Davy Fitzgerald left and Seoirse Bulfin who have worked together with Clare, Waterford and Wexford
SEOIRSE Bulfin stood silently - alone but in a crowded dressing room in those anxious moments before the door opened.
Even deep beneath the south stand in Pairc Ui Chaoimh the fervor of championship day was apparent - he stood, both nervous and excited.
The dressing room door opened and the players raced out.
Then came Bulfin - 12 years old and ready for his role carrying water and hurleys
That was the 1992 Munster SHC final - Limerick v Cork.
Twenty five years later, Pairc Ui Chaoimh is much changed and Bulfin was Wexford coach in an All Ireland SHC quarter final.
Seoirse Bulfin - Davy Fitzgerald’s right hand man!
But Bulfin is more - a family man, a Bruff man, a Limerick man and a hurling man.
“The GAA is in the blood. You are born into it - my grandfather is dyed in the wool GAA, my dad and my three uncles are all GAA fans and Limerick fans and involved in their club. You grow up and it becomes a matter of form. Coaching in definitely in the blood - dad is still coaching U-6 and U-8 on Saturday morning and goes into the school coaching,” explained Seoirse.
His father Tom Bulfin was a selector with Phil Bennis’ Limerick teams - they won 1984 Munster and All Ireland MHC titles, 1986 Munster U-21 title, 1987 Munster and All Ireland U-21 titles and a 1992 National Hurling League.
“I still say to this day, they (Bennis’ management) only got two years with the seniors and I am fully convinced if they got a third year we would have been All Ireland champions in 1994,” recalls Seoirse.
“One of my greatest memories was the 1992 league final inside in the Gaelic Grounds - 35,000 there and I will never forget the score, 0-11 to 0-3 down to Tipp and won it 0-14 to 0-13. When you are impressionable, it’s great to be involved on the sideline, holding a bottle of water.”
That Bennis management didn’t get to continue into ‘93 and Tom Bulfin was back with his club Bruff.
A young Seoirse was still by his side.
“I was 13 when I started coaching. I was hurling U-14s and U-16s with Bruff and my father said come up and do a bit of coaching one Saturday morning. I was first or second year in Bruff secondary. I loved that but now once in a blue moon I do an underage session with the club and it drives me bananas - I can’t manage them, it takes an awful specialised person and a really good coach to coach U-6 and U-8 because it’s a totally different skill set,” jokes Seoirse.
By the Summer of 2003 Seoirse was graduating from Mary Immaculate College.
The coaching hadn’t stopped though - while in third year he was over the first ever Mary I Freshers team to win an All Ireland.
While the coaching continued, his inter-county hurling career ended.
In 1997 he was goalkeeper when Limerick minors lost 1-15 to 0-13 to Tipperary in the Munster Championship.
Three years later, Limerick were All Ireland U-21 champions, but without Bulfin.
“I felt I was very hard done by the year before - we were called for U-21 trials for ‘99, it was the time when the four teams were printed in the Leader and you went for the trial match. I remember it was the first time ever when I came home my mother said how did you get on and I would usually say yes, or no or be indifferent but I said I definitely have another trial because I kept a clean sheet and made two or three great saves,” he recalled.
But there was no further trial for Bulfin.
In 2000 there were no trials but Bulfin did get a call for Limerick U-21 training. However a prior commitment coaching a camogie team in Mary Immaculate, saw Bulfin forego the county U-21 call-up.
“That’s life - you make decisions and I wasn’t to know what would follow. If I had my time back I would probably do the same again because I would be stubborn enough!”
His own inter-county hurling career may have ended but fresh pastures were ahead and within weeks of finishing in Mary Immaculate he was appointed GAA Officer in LIT.
“Two years later I moved over to be over all Sport in LIT but maybe I still missed the idea of teaching so I went back and did the Masters in 2009 and got into lecturing and that’s where I am now - into my fourth year lecturing,” he explains.
His LIT role saw Bulfin meet Fitzgerald for the first time.
“He was there one year before me and I came in and was just doing my role as GAA officer - a bit of coaching but it was mostly admin work, buses, meals, etc,” outlined Bulfin.
“We just hit it off fairly quickly and got on well,” says Bulfin of a now 14 year connection with Fitzgerald.
The Bulfin-Fitzgerald bond, is one that Seoirse traces back to his time as a Limerick waterboy.
“Phil Bennis was tremendous. I was a child but even then I could see he had something special - something that the guys bought into and they looked up to him. I think that is one of the reasons that myself and Davy gelled - I think Phil Bennis was ahead of his time.”
Two Fitzgibbon Cup titles later came a surprise request. It was the Autumn of 2010 and Davy Fitzgerald was freshening up his Waterford senior hurling management. Damien Fitzhenry couldn’t take up an offer of goalkeeping coach so Fitzgerald turned to Bulfin.
“A chance to learn and work with an inter-county team, of course I was interested - I jumped at the chance and the rest is history,” said Bulfin.
For the last seven years the duo have journeyed together from Waterford to Clare to Wexford - Fitzgerald the manager, Bulfin his trustee coach and Maor Foirne.
“I was lucky to get into LIT at that time and got to know Davy and he trusted me and I trusted him and opportunities came from that. There are coaches that go and think the sun revolves around them but so much comes down to luck - there are so many good coaches out there. Lucky has to be the word - every year at the end I would back and think it’s luckier I am getting. There are hundreds of coaches out there, tremendous coaches and never get the opportunities I have got.”
