Former Cork hurling prospect writes poignant book based around All-Ireland day
For Tadhg Coakley, the hurler, his big day out was at Croke Park in 1979.
39 years on, Tadhg Coakley, the writer, had another day to remember.
On Thursday, down in his native Cork, Coakley's book 'The First Sunday in September' was officially launched. Revolving around the All-Ireland hurling final, the Cork native's fiction offering touches upon the lives of the players out on the field and those watching up in the stands.
We were close to life imitating art as both Cork and Clare contest for the Liam MacCarthy in Coakley's book. Both sides reached the semi-finals of this year's championship but lost out to Limerick and Galway, who go at it for real in Croke Park, on Sunday.
The genesis of the book was two years previous when Coakley wrote a short story as part of a Masters course he was taking at University College Cork. He tells us:
"The story was about an estranged father, who had put his son up for adoption, watching that same son win a big match, years later, and that sense of loss that accompanied this big moment of triumph."
Encouraged by the reaction to his story and by publishers Mercier Press, Coakley set about turning that short story into a number of tales that would weave themselves around All-Ireland finals day. The Pope's visit and the GAA looking to accommodate clubs has seen the date of this year's 'real' final move to August 19 but the long-held tradition was for it to be held on that first Sunday in September.
It is a day that Coakley took part in himself, back in September 1979, when he lined out with the Cork Minors against Kilkenny. The young Rebels, captained by Christy Coughlan, beat the Cats 2-11 to 1-9 that day and Coakley was an All-Ireland champion.
"I played with Mallow for 20 years but, early days, I played with St Colman's College and was on the Cork minor team that beat Kilkenny in '79. That team had some great players, like Ger Cunningham and Kevin Hennessy, and was managed by Fr. Micheal O'Brien, who went on to manage the Cork senior side.
"Tipperary beat us in the Under 21 final. I played a few matches for the senior side too but wasn't very good. One of my best memories from around that time was playing in the U.C.C team that won four Fitzgibbon Cups in a row. We had Nicky English in that team. U.C.C went on to win nine in a row. That would never happen nowadays."
So Coakley, after having his taste of the inter-county scene, settled into that cosy yet competitive life of the club hurler. Life throws up many challenges as we move from school, to college and on into adulthood but hurling was always that constant.
He is delighted, then, that his novel is able to give something back to a sport that has offered him so much in life.
"Sport is about life as much as it is about winning. The writer John McGahan once said, fiction is an artificial universe and sports is an artificial universe. I think they both exist in the same universe.
"This final on Sunday - Galway versus Limerick - that's a story. It's got a start, a middle and an end. It will grip and involve so many."
If this year's final mirrors the championship so far, this summer, it should have us hooked.
The First Sunday in September aims to do the same.
You can find out more on The First Sunday in September here.