The Galway captain had every reason to wallow in the moment but then he had plenty to say too. There was the heartfelt recognition of the recently-deceased Tony Keady and then a salute to their former team-mate Niall Donoghue, who took his own life three years ago. “One other person that I can’t let today go without mentioning. He was soldiering with us for years, a good friend of mine, a first cousin of Conor Whelan; he passed away in 2014 — Niall Donoghue. We’ll never forget him. We remember him today. We’ll give a small shout out to Pieta House who are doing great work for people who are in depression and hopefully, they’ll help many more.”
On Galway’s greatest day, Donoghue wouldn’t be forgotten nor would the message that we need to talk more about suicide. Standing on the steps below Burke, his team-mate Davy Glennon would have keenly appreciated those sentiments. Pieta House’s work is incredible and Glennon will testify the work of Cluan Mhuire is just as immense.
Two years earlier, only yards away, he had been substituted 27 minutes into a Leinster final, his life in turmoil because of a rabid gambling addiction — “if there was a hole in Croke Park I would have jumped into it”. Only a text message from Glennon’s younger brother convinced him not to go ahead with taking his life. “I didn’t know where I was driving to but I was saying to myself that it was all over and I had to do something. It was 11 o’clock at night when I got a text from him to leave the door open because he would be home. It triggered with me then — ‘what are you doing?’ So I turned on the road and went home.”
On The Sunday Game that night, it was heartening to hear Burke mention Glennon as a harbinger of good fortune: “I was sitting beside Joe Cooney on the bus coming up and we were talking and I just kind of knew it was our day because I looked over at Davy Glennon and he was looking for my earphones and I said, ‘That’s not normal, like’. I was kind of saying (to myself), ‘There’s something good gonna happen here today.” Glennon didn’t see any championship action but his journey from where he was to lift the cup has been remarkable but he knows it doesn’t stop. It can’t.
W atching Burke from the field was Maurice Shanahan, a man who has suffered depression having attempted suicide on two occasions in 2014. “I don’t remember much about doing it. I did think about it for a long time. I thought about it for a week or two before I attempted it. I got home one Sunday evening and I took an overdose. I attempted it after I left the hospital again. One evening I went for a walk and the whole of Lismore were out looking for me. They found me in time, I suppose.”
Shanahan made those revelations in a stunning interview with the late Kevin Casey of WLR FM on the back of a fantastic individual year for Waterford in 2015. However, these last two seasons have seen him contend with largely being a substitute, which will have taken a lot of mental strength, but he made his presence felt yet again on Sunday. Prior to the final, his brother and selector Dan described him as being “way more skilful than I was”. Derek McGrath said after Sunday’s game Shanahan was close to starting. If he follows the graph of his older sibling, Shanahan’s best years for Waterford are ahead of him.
Standing close to Shanahan as Burke delivered his oration was a colleague who also lost a close family relative to suicide earlier this year. Burke’s words about Pieta House would have resonated with him too. Suicide infiltrates so much of our society now that the time to be reserved about discussing it is long gone. It can no longer be the death that we dare not speak of.
As mental health advocate and former Cork hurler Conor Cusack pointed out on Sunday, Burke’s speech was as landmark as Ger Brennan’s in accepting the Andy Merrigan Cup as St Vincent’s captain three years ago when he mentioned players’ boyfriends as well as girlfriends and wives. Burke’s words may not have had the lyrical quality of his predecessor Joe Connolly’s in 1980 but not for the first time on Sunday he hit all the right notes. For that as much as his performance, he should be applauded.
Hardly a vintage hurling season
Facts should get in the way of a good story although Galway’s sure is a good one and theirs has been a good season but hurling can’t claim to have enjoyed the same. Even if the jump in attendances might indicate it has, even if some GAA officials and media personalities say so too, 2017 has not been a vintage season for the game.
Lazy analysis would argue it has been based on the novelty of the final and that Kilkenny had made their exit prior to the All-Ireland quarter-finals when in fact Brian Cody’s side have been front and centre in far better championships. Just because the kingpins were taken out at an early juncture hasn’t the remotest thing to do with it being a championship of high quality. Newness should never be mistaken for distinction and the suggestion that it was a hark back to the revolution years of the 1990s is inaccurate.
Cork’s return to the victory rostrum in Munster was a nice tale to tell. However, such was their great ability to close out games and the patchiness of the Clare-Limerick semi-final that it couldn’t be said that the competition was a classic. Galway’s Leinster campaign was a coaster without the roller but the Wexford-Kilkenny match was entertaining. Sure, the Waterford-Kilkenny qualifier was a thriller yet only for the fact Waterford weren’t able to put their neighbours out of their misery in regulation time. Galway and Tipperary’s semi-final was arguably the best spectacle but then their two previous encounters were slightly superior.
Galway won this All-Ireland with a series of jabs. They won’t and shouldn’t care how it came about. Their presence at the top is refreshing; the championship wasn’t.
Canning’s absence ends run since 1985
Few under the age of 40 will remember anyone but Ger Canning as RTÉ’s live TV commentator on All-Ireland final day so, as familiar as Marty Morrissey’s tones are to the country, it should have come as a surprise that it was he and not Canning calling Sunday’s All-Ireland SH final.
Canning’s absence is said to be the result of an editorial decision, bringing to an end a run of All-Ireland finals going back to 1985. His voice is an institution, the first number on the soundtrack of the summer since Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh retired seven years ago.
Dispassionate without ever disguising his love of the games, understated without being bland, Canning has mastered what is an extremely delicate balancing act. Like a good referee, he has never felt it necessary to get in the way of the game.
As we’ve mentioned in this column earlier this year, there are major changes afoot in RTÉ’s GAA coverage and don’t be surprised if Joanne Cantwell features more prominently in the coming years. Morrissey’s appointment to Sunday’s final may indeed be the start of the shake-up even if it is the team of pundits, particularly in football, that needs a spruce and by that we don’t necessarily mean the longest-standing analysts rather those who offer little apart from the obvious.
Change, as we are often told and so often tell, is good but then when a familiar arrangement, like the one we have with Canning, is interrupted, it should be acknowledged.