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Henry Shefflin and Rhys McClenaghan celebrated in sporting Poetry Day Ireland poems

Sporting poems by Katie Donovan, Rosemary Jenkinson, Máirtín Coilféir, Patrick Moran and Enda Wyley

Thursday, April 25th is Poetry Day Ireland with readings and other events due to take place throughout the country ( see for a list of these events and activities in your local area). The theme set by Poetry Ireland, the national poetry organisation, for this tenth anniversary is Good Sports, celebrating the good sport in all of us.

Following a national call-out, 12 poems have been selected to mark the occasion, which will be showcased during April across the Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) network and in libraries across the country, including the following poems by poets Katie Donovan, Rosemary Jenkinson, Máirtín Coilféir, Patrick Moran and Enda Wyley.

Winter Heroes by Katie Donovan

It comes to this:
a frozen Sunday
and a team of six.
We almost miss it
because I'm lost –
sleep deprived,
cursing soccer –
navigating Drimnagh.

How he races,
across the field –
this boy who's honed his skills,
suffered snubs, misses,
injuries, lumpy pitches,
slanted goalposts
and biased refs.
Once he's positioned
the stalled game
can proceed.

It's Cabo vs Bosco,
bony knees and green socks,
parents going mental
in the raw glare and gusts.
His team whirlwinds
through mucky tackles,
the lack of subs,
the unfair penalties,
studs hammering
across the turf.

Winter heroes, these:
outnumbered, away,
they take the game: 4:3.

from Off Duty (Bloodaxe Books, 2016)

Pommel Horse by Rosemary Jenkinson

For Rhys McClenaghan

He slaps the horse’s hide
Into plumes of white floury chalk
As his hands pirouette on the smallest stage,
His skin patting the leather
Until he grips the pommels, and feet
Pointed like a ballerina in the air,
He spins, scissors, spindles and flares.
The suspense is in the fractions
Between victory and defeat - one slip
Of the hand and it’s almost out of his grasp;
A gasp, but he arcs and arrows,
Circling five times like five Olympic rings,
And with one last swing of the hips
Traces the shape of a golden medal
And handstands into a land of blind belief.

Iomramh by Máirtín Coilféir

An seaicéad buí groí seo
a fháiscim orm féin le hurraim,
an bolgán mór geal seo
a theannann ar an mbolg orm –

gan é, ní leagfainn aon láimh
ar mhaide ná ar bhád
ná ní thabharfainn aon aghaidh
ar chrann snámha

ach seo mé faoi réir,
máta i gceann rámha
hulúiste haláiste
canú ag treabhadh canálach.

Gleam by Patrick Moran

i.m. Alex Higgins

Even when you’d shrunken
to a waifish figure,
hustling for a pittance –

your shots wobbling in jaws,
your would-be snookers
no longer deftly judged –

the glories of your prime
lurked in memory’s hold:
fugitive, stowaway…

There, in the arena’s
altar hush. Eyes defiant,
vodka-lit, you swagger

towards the baize, impatient
to pot the balls.
Disdaining caution,

you deploy spin and screw
and stun to keep a wavering
break alive: the testing brown;

a sweet cut on the blue;
that awkward pink rolled down
the table’s length. Leaving

the final sunken black;
your edgy gleam; the white
still on the speckless green.

(from Bearings, Salmon Poetry, 2015)

Henry Shefflin by Enda Wyley

(Portrait by Gerry Davis, The National Gallery of Ireland)

And who would not want to be
Henry Shefflin, turned from home,
standing straight-backed, head-high

his feet firmly apart on the Ballyhale pitch,
a hurley swung over his shoulder, the other
hand casual in his trouser pocket?

No muddied shorts and jersey now –
he is king of these grounds, a suited monarch
of all about him, facing the steely-eyed future

his past a sliotar struck far across the field.
Centre of all things, he likes to gaze up
the elegant stairs to Canova’s ‘Amorino,’

and is older than this marble prince, though
no less determined, both with hands raised –
one to a bow, the other to the hurley’s handle.