HURLING REMAINS ONE OF THE LAST FEW THINGS THAT CAN TRULY TRANSPORT US INTO ANOTHER WORLD

THE DEBATE WILL rage on about the split-season’s merits and downfalls.

Does it leave enough time to digest, then promote the upcoming games? Is the GAA handing September over to soccer? Does the new calendar provide the much elusive ‘certainty’ or instead create a year-long flogging session for county players?

Just to stick a pin in it, the emotional and energy levels of your GAA Correspondents who are left nervous and adrenalin-riddled and incapable of sleep after days like Sunday, should remain a point of consideration.

A debate for another day, perhaps. All I’ll say is, it’s not just Conor Glass has struggled with the split season workload this year.

Praising a game of hurling has become so cliched, so predictable that most avoid it.

It’s too tempting to fall into a world of cliché and empty rhetoric asking if you were aware that these same bucks out there, lacing points over from 700 metres, are the same lads who will be milking your cattle with one hand and handing you your Pizza delivery with the other.

Yet Sunday was too good to let it pass.

We won’t enter into the endless pointlessness of comparing the merits of sports, but one facet of two different GAA codes is particularly striking right now.

Take it right back to the first day out of the championship year when Cavan beat Monaghan in Clones, on a day the crowd in the Gerry Arthurs Stand greeted the arrival of the championship wearing winter coats and woolly hats.

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That day, Cavan manager Raymond Galligan sniffed at one point after issuing the immaculately detailed, “Tell Oisin Kiernan of Denn (there’s another Oisin Kiernan on the team, from Castlerahan) to mark the space in front of the ‘D’”.

The sniff was clearly audible. I checked with my neighbour in the press box. He heard it too.

You’d be doing well on some nights to hear a sniff in the Crucible with Ronnie at the table and lairy crowd in.

Yet here we were in Clones, an ancient derby to start off the Ulster football championship, talking about a sniff that happened 30 metres away.

It was a world away from the full-fat, sensory overload of the same competition that we grew up watching and attending.

Back then, not that you were realising it, but you were immersing yourself in the day. It started off slow and could have headed in several directions throughout the course of the day.

A few months back, a re-run of an old ‘Reeling In The Years’ programme featured a scene that caught the mind off guard. Footage from an outdoor festival out west and the Saw Doctors giving it socks in a tent.

There she was, the quintessential indie girl from the early ‘90s, buck-lepping and dancing in her Doc Martens and Mexican Baja jumper, sweat rolling down the cheeks, having the time of her life.

In an instant if made one nostalgic for the days when people could let themselves go with that kind of abandon. Before a time of phones and cameras permanently in hand, ready to record everything.

Blame The Frank and Walters, but the final whistle on Sunday brought a little bit of that feeling back to life.

Being stationed at the very edge of the Croke Park press box has huge advantages as you can tap into the emotions of the crowd and overall atmosphere. At the final whistle, the Cork supporters around that area broke into unbridled joy, joining in with ‘After All’, a joyously unselfconscious display.

The game was a riot of noise, suspense and excitement. A communal feeling and experience. Both teams turned up, both were at times off the charts in terms of their performance. The examples of skill and co-ordination were jaw-dropping.

A day to be glad that this sport is indeed our bounty. So what if nobody else has any interest in it?

Look, this all sounds like a man who has stumbled upon this curious sport of hurling for the very first time. As if hurling is not subject to the same tactical scrutiny and rigorous gameplans as any other sport.

Bottom line is, if Cork’s chances of success depended on them putting together 300 handpasses before they take a shot, then that is exactly what they would do. If painstaking and laborious better guaranteed them success, they wouldn’t think for a second, they would just go with those methods.

Happily, their strengths coincide with traditional means of playing the game.

Twenty years ago, Donal Óg Cusack was threading short puckouts to corner-backs to start their running game.

Nowadays, Patrick Collins humps the ball as far as he can. It’s not without any strategy, though avoiding the best catcher on the opposition half-back line is hardly up there with the cryptic crossword in The Times.

As much as we are riding the waves of emotion when both sides are going at it like it’s the closing moments of the game, scoring point for point, you have to bear in mind that a point such as Declan Dalton’s on 45 minutes with the quick puckout going to hand and being flung over from 90 metres is relentless practised and rehearsed.

For all that, hurling still has the capacity to stop the nation every weekend. It remains a cultural wonder; abused, taken for granted, criminally under-nourished in vast areas of the country.

But still beating, still vibrant. The attendances in the Munster championship show us that it has never been more anticipated in that province. Long may in continue.

As obvious a remark it is to make about hurling struggling in many areas of the country, there is also a good reason why more people are able to play you a tune on the tin whistle, but struggle with the Uilleann Pipes.

It’s a complex and complicated sport. Feats of extreme daintiness have to be executed with the threat of brutal incoming collision. It’s impossible to quantify, difficult to explain.

It yet it endures. Onwards now to another final, safe in the knowledge that it will be another astonishing day.

2024-07-09T16:15:43Z dg43tfdfdgfd