AS far as I’m aware, I have no hurling genes in my make-up – none whatsoever. I don’t even feel comfortable with county rivalry, not to talk of parish rivalries. But when family members came home from the All-Ireland hurling final on Sunday night, deflated and triumphant at the same time, and told me that most of the Limerick supporters in the stand with them were cheering madly for Kilkenny, I had a bit of a genetic crisis. My faction fighting genes went into a frenzy and I started reaching for my shillelagh.
“Do I know them?” I asked, bristling.
I wouldn’t mind if it weren’t for the fact that, hours previously, I, myself, had been rooting for Limerick in the minor final and was sorely disappointed when they lost. We’re nothing if not neighbourly in this neck of the woods, but obviously the goodwill was not reciprocated. I won’t hold it against you now, but next time, I’ll be backing Kilkenny.
Anyhow, it wasn’t the unfriendly neighbours, so much as the state of suspended animation in which I found myself after the senior clash, that amazed me. I mean, what did the GAA ever do for me that I would allow myself to be transported to another dimension at the stroke of a camán or a wink from hawkeye? For that matter, what had got in to me that made me prepared to wield a shillelagh against the neighbours?
Despite pinching myself several times and shaking my head vigorously every day since the final, I’m still transfixed. I know I could have dealt with defeat – actually I had braced myself for it - and I think, in the event of a victory, I might have been able to overrule my innate modesty long enough to emit a few wild whoops of joy, and that would have been that. But I can’t stand stalemate. Why didn’t they just keep going until they had a winner? It’s very frustrating. I’m sure that even Cuchullain would agree with me.
The reaction to the game threw me altogether. Commentators next day said it was “the greatest game of hurling” they had ever seen, maybe even “the greatest of all time” – an “epic encounter”. They waxed lyric about the “breathtaking pace of the scoring”, the “fierce intensity”, the drama, the style and the skill. But all I could think about were those green-shirted fans cheering for Kilkenny, while their next door neighbours were fighting Goliath himself - as well, of course, as the disconcerting fact that at the end of the day, we hadn’t either lost or won.
For all its intensity, however, I’ll bet that Sunday’s game wasn’t half as good as the first ever GAA football final in 1885, between two Kilkenny teams, which by all accounts was so ferocious that the match ended in a scoreless draw. In those days, according to The GAA - A People’s History, by Mike Cronin, Mark Duncan and Paul Rouse, players were allowed to break off in the middle of play for a bout of wrestling. Style, skill and open play were admired, certainly, but what enthralled attendances most was what GAA founder, Michael Cusack himself called “men lovingly at war”. Scores were high on Sunday, but they were rare in those days. Nevertheless that didn’t detract in any way from the entertainment factor.
The thing about hurling now is that it has become too sophisticated for people like me who can’t deal with intricacies and tactics and technical language, and who would prefer a bit of colour - like Lar having ‘a conversation’ with an opponent in the heat of battle in an attempt to distract him. When it comes down to it, some of us feel a bit like the Sky Sports twitterati who have been tweeting such inanities as “great sporting spectacle on the telly, but I haven’t a clue what’s going on”. We liked it better when rules were vaguer and the men on the field could relish a physical battle, and when, as Paddy Kavanagh, said ‘mark yer man’ meant just that.
Management and players take themselves too seriously now. I was quite astounded to read that the Kilkenny players emerged from their dressing room speechless, after the game. I was a bit like that myself when the game was over, but the reason why they wouldn’t talk to the press, one of them explained, was because “we’re not allowed to talk”.
No wonder Lar had such difficulty trying to strike up a conversation with Tommy Walsh on the field of play last year!
So, in our continuing state of suspended animation, it’s on to the replay now. And if the neighbours in Limerick wouldn’t mind, a win for Tipperary, although it wouldn’t be the same at all, would still be sweet.