A former work colleague of mine lived for a few years on Dublin’s northside, a couple of miles up the road from Croke Park.
During All-Ireland finals one of his favourite pastimes was to watch the game at home on television, and when a goal was scored, to mute the TV and stroll to an open window.
Sure enough, after a second or two the roar rolled up like a wave, the sound of thousands of spectators’ cheers coming across the air.
It might be because I wrote about a documentary about deafness recently, or maybe - actually, more than likely - because of a Deadspin piece I stumbled across recently . . . But what are the greatest sounds in Irish sport?
Going back to a Cork City Sports I attended in the early seventies, the actuality of runners in action - feet pounding the grass of the Mardyke, the rattling wheeze of athletes breathing, the audible whip of arms flashing across vests - remains a distinct memory.
The same for the first rugby game I saw up close. The solid reality of a scrum joining, that thud-and-gasp, random squawks and shouts: for a small kid whose notion of rugby was random Saturdays in the spring, and the variably piratical figures of Wales and Scotland, that was an education.
Getting older, something I always found interesting when I started playing organised, official soccer - as an adult, a little later than most - was the constant chirping of the players. I wasn’t surprised to hear a running commentary but it took me a while to realise it was instructional, not confrontational.
The constant barking ofand and and didn’t come naturally, but I played in goal so it didn’t really matter.
Once I mastered a reflexive shout ofI felt better. A lot better as soon as I conquered a GAA-instilled reluctance to blame my teammates when a goal went in, and I was soon pointing an accusing finger at the centre-half about 0.006 seconds after the ball had crossed the line.
The noises made by a big-match crowd probably deserve a column all of their own. One of those sounds is something I’ve always been fascinated by, the tendency of crowds to hit a falsetto note just ahead of a decisive play.
There’s a character in the movie Trolls who sounds like his every contribution is being fed through an auto-tuner a la Cher around the time of Do You Believe (I believe this chap’s name is Guy Diamond). Something similar happens when a large crowd realises a goal is about to be scored: the tone of the spectators changes distinctly, and hits that high note, just before the roar.
There are plenty of other sounds that you hold dear, no doubt. The wince and squeak of runners in a gym, the rasping of ordinary people who have just finished a mini-marathon, the thunder of hooves as racehorses take the final bend.
You have your favourites, I have no doubt, from the click of white on red on a snooker table to the hiss of the wave as you ready your surfboard.
For this corner of the paper, though, I can’t look beyond or listen past the slap of two hurleys. The grade doesn’t matter; the quality is neither here nor there. In the modern elite game the notion of pulling blindly on the ball is almost extinct anyway, in favour of the percentage play and the retention of possession. And yet. At least once a game the ball will break just right and the options narrow to one instantly. Two players wind up and the crack of contact is something that would be familiar to Michael Cusack.
Your ears do not deceive you.
Tribute to Michael Maher: a real life legend
Condolences to the family of Michael Maher, who passed away during the week.
Maher was a rarity in Irish sport: a real-life legend, the implacable full-back of Hell’s Kitchen.
A few years ago, I had a cup of tea in the back bar of the Anner Hotel in Thurles with Maher, who was great company in that genuine, understated Tipperary way.
Ring could ‘get excited’, he said, while Mickey Byrne was the man he identified as coming up with the term ‘lower the blades’.
It was like sitting down with Odysseus and being told about Polyphemus’s haircut.
Kieran Carey and John Doyle predeceased Maher, which means Hell’s Kitchen is now a memory. What a memory, though.
Ar dheis De go raibh se.
Barcelona celebrations extend to the press box
I am aware of the Barcelona-PSG game the other evening, though (full disclosure) I have no issue revealing my attention was riveted to Éire Fhiáin on TG4 for much of that Wednesday night.
It seems strange to have to point out that Barcelona, the victors on the evening and since consecrated as the saviours of sport, are the club which gave Lionel Messi human growth hormone to make him bigger, and which signed Luis Suarez, found guilty of racist abuse of an opponent in 2011 and banned for eight weeks as a result.
For this observer, though, the key take-away was footage which emerged of the Camp Nou press box, purportedly showing journalists celebrating as though . . . as though . . . as though they were fans with typewriters, pure and simple, is one of the most telling images from the evening.
I remember a more experienced hack telling me the evening before covering my first All-Ireland (Cork-Kilkenny) not to wear a red top.
The next day I sat in the press box next to two journalists wearing Kilkenny jerseys.
I didn’t know then that compared to Barcelona those men were models of restraint.
Are sponsors wielding too much power?
Caught some of The Toughest Trade the other evening (though not Lee Chin’s comments about drinking in ice hockey), though I have yet to watch Four Days in November, about Ireland’s win over New Zealand last year.
The Toughest Trade is “created by the long-time GAA Club Championship sponsors AIB”, according to the RTÉ website, while the Vodafone website describes the latter show as “the TV programme by Vodafone”.
I don’t want to get too precious about this stuff — in fairness sponsor involvement was well flagged for both programmes — but is this the way of the future? Content courtesy of the commercial partners? There’s a place for that, of course. So long as it’s not the only place.