There is no rivalry quite like that of Galway and Tipperary which serves up such unpredictable and thrilling contests.
Historically, the teams seem to bring out the best in each other. Even when form and momentum is poor, even when there is nothing to play for, clashes between these neighbouring counties are always played with the intensity and fire of a top-class championship fixture.
With the exception of the 2017 Allianz League final, this rivalry has produced some exceptional clashes in recent years. Their battles in the semi-finals of 2015, ’16 and ’17 were mesmerising with each encounter ending in only a one-point difference.
Tipperary and Galway renew their rivalry for the first time since that 2017 clash on Sunday when they meet in Pearse Stadium in the final round of the Allianz League group stage. So much has changed in the years since, new managers, new squads, new systems. However, with a place in the quarter-finals at stake, one thing that is sure to remain the same is their hunger to outdo the other.
Portumna Bridge was built in 1911 as the largest swing bridge of its kind in Europe in the 20th century. It is a five-span bridge, consisting of steel girders supported by concrete-filled cast-iron cylinders, which is used as a passage across the River Shannon and is a gateway to the picturesque area of Lough Derg.
Most importantly, it is the connecting link between Lorrha in County Tipperary and Portumna in County Galway. Two areas whose lives intersect on a daily basis, made up of friends, relatives and neighbours. However, they are also two proud hurling strongholds whose famous sons will be forever linked to the history and success of their respective counties.
One such son of Lorrha is Ken Hogan whose hurling career, as player, coach and manager for Tipperary, has been defined by his clashes with Galway. From the heartbreak of Noel Lane’s late goal in the 1988 All-Ireland final to the joy of finally seeing off their rivals the following year, Hogan has experienced a rollercoaster of emotions against the maroon jersey.
“I was involved as a player when I was playing in the 80s, I played minor against Galway, I played under-21 with success and then defeat. When it came to senior level, we were trying to make the breakthrough. Galway quelled us in ‘87 and ‘88 and then we got on top and we won in ‘89 and ‘91 and then Galway won in ‘93.
“Of course, we came back when I was coach to win the All-Ireland in 2001 and then, unfortunately, as manager, Damien Hayes, my neighbour and friend, put the knife in us when he got a great goal to win a brilliant All-Ireland quarter-final.
“It has been peaks and valleys, topsy-turvy right the way through, good wins, losses, everything. From that perspective, there’s a great rivalry there with Galway.”
For the people of Portumna and Lorrha, their intertwining lives pass in relative harmony until match time comes. Battle lines are drawn, words are exchanged and immense pleasure is taken in bragging rights.
For the players involved, however, the feeling is somewhat different. While they were enemies on the field, Hogan’s rivalry with the Galway contingent gradually matured into respect which eventually developed into a friendship. That friendship was reinforced following the sad passing of Galway legend Tony Keady in 2017, shortly before Galway lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup for the first time since Keady’s group in 1988.
“In the late ’80s, I was still living in Dublin and working in Dublin. There were Galway friends of mine obviously, I would have known Pete Finnerty pretty well, Brendan Lynskey and Tony Keady were in Dublin at the time so we would have played inter-county 7s. There was a great inter-county 7s competition out in Islandbridge at the time so we would have crossed swords there as well.
“Even though there was huge public interest in the rivalry between Tipp and Galway, I don’t think it was as bitter with the players. Once we crossed the white lines, there was nothing spared and everyone wanted to win. It was a bittersweet rivalry. Of course, you had the headlines with ‘the Keady affair’ and things like that, that had an impetus.
“I’m lucky now that I live outside Birr, heading for Lorrha. Sometimes I find it hard to get the grass cut because former Galway hurlers will be dropping in. It’s the main Birr-Portumna, Tipp-Galway road so lads will be calling to say hello and have a cup of tea.
“There’s a great friendship and bond there, particularly since the death of Tony Keady. The Tipp team went down that evening and the following day to pay respect to Tony and his family. From that point of view, I think we built a great friendship in the years since.”
Ken’s son Brian is likely to take his place between the posts on Sunday, his first encounter against the Tribesmen at senior level, and the local people of Lorrha will be hoping he can play his part in the latest chapter of this riveting rivalry between Tipperary and Galway.
As Hogan alludes, this will be a chance for Galway boss Shane O’Neill to lay down a serious statement of intent on their home patch but while Liam Sheedy might view it as just another competitive match to help championship preparations, his natural urge to win will mean Tipperary will hold nothing back this weekend.
“Shane O’Neill will see it as a home game, an avenue into a quarter-final at least and he’ll be saying to himself ‘we need to win this, lads and set out our stall’. It is more important to Shane really.
“Liam Sheedy is a born winner, he doesn’t like flinching and I think he will go down with a strong team. A nine-week break is a long time to go in trying to prepare a team without competitive action so he’ll be probably looking towards one or two games extra.
“Every manager would probably be looking towards May and the championship but they still have to get their training block in. I still think every game is competitive, they’re looking for a performance from their players and more importantly, they’re looking towards players who are trying to stake a claim to get in the championship 25.
“I think both teams will go at it hard because Tipp and Galway might never meet unless they get to the All-Ireland series so there’s no looking over your shoulder. Maybe Tipp and Cork or Tipp and Clare would be a dress rehearsal for the Munster Championship. But Tipp and Galway will see that it’ll be well down the line when they meet and the teams will go full pelt now.
“With Tipp and Galway, there’s always something at stake and it’s a great incentive for both to win.”