. “Would you…” addressing the station master, “be the one to deny me the opportunity to allow my son…”, turning to me “and my grandson…” lifting Joel up of the ground, “to see Waterford play, and they having journeyed 3000 miles from Canada to see the All Ireland final”.
Even the Kilkenny lads could see the injustice in this, albeit completely fictitious, account. The official crumpled to the sight of Joel looking him square in the eye, and the rousing cheer of the assembled crowd, or maybe it was just that so many ticket holders were being held up by the melee. Whatever it was, he stepped aside and we rushed through and were soon having tea and sandwiches looking out on the lapping waves of the Irish sea and we sped northwards. Joel’s only complaint was that if he had gone with his uncle Dylan on the special event train from Waterford he’d be eating Ballybricken Ribs!
If we thought that was to be the end of it, we were in for more. Having stopped in Wicklow station, we noticed little to concern us for the first five minutes. Spirits were good, the company was fine and we were in plenty of time for the match. After ten minutes some of the Kilkenny lads were getting a bit irritated. They had a minor final to get to as well, and wanted to be in plenty of time. The passing ticket collector was engaged, and he replied that it was nothing just some essential maintenance. Fifteen minutes and some of the Kilkenny lads were up and off, pacing along the platform, voices raised and anxiously glancing up the line. Not long after the first taxis started to arrive and we stopped the ticket collector again, and again we got the standard line. However, he was hurrying forward and it was said over a quickly retreating shoulder, running it appeared for the safety of the engine house.
When we eventually wandered out, doors were open up and down the train, and many of the carraiges were empty. There was not an official in sight and all manner of rumour was running. A mini bus arrived and a group of Kilkenny supporters piled in. In answer to what was going on another chap said the kilkenny lads had already got every taxi in town, and probably any available mini bus as well. Phone calls were made, CIE seemed to be taking the day off. Someone wandered down the town to see if they could find out what was going on. A few of us went up to the engine, and there the driver sat, at his idle controls and threw his eyes and hands up to heaven. Nothing he could do he said, there was essential maintence going on on the line outside of town and he could not move until the signal turned.
Next, the station master arrived. He could not confirm the train would be leaving any time soon and was rounded on by over 150 fans looking for reassurance they were going to see the match. He mumbled about seeing what he could do, then turned on his heels and disappeared. More time passed and at this stage, it was common knowledge that there was not a taxi or mini bus to be had in the town. We were less than an hour from throw-in and some said we may as well head to the pub at least we might get a seat there.
Finally that official re-emerged from the safety of his building. With great fanfare he announced that CIE had managed somehow, to secure buses to take us to the match. Gardí were alerted, and we could be waved through all the major junctions, we could also expect a Garda escort. Cheers went up when the first bus pulled up, and finally we were back on the move.
You might think that after all that, you would have to expect a happy ending. But the hopes of all the Déise, and the vast majority of neutrals, were to be dashed later that day. A sad day for the fans, but a horrible day for the Waterford players on the field. Here’s hoping this Sundays team have better luck. Déise Abú