To Win Just Once – The Game Is On


So, anyway, I wrote this book. I got down off the ditch and into the game. Great view from the ditch, you can hold forth in high judgement and you can hide there, in the crowd. Not easy being inside the white lines, against tough opposition, making a show of yourself with everybody looking at you. Nowhere to hide. But I did it, anyway.


It’s a novel.

It tells the story of an All-Ireland Hurling Final Sunday through nineteen different characters. Nineteen people living their lives as best they can, the only way they know how. They all have their own desires, their own losses, and they all have varying levels of intimacy with the game. It’s called The First Sunday in September. It will be in the shops on August 8th.

I’ve been working on the book, on and off, for the last two years. For the last year with Mercier Press, who, in June 2017 and much to my delight, agreed to publish it. Yesterday I held the finished product in my hand for the first time – an advance proof copy. I drove down to the Mercier Press offices, just down the road, and Deirdre put it into my hand. Just like that, as Tommy Cooper used to say. Just like that.

There’s a saying in Irish: An rud is annamh is iontach. What’s seldom is wonderful. But having your first book put into your hand for the first time isn’t seldom – it only happens once. Never again, just once. It happened to me yesterday.


When I got the book I went to a garage in Blackrock, in Cork City, to wash a duvet in the big 18kg washing machine they have there. I sat in my car and watched the duvet turn this way and that for thirty minutes through the window of the washing machine and I leafed through my book. I opened the windows of the car, it was hot. I ate an ice cream, trying not to get chocolate on the book. Then I put the duvet in the drier for another fifteen minutes. After that it still wasn’t quite dry. So I went home and hung it on the line. There’s great drying, these days.

I made a Spanish omelette for dinner and ate it. Then I went to a hurling match.

Cork won, handy. I can’t remember seeing a Tipperary team so out of sorts, they never got going at all, whatever happened them. Strong Cork team, though. Big lads, too. We live in  hope.


It all began with a kiss. The book, that is.

No, it did.

In this case it’s a kiss that a father gives to his son.

A whole book from just one kiss. But it’s never ‘just’ when it comes to a kiss, is it?

A man kisses his son after a hurling match. Another man looks on.

And that’s it. That’s the kiss, that’s the book.

Desire and loss. There you have it.

Nineteen characters, nineteen lives being lived.


All of  hurling, in fact all of sport, was captured for me by two pictures in the newspapers last August and September. Everything that the tens of thousands of hurlers in Ireland feel and do, what befalls the thousands of hurling teams, year after year. All the childhood hopes and dreams. All the middle-aged and old-aged memories and regrets. All the countless hours of training and playing, all the preparations, all the tensions and passions and desires and losses. All the watchers. All the lives lived.

These are the pictures.

In one, Joe Canning is greeted by his mother, Josephine, on the sideline after he wins the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary, through an act of heroism straight out of Homer, witnessed by 83,000 people. The intimacy in the photo is breath-taking. The liquid joy and pride in Josephine’s eyes. This is for you, Mam, it’s all for you.

 joe canning and his mother

In the other, Micheál Donoghue puts the Liam McCarthy cup into the hands of his father, Miko, at the homecoming in Ballinasloe. He puts his arm around his father. There you go, Dad, I love you.

 micheal donoghue and miko

Isn’t it strange that we weep when we are grieving, and we weep when we cannot contain our joy? Well, if you ever doubt what sport can mean, what it can bring, look at those two photos. They’re all you’ll ever need to see.


I wondered how heavy the book would feel in my hand. How heavy is two years of work? It weighed the same as any book, I guess. Just 65,000 words on 240 pages of paper. But those are my words inside the covers, so that counts for something, doesn’t it? That carries some kind of heft? Ah, it does, it did. It really did.


I read an article yesterday by Conor Pope in The Irish Times. It was a funny piece about his untrendy and unpopular stances and habits. One was that whenever Galway win an All-Ireland he listens to the song To Win Just Once by the Sawdoctors over and over. I didn’t know that song so I looked up the lyrics and they blew me away, on the day that was in it. Here they are:

To win just once would be enough
For those who’ve lost in life and love
For those who’ve lost their guile and nerve
Their innocence, their drive and verve
For those who feel they’ve been mistreated
Discriminated, robbed or cheated
To claim one victory inspired
To win just once is their desire

To win just once against the odds
And once be smiled on by the Gods
To race with speed along the track
Break the tape and not look back
To never have considered losing
As if to win is by your choosing
Bare your soul for all to find
An honest heart and an open mind

To win just once
That would be enough
So come all ye full-time small town heroes
Cast away your inbred fears of
Standing out from all the rest
The cynics and the pessimists
The self-indulgent almost rich
The blatant hurlers on the ditch
Time is passing so come on
And face the ball, the game is on


Photos: The Irish Sun and The Irish Independent.

Lyrics Copyright: Leo Moran/Davy Carton