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The epic Galway-Tipperary trilogy, November qualifiers and writing a hurling story

All-Ireland winner Paddy Stapleton on the Galway-Tipperary history and his new children’s hurling book.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

2020 STARTED OFF with a January hurling showdown that had a Galway-Tipperary flavour to it and deep into November it is set to replicated.

Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds home is the setting tomorrow to determine which one of the counties will relinquish their hurling interest for the year.

It was the same arena where club kingpins duelled five days into the New Year, Borris-Ileigh holding off St Thomas at the All-Ireland last four stage.

The inter-county sides resume a relationship last forged in championship in 2017. That represented the culmination of an epic semi-final trilogy. In terms of entertainment the rest of the hurling world will hope they can pick up where they left off.

“All were knockout and they were just hard tussles,” says Paddy Stapleton, the Tipperary All-Ireland winning defender.

“We’d won an All-Ireland, they were hanging around All-Ireland finals as well. We’d pushed that Kilkenny team very hard and they had as well. I think there was an element of both teams saying that we’re very much on the same level and trying to see who’s the better. Physically they were very well-matched. They were tough units and we were able to mix it as well.

“There is that rivalry there. Portumna are right on the border and there’d be a lot of the older generation wouldn’t be forgetting the Tony Keady affair. They had their own close matches back in the 80s. I think history always crops its head up again, there’ll never be much love lost between Galway and Tipp.”

Seamus Callanan shooting the lights out in 2015 with 3-9, the same year as Shane Moloney supplied the match-winning point. There was the blast of goals in 2016 with the Cooneys’ netting first for Galway before John O’Dwyer and McGrath countered for Tipperary. Then Joe Canning’s wonder score to settle the issue in 2017.

There would be no shortage of contenders for the showreel.

“Paudie got a hook in 2016, as a defender that’d be fresh in my mind, to stop a goal chance,” recalls Stapleton.

“Even if I look back to 2010, Lar’s point, Pa Bourke passed it out to him, as Tipp people, I think that’s always one we’ll remember, wheeled around and flicked it over the bar. Joe Canning’s point, sure look it’s one of the best points you’ll ever see. I remember he was there and thinking he was mad even going for it.

iarla-tannian-and-paddy-stapleton Galway's Iarla Tannian and Tipperary's Paddy Stapleton in action in 2010. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“In 2014 we were very sloppy but we kept plugging away. I think we just got it on freshness. James Barry went in full-back that night, Johnny Glynn was causing a bit of trouble. I was marking him for the first goal and I don’t know how he did it but he put his arm over my shoulder and down to catch the ball. It just shows even the matches we won, they could have won. ’15 we lost to them and we were doing well enough, ’17 we were playing poorly and could have won.

“Whoever’s to win this weekend, it’s probbaly going to be those same players since they met in 2014, that’ll probably stand up and win the match for them.”

Away from monitoring his county’s fortunes, Stapleton has another hurling project to focus on this winter with the release of, ‘Up In The Air’, his new children’s book.

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top-view-magazine-mockup-by-anthony-boyd-graphics Source: Anthony Boyd Graphics

There was a striking symmetry when he got stuck into writing it and the journey he was embarking on with his club Borris-Ileigh that ran all the way to the All-Ireland club final earlier in the year.

“I started this in April 2019, I think we were just playing our first club match that week. I didn’t know what was in store for us after that. I’d spend a few hours writing the book on a Saturday, then play the county final or Munster final on the Sunday. It was kind of mirroring what they were going through in the book itself.

“It was in my head there for about two or three years. It took a long time because it was only my first go at proper creative writing but I’m happy now it came full circle.

“I did the readability test on it, it would be for an average 11-year-old but there’s very advanced nine, ten year-olds that I’m sure would be well able for it. I’ve adults now, they’re very into it, they’re coming back with their feedback. There’s supposed to be a lot of fun characters in it as well so hoping a lot of people will enjoy it.”

paddy-stapleton-up-in-the-air Source: Odhran Ducie

Stapleton’s teaching and inter-county playing experience informed him when it came to the subject matter.

“It wasn’t in my business mind that there was a gap but as an English teacher I was thinking, ‘God there is nothing out there’. As much as it’s about GAA, it’s about Irish kids. There’s such a following of GAA in Ireland, to me it’s like another religion. In lockdown we saw how important it is to people and we live an awful lot of our life through it.

“Being involved in GAA, I just thought it would be a nice topic, write about what I know as well. I work in a school and you see an awful lot of anxiety and pressure on kids, there’s an awful lot of that in it and how they deal with it.

“I’m an English teacher myself and when I was growing up I struggled badly in primary school with English and reading and writing but it was reading sports books helped me. My mother said, ‘Right we’ll just get you any magazine’. Shoot, Match and Man United history books and all these.

“I was thinking that maybe there’s kids who think they don’t like reading and if we had something that they already knew about and are excited about, it might help a bit more. That was the inspiration behind it.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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