The craic started early this weekend. Long before a sliotar was pucked in Croke Park, there was pulling and hooking and sideline cutting aplenty around the capital. A rivalry as sacred as Tipperary and Kilkenny ensures a heightened level of sparring. This was no novel pairing; this was a couple of counties who have endured a three and four year drought respectively.
There were players in their ranks who didn’t have senior All-Ireland medals. Imagine that! The shame. Yep, this was blue blood territory and it was box office.
RTÉ’s Up for the Match has become the Angelus of the sports TV landscape — nobody knows quite why it’s still on, but we would somehow miss it if it wasn’t there. This year’s offering was much less a preview to a game of hurling and much more an episode of Saturday Night Live!
Des and Jacqui chaired what developed into a sketch comedy show — each guest ready to out-roast the next. You had Jackie Tyrrell and Lar Corbett sarcastically being nice to each other, gently baiting with tales from the past. Des was lapping it up!
That double act was just the minor match compared to what Joe Hayes was up to. If that man hurled half as well as he spun yarns, he must’ve been some hurler. Expect him to be on Have I Got News For You by Christmas. He was making it rain.
It takes a lot for me to say that is was entertaining stuff. It seems that RTÉ, by choosing to do pretty much nothing to improve the TV show in 30 years, have somehow made it better.
It has become the retro tracksuit top you keep wearing from your teenage days, unironically, that now sells for $250 in a Brooklyn concept store. The only way Saturday nights show could’ve been better was if they filmed it in a cosy public house, removing the industrial vibe.
Up for the Match has a chance to become Nighthawks, complete with a row at the end. That, I would watch. To the match then. The lads in studio had the wedding suits on. You could picture Cyril Farell sitting at home, in a pair of denim cutoffs and a Stone Roses t-shirt on, relieved to be off duty.
King Henry, Dalo — both waistcoasted — and Dónal Óg, tie loosened as if he had just delivered the best man speech at a wedding — they meant business from the off.
There was no talk of Cromwell and imperial rule, but there was mention of the fortitude of Adrian Mullen’s stomach, and the potential consequences of his omission. King Henry earned his fee and allayed fears, revealing an inside line we all knew existed, but still we were impressed.
Next came pie charts and venn diagrams — the spread of scorers, possession and puck outs and suddenly you felt recent criticism of RTÉ’s alleged antiquated coverage had provoked a strategic rethink from a recently graduated class of overenthusiastic MBA students: “We need and more diagrams. GIVE THEM MORE PIE CHARTS GODDAMMIT”
Pitchside next, to Jackie Tyrrell and Brendan Cummins. Cummins looked like a normal human being. Tyrrell, disappointingly for the rest of us, looked ready not just to play but to eat Seamus Callinan alive. It made you suddenly wonder if Kilkenny could afford to have him in front of a mic, what had they on the field waiting to play.
It was barely 3.10 and they were tossing the coin. The footage of the warm-up would leave a man worn out from just watching; sliotars zipping from hurl to hand with bothersome precision. By the time the game threw in, even some of the players looked goosed.
Half-time and the lads in studio were boiling. Richie Hogan’s flying elbow dominating discourse. Opinions on motive differed, but unanimity was achieved on the potential for the game being ruined. Full time and if you closed your eyes it felt like any one of the 14 other years one or other of these teams have riumphed this century.
For Tipperary, the drought ends. For Kilkenny, now it’s a full blown famine. For practitioners of such excellence, the banter of Saturday night would have seemed a scant and distance consolation.