Bulfin was in Waterford for the last of Davy’s four years, but it was the move to Clare that brought the pair All Ireland glory.
“I was coming back around the Hill 16 goals and for a split second I turned around and there is this picture of the panoramic view of the three sides and the noise and colour is a snapshot I have in my mind and will never forget,” he recalls of the All Ireland SHC replayed final win over Cork.
“I didn’t even look back on the final until our second girl was born in March 2014 and she had colic and reflux and you would be up during the night and I sat down and put on the match - some of the fetes of hurling from both sides in those games were phenomenal,” he enthuses.
“The last couple of years in Clare were very intense and quite negative and now Wexford has been like a breath of fresh air,” he said.
Wexford meant returning home to Bruff after 12.30am and back up for work at 6.30am but two weeks after their season ended, all was worthwhile according to to 37 year old married father of two.
“I wouldn’t have a hope of being able to do what I do without my parents and parents in-law. They all live near us at home and from the point of view of minding kids, I wouldn’t have a hope of going to places like Wexford without their help,” he stressed.
It was a season that saw Bulfin step into the match-day manager role due to a Fitzgerald suspension in the Leinster SHC wins over Laois and Kilkenny.
“I didn’t think anything of it because as Maor Foirne you are on the sideline anyway. Looking back now I can say it was a great experience because we won but if we were flaked it might not have been great. I remember saying to someone afterwards that it’s time to retire from the inter-county management now,” he joked referencing the win over Brian Cody’s Cats.
“The fact that you have a job helps you to get on with things. If you were full time professional you are sitting around and might not have as many responsibilities but now I have a job, kids and life goes on. Hurling is exceptionally important to me but I always say that no matter what happens to me on a Sunday, it’s bin night and if the bins aren’t out they won’t be collected and that’s life and has to go on.”
He adds: “I went into Cork last week with a garda escort and came home in the back of a 7-seater with the five year old because she wanted to sit beside me and that’s what keeps you grounded”.
“To work with Fitzy is phenomenal - the way he sets himself up, his organisation, his professionalism and the amount of thought he puts into It and what he expects back from people around him is infectious at times and head-wrecking at times,” smiled Bulfin.
“For my money the GAA badly needs Davy. Some people can be afraid to speak their mind and trot out the party line and there are no characters - Davy is a character. I am in that bubble without any emphasis on me and it’s good in that sense because I am seven years at it and this is the first or second hurling interview that I have ever done and that suits me. Davy is box office and his profile is so high that he is what people want. There are certain egos out there but most of the guys I have worked with want to do there own thing and leave Davy deal with the media.”
“It was definitely hard and to be getting abuse made it harder,” he said of patrolling the sideline in opposition to Limerick.
He added: “When you are with a team you are with them”.
“Over the years I got an awful lot of stick. In 2013 (All Ireland SHC semi final Limerick v Clare) I got a good bit of stick. In the role of Maor Foirne you are on the sideline and very visible and if I was in the stand I would probably be giving me stick but you do get a lot of it. I would have got the anonymous letters and stuff. Nasty stuff - it never bothered me because it was cowardly enough .”
It intensified by 2015 - Bulfin’s fourth year with Clare.
“2013 was bad enough but 2015 was more. That day (Munster SHC quarter final Limerick v Clare) meeting was nasty - a lot of personal abuse going in at half time from people. You almost get used to it but it’s annoying. At the end of the day I am doing a role and Limerick will always be my home and my attitude is that I had an opportunity to work with Waterford and then Clare and opportunities I didn’t get in Limerick and would be foolish to turn that down,” he explained, adding that social media comments had also caused family members pain.
“To be fair the Limerick players always understand. In 2013 the minute the final whistle was over I headed straight to the dressing room and I will never forget Paul Browne came down to the dressing room looking for me to shake my head and that is a mark of Paul Browne and that shows that no matter where you are first and foremost you are a Bruff man.”
“I want to stay hurling, if I can, for a couple of years. I have my own goal - I started playing first team hurling for Bruff in the ‘90s and if I am still hurling in 2020 I would have played first team hurling in four different decades, which is something that is in my head,” outlined the goalkeeper, who has two Limerick IHC medals in the red and white of his native club.
Fitzgerald’s plans and consequently Bulfin’s Wexford role for 2018 are to be confirmed in the coming weeks.
But after that?
Already he has dipped his toes into club roles - a South JAHC title with Staker Wallace and a Limerick senior camogie crown with Ballyagran.
“For me winning that camogie title with Ballyagran in 2011 was pretty close to the All Ireland SHC final of 2013,” he stressed.
Club coaching offers are constant but his own playing role comes first at present.
“I will in time coach on my own but as long as there is an opportunity to coach at senior inter-county level it’s like a drug and very hard to walk away,” he said.
“I’d love to be involved with Limerick down the line but to-date I haven’t got the opportunity. I couldn’t turn down the opportunities of Waterford, Clare and Wexford. There are plenty of teams in Limerick from senior down but I haven’t got an opportunity and that’s freedom of choice but of course when you are from Limerick you would like to be involved with Limerick. I saw Davy going home to Clare after Waterford and at the end of the day your home is your home and nothing like that.”
He adds: “I want nothing more than to see Liam McCarthy coming to Limerick some day soon - to hear Limerick Your A Lady sung in Croke Park in September is everyone’s dream”.