The venerable Vin Scully, long-time commentator with the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, once recounted the end of a World Series in the 50s, held in the New York Yankees’ home turf.
After the game Scully and some friends went for a bite to eat and, when they came out, in his words, the season had changed.
‘Like that, it was fall,’ said Scully. ‘Football weather.’
Baseball, a quintessential summer pursuit in the States, had given way to its autumn successor.
We were thinking in those terms yesterday on our stroll down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Like baseball, hurling needs the firmness of summer in the ground, rather than the yielding underfoot conditions of this time of year.
The fact that so many county hurling finals are held around now – and much later – is down to a combination of factors, not least the overwhelming dominance of the intercounty game when it comes to fixtures.
However, while it may run counter to common sense to play showpiece games at a time of the year which doesn’t suit the sport in question, this column for one hopes the practice doesn’t end.
Yesterday’s walk down through the shadows cast by the trees along Centre Park Road – and on the far side, the new office buildings on the Monahan Road – was evocative, to say the least. The leaves of those trees mingle overhead to throw a roof across the road; if one of the many sentimentalists who write on baseball were to stroll that way they’d mine a decade’s worth of symbolism out of it.
We were a bit early, so we missed out on the full-scale experience, in which you become part of a large crowd stepping along the path which runs parallel to the Munster Showgrounds, most if not all clad in waxed jackets. (Outside of the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ crowd in the Home Counties across the water, no sector of society can have embraced the waxed jacket with more enthusiasm than your diehard GAA follower; for a while in the 80s possession of one was like having an access-all-areas lanyard at any GAA game).
The last of the aesthetic delights was the walk along the riverbank. It’s funny that when people run down Pairc Ui Chaoimh – and God knows you can take a number and wait your turn – nobody comments on the setting: any sports organisation in the world would give their eye teeth to nestle next to a broad expanse of water like the Lee, with the leafy suburbs frowning across.
(Not every sports organisation would have built their stadium dangerously close to the level of that water, but that’s another story. What can we say? Our number came up?)
Not everything is the same. There are more cars than we remember from the old days, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s certainly a lot more colour – including flags on the cars, which is emphatically a good thing.
The conditions underfoot are better, too; the investment in the ground shows up usually in the way the turf under the shadow of the covered stand tends not to carve up like the Somme minutes into the county final any more. That part of the field came under more pressure after the game, from the people streaming out of the stands to join in with their heroes on the field.
There were plenty of children still pucking around at that point in time – say 20 to six – and it was good to see that not all of them were in Sars’ tops. Some of the Glen youngsters were hitting the ball around as well, no doubt winning the match their older clubmates had lost a bare hour earlier.
Some of the differences aren’t quite as positive, though. Those kids probably think these days will always roll around if you wait long enough, but recent events have left us a bit unsettled. Worried, even.
That’s why we were keen to record our impressions of a day like yesterday quickly. Not because it was a day in Cork, or a day involving any club in particular, but because it’s important to fix some things in the memory.
And above all, for the simple reason that a couple of things this summer suggest to us not only that hurling is on the way out, but that nothing is being done to halt its decline.
We’ll be coming back to that in the near future. But first we just wanted to enjoy yesterday for what it was.
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