Hurling speaks for itself. It’s already built and they will come

Field of Dreams was on TV last week. Too difficult to believe, too impossible to love, it had us thinking not about Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Casement Park or a new Leinster venue close to the M50 – “build it and they will come” – but just how precious hurling is to a lot of us as baseball is to people here in America.

Hurling speaks for itself. It’s already built and they will come

James Earl Jones, in that distinctive baritone voice of his as the JD Salinger-inspired Terence Mann figure, delivers the stirring ode to the game in assuring Kevin Costner’s character of Ray that he is right not to sell his Iowa farm, part of which he has transformed in a baseball field where old ghosts meet to play.

“Ray, people will come, Ray, They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. ‘Of course, we won’t mind if you look around,’ you’ll say, ‘It’s only $20 per person’. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it. For it is money they have and peace they lack.

“And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.

“People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Ohhhh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”

Like baseball, hurling has changed. It’s become easier. The hurley  bas, for most forwards anyway, has doubled in size. Almost trebled for some goalkeepers. The sliotar flies further than ever as it has become lighter and its rims smaller. The game has become more exciting, more conscious of its possibilities yet so much remains of a bygone era. The sounds of the game heard 50 years ago are just the same as those heard now. Where golf moved from persimmon woods to metal, baseball and hurling have largely remained true to the timber, and so much of it adds to their charm.

The GAA, led by director of games development Pat Daly, should do everything in their power to ensure ash never leaves hurling. The smash of fibreglass will never compete with the clash of the ash. As Joe Brolly once wrote about hurling, there is something quite therapeutic, even mesmeric about the sound of ash making contact with leather.

There wasn’t much reaction when Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh some years back suggested the All-Ireland hurling final should be made a national heritage day. Hurling may not be everyone’s cup of tea particularly for those self-proclaimed Gaels who have neglected it for so long but it is quintessentially us. It is ours.

Maybe it’s an acute case of hurling snobbery but those who live without it don’t know what they’re missing. It helped me to have primary school teachers entrenched in the game. What Seamie O’Neill, brother of hurling development chairman and former Tipperary selector Paudie, and Gerry O’Meara prescribed was addictive. “Sleep with your hurley,” Mr O’Neill preached. As pre-adolescents, we didn’t know better. We didn’t want to, either.

Formative years aside, nothing beats a good hurling game. Sunday’s All-Stars exhibition game was played out with only a flicker of the cut and thrust we’re accustomed to each championship season but to the untaught it was fascinating, particularly the saves made by Colm Callanan and Eoin Murphy.

If the oohs and aahs in Austin’s St Edwards University and the relative success of the Super 11s initiative are anything to go by, America is ripe for the picking.

Hurling may never be anything more than a novelty in the US but there is genuine intrigue in something that only breaks for commercial at half-time. To not exploit that curiosity would be a betrayal of the GAA’s Official Guide. Super 11s ain’t the real thing but it identifies the key problem with bringing the game to the US: few if any stadiums there can facilitate a full-sized hurling field. To the conservatives, it may be a bastardisation of the sport but there’s no denying it’s a gateway.

Hurling shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be preached but it can be practised further and beyond Ireland.

The sport isn’t without its arrogance yet somewhat paradoxically there is a humility to hurlers, a modesty that escapes some of the best Gaelic footballers. Maybe it’s because their world is smaller, their rivals nearer but there are no better ambassadors.

The game, though, speaks for itself. It’s already built; they will come.

Murphy shoots holes in proposal

It’s a good thing for Croke Park’s top brass much of their calendar year proposal doesn’t have to go to Congress in February but rather Central Council.

Otherwise, they might find Frank Murphy’s oration a fly in the ointment. Known for his persuasive speeches, the Cork secretary would likely have convinced enough delegates to defeat the proposal to encapsulate all club and county fixtures into the same 12-month period.

“The intensity of inter-county competition in July has made this a virtually closed month for club competition,” Murphy wrote in his report to county convention. “Is June now also to be added to this problem? Where stands Rule 6.21 (a) which allows inter-county players 13 days free of club championship games? It is to be reasonably expected inter-county team management will insist on this preparatory period being kept free.”

Murphy followed up with further arguments such as the impact on the structure of club competitions and the promotional aspect of September All-Ireland finals. He doesn’t say it but the genuine dual counties like Cork are those who will be most affected by a calendar year structure. Should those who do more for the GAA be the ones who are punished?

McGuigan’s Harte rant sure to influence more players to follow suit

Former Tyrone footballer Shay McGuigan’s Twitter rant about his treatment at the hands of Mickey Harte may surprise people but only burgeoning inter-county players will appreciate how accurate his sentiments were when he let off such steam.

Responding to Harte’s recollection of players who dropped themselves off the panel earlier this year, McGuigan posted: “Mickey Harte you are a great man and what you have done for Tyrone GAA is unbelievable. But do you know what else you’re great at? Destroying a player’s confidence!”

Just how many players would love to have said the same about a manager they perceived has wronged them? How many, do you think, contacted McGuigan to congratulate him on venting his frustrations? If the recent events in Galway and Mayo are an indication the number is plenty. With the platform social media provides, don’t be surprised if more follow suit.


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