Winter hurling not a time for the faint-hearted

YOUR columnist has been colder than he was yesterday in Pairc Ui Chaoimh, but not often. Thurles Sars and De La Salle played in what Sylvia Plath called the light of the mind: cold and planetary.

It was as chilly as an IMF handshake. A canvasser’s welcome. Take your pick.

A sports editor-enforced embargo on commentary about My Time In Cryotherapy forbids me to go into detail on that score, but suffice to say that a couple of the more adventurous hairdos on the Thurles Sars side in Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday looked more snow-capped than peroxide.

The general perception that hurling needs a hard ground took some punishment yesterday, but that’s predicated on veldt rather than tundra; the permafrost precluded smoothness of touch when the game got underway between Thurles Sars and De La Salle but there were compensations beforehand, and afterwards. There always are.

The crunch on attendance, for instance, meant there was more time and space ahead of the throw-in to consider the build-up, muted as that was.

A general lack of maors, or maybe a general lack of thermal high-visibility jackets with MAOR on them, meant you could take to the pitch and inspect the footing: if it were Chepstow or Leopardstown, the event might not have gone ahead.

Future generations may regard the scoreline as an escapee from an early-eighties Five Nations game, with apologies to our rugby columnist, but having roamed the field, which was both rock-hard and slippery, this witness applauds the effort.

There was no cordon sanitaire around the players either as they trooped in, with some of the De La Salle panel following John Mullane’s lead of a couple of years ago with a snazzy line in bobble caps.

The air of informality continued as Thurles Sars players drifted out for a puck-around, with the synchronised clapping of their hands to warm up carrying to the press-box.

That was hardly a surprise, given an attendance of 1,613. One hardy De La Salle supporter reported a journey of two hours and 20 minutes from Airmount Avenue to Cork’s Marina, with the polar ice cap receding only at Castlemartyr.

The game itself was a victory for experience over hunger. De La Salle had been in a Munster club final two years ago, while Thurles Sars have yet to collect the trophy.

A casual approach to the necessary duties of the half-forward line in the first half proved fatal for the Tipperary men, as the Waterford half-backs did what under-twelves all over Ireland are exhorted to do whenever they take the field: they made a line the opposition couldn’t cross. Both sides endured a complete half in which they only managed two points, but De La Salle were marginally more efficient when they were on top.

It was a day for centre-backs: De La Salle’s Kevin Moran collected the imprimatur of TG4, while his opposite number also impressed. Padraic Maher plays centre-back in a way that would gladden the heart of Johnny Leahy of Boherlahan, not to mention Tom Semple, but he could take a leaf from Moran’s book when it comes to distribution. The Waterford man used the wings well – keeping the ball away from Maher – despite Thurles paying close attention to him every time he won the ball.

When it was all over the traditional crowd gathered in front of the podium for the presentation.

The low winter light, slanting through the back of the old stand, caught the happy faces on the pitch, and the polar cold sharpened the definition immensely: every tuft of hair missed in the morning’s shave, every curl rebelling from underneath a wooly cap, all kept a super-keen focus in the last hour before the twilight.

Funny, too, how small those crowds usually are. No matter how powerful the club, the knot of people which gathers to hear the cúpla focail is always surprisingly thin, which makes the achievement all the more remarkable. A club is a castle in the air, an agreed state of mind for the most part, a conceit kept alive by common, or uncommon, consent for the most part. It exists because people will it to exist, and for no other reason: Wallace Stevens would have called it a supreme fiction, with emphasis on the supreme.

As the victorious De La Salle team trooped into the dressing-room, we caught up with captain Ian Flynn. Blood smeared on the jersey. Cup dangling from his right hand. We threw up a few cliches and he obliged by politely smashing them back over the net, but clearly he had better places to be.

“Norris’s tonight, so?”

Flynn shook his head.

“The Granville tonight. Norris’s tomorrow night.”

Neither, we are willing to wager, will be cold and planetary.

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie; Twitter: MikeMoynihanEx

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