GAA's first graphic novel focuses on a Wexford win that has yet to be matched
"Who are you? I'll tell you who you are!"
Back in 1996, Wexford ended a 28-year wait to bring the Liam MacCarthy back home. In the process, they wrote for themselves a legendary tale.
It is now 25 years since they defeated Limerick at Croke Park, and the fact that the county's hurlers have not matched those All-Ireland-winning deeds since that fateful day has only made the legend grow.
One Wexford fan that was at Croker that day, along with his father and sister, was Tom Doyle. 14 at the time, the All-Ireland triumph was a real high-point in what has been a life-long passion for Doyle.
A graphic designer by profession, Doyle started up a Twitter account called 'Yellowbelly' that was dedicated to his art-work and all things Wexford. He has now published a graphic novel - Set The Heather Blazing - about that Wexford victory that has already garnered much attention and praise. It even features a foreword from Liam Griffin, who was Wexford manager for one of their finest hours.
"I first had the idea about 15 years ago," Doyle tells SportsJOE. "There have been graphic novels for other sports, like football and basketball, and I thought, 'Jeez, it'd be great to have a GAA novel'.
"Back then, though, I didn't have the skills to pull it off. I really got stuck into it about seven years ago. The idea was to have it done for the 20th anniversary but life and work got in the way. It took me yonks!
"With everything slowing down, during Covid, I had lots of time to work on it. I'd read lots of books and articles about that whole season, and I spoke to Liam Griffin and Niamh Fitzpatrick, who was the team's sports psychologist. That was pretty rare, back then. They both gave great insight to the team, and anecdotes too."
Doyle says 'YellowBelly' started up when he was unsuccessful in finding a high-quality photo of Wexford star George O'Connor kneeling on the pitch to say thanks, after that Wexford victory. He wanted to get the photo printed up but ended up 'doing it myself' and drawing it.
He posted a copy of the picture on his Twitter account. It got such a positive reaction that he went ahead to set up a social media account dedicated to Wexford GAA. He has never looked back and is kept busy, aside from the day-job, with side projects and art-work he does for himself and shares with followers.
As for that Wexford journey through Leinster and to the final, against Limerick, he recalls:
"I was 14 at the time. It really hit me at the perfect time. The Leinster Final is the one I can clearly remember. It was such a relief to win a cup!
"For the All-Ireland, dad drove myself and my sister up the road for it. It was such a perfect day.
"Some of the proceeds from the book are going towards Wexford Hospice Homecare. My dad, Jimmy, passed away in 2008 - he was only 54 - and they were so good to us.
"They were so good, too, when my best friend Tom Shiggins passed away, back in January of this year. He was only 39. I knew him since I was five. Due to the Covid restrictions, I only got to see him about once in the past year.
"He was a huge supporter of me doing all of this work, and doing the novel. He'd always egg me on, and tell me to keep going with it. I'd send him along pieces of this story as I was going along."
There is still that tremble of excitement in Doyle's voice as he talks about a memorable moment in that Wexford side's story. It was where he chose to start his novel.
"Liam Griffin," he says, "got the players off the bus, on the way to the final. They all got out and the bus pulled off, up the road.
"The players were all wondering what was going on. That was when Liam did this huge, impassioned speech. Next time, he told them, we are crossing the Wexford-Wicklow border, we will be carrying the cup with us."
Set The Heather Blazing is available to order through the YellowBelly.ie website.