It felt like a missed opportunity on Thursday when 30 unique practices of Irish cultural heritage were recognised by the state — and there was no place for the pre-match shemozzle.
Can anybody convince you that snap net fishing, or basket-making, or crochet lace is more intrinsic to our way of life than horsing into a lad before the ball is thrown in?
Last Sunday in Killarney, the protracted pre-match dance-off between David Moran and Aidan O’Shea — with Donal Vaughan and Adrian Spillane making it a four-hand reel — was a classic of the genre, referee Sean Hurson among those captivated, unable to bring things to a conclusion by getting things under way.
On the Irish Examiner podcast, Mike Quirke provided a very modern description of this unique ancient practice.
“Aidan O’Shea is on his tippy toes like McGregor, or some kind of prize fighter. And Moran has a look on his face, going ‘have you not seen my work, you need to Google me’. He carried that into the game.”
Darragh Ó Sé, Mike’s former colleague in the Kerry engine room, was equally certain that extremely important business had been taken care of before any official business commenced.
“It established something fundamental about the afternoon,” he wrote, in the Irish Times.
The impromptu bout of grappling and rooting established something fundamental on a sporting afternoon of near miraculous entertainment.
The action from Wimbledon, like many sports these days, was largely consumed in a state of wistful nostalgia.
Every big men’s tennis final now has an end-of-days feel as minds wander from the pecking order among the big three and onto who will take over the farm when they finally go.
In those reveries of childhood 25-setters over the contents of the shed assembled into a makeshift net, everyone aped the idiosyncrasies of a different hero.
Hammered the racket off their soles like Lendl, insisted on Connors’ two hands, fashioned a headband like Cash’s, or accepted phlegmatically accepted a dubious call like Edberg. There was a chorus line of stars and one era rolled naturally, seamlessly into the next.
On a day of impossible drama at Lord’s, meanwhile, they spoke wistfully of how it might help make cricket great again, and pined for days when cricket needed no help.
To times when Botham and Gatting and Richards owned the summer, when even Roy of the Rovers spent the close-season in pads, whacking boundaries. And when the Englishman who arrived every year to his holiday home up the road announced himself during Brazil v Italy in 1982 and wanted to know if he could put on Ceefax, to see how Lancashire were getting on against Somerset.
Thankfully, we didn’t yet have the channels.
There are those too who will have flicked over to the Tour on Sunday, for the scenery, and remembered when they believed, recalled when there was an Alpe d’Huez to be found in every parish.
And there are probably the few petrolheads left who tuned into Silverstone, and smiled at a time when they weren’t alone, when this place was Jordan Country. And there was always one man at Mass wearing a Ferrari jacket.
Last weekend, the drama these sports offered wasn’t anything fundamental to most people. Mainly it was a brief escape from everyday concerns.
From the postponement of Cork’s double. And to agonising over whether Solskjaer has a plan. Or Klopp has a signing up his sleeve. Or whether Arsenal have any ambition.
Except for Killarney, which defied any lapse into nostalgia, chiefly because things are fundamentally the same as they ever were.
Some observers hate the outbreaks of rutting that are, as Darragh put it, “non-negotiable”. Some will ring Liveline and find it an absolute disgrace. Others regard it as side-splitting comedy.
But in a sport where they are obsessed with changing the rules, it seems there will always be an unwritten rule that certain things can take place under the referee’s nose without sanction.
For the sake of something fundamental.
We cannot take this for granted. These things are forever under threat. In this year’s book Unwritten, Danny Knobler argues baseball’s ancient practices, its unwritten rules, are changing.
“There was a time when a pitcher might throw at a hitter simply for taking a big swing, and certainly for taking a little extra time getting around the bases on a home run. The few times that happens now, it becomes a major controversy.”
Perhaps the unwritten rules of hurling have changed. In Michael Moynihan’s marvelous new series Hurling Hands, Clare legend Johnny Callinan wondered why nobody seems to get their fingers broken these days.
That might have something to do with the application of the written rules, when it comes to zero tolerance for the chop.
Or it might be because all these lads seem to be in the same class in college, and know well the nuisance of missing an exam.
Whatever it is, as they work it through the lines, and perfect their pressing triggers, hurling has shed a certain whiff of lawlessness.
But it turns out none of that machismo was essential to its core beauty. In any case, it’s already preserved by UNESCO.
Football is a different matter. The game has long cleaned itself up too, if you count jaws broken.
But in order to remain a strange and unique part of who we are, does it dare eradicate those fundamental expressions of difference, the theatrical statements of intent?
Last year they wanted to define the melee, now they might consider preserving the shemozzle.
Because somehow, in watching two lads go at it with the ball still in the refs’ hands, there is reassurance that in 100 or 1000 years’ time, we’ll still be devising ‘structures’, wondering if it’s time to abandon the provincial championships, and dreaming up new ways to fix Gaelic football.
Bring it on, Serena
One in eight British men think they could take a point off Serena Williams, found a YouGov poll last week.
It has been taken as a further sign of great delusion among our neighbours and, indeed, among the male population in general.
And yet there’s surely more than 12% of us who’d have a cut off it, in the belief she’d shank one return into the net, purely out of boredom.
Indeed, by the historical standards of the Irish male, one in eight probably stands as a shocking indictment of declined confidence among the English.
After all, whenjournalist Gerald Holland followed Ronnie Delany from Melbourne back to Shannon Airport in 1956, for the gold medal celebrations, he noted one standout characteristic of the Irish, evident in any hostelry where the ensuing victory parade stopped.
“With a little stimulation, patrons in the pubs would recall somebody out of the past who could beat Delany,” Holland wrote.
“With a little more stimulation, they were ready to take him on themselves, given a week to train and proper shoes.”
Heroes & Villains
Another box ticked en route to next year’s double — remember how Tipp were obliged to win it for Seamie in 2016, after his heroics the year before in defeat by Galway?
And yet another box ticked. The tables have finally been turned on Kerry, no doubt fatally confused from the moment the Cork U20 boss assured TG4 that the Kingdom would be well prepared — “it’s as obvious as tits on a bull”.
The Connolly announcement confirms he is fast becoming one of the great deadpan comedians of our time.
“A d..n close run thing, we clearly don’t need Europe to win...“
Might have neatly encapsulated the calibre of a country’s political class with his witless, miserable tweeted reaction to England’s Cricket World Cup win, but at least he censored the word ‘damn’.