Can I ask a stupid question?
(Better than anyone I know - copyright D. G. Lenihan.) Are there only two classic GAA games?
Roaming the TV listings recently there seem to be only a couple of fixtures which fit comfortably under this heading, and when I say couple I mean that number precisely.
Namely the 1982 All-Ireland football final and the 2004 Munster hurling final.
Every TV channel seems to be broadcasting these games once every three days; at one point last week I was half-surprised when it didn’t pop up between Curvy Brides Boutique and Father Ted on Al-Jazeera Lifestyle (+1). The situation needs to be addressed when you’ve been conditioned to expect Seamus Darby’s buck-leap/fist-pump combination or John Mullane looking to the heavens, hurley across his shoulders, to appear at all times of the day and night.
I suppose we can’t be surprised. The 1982 game in particular was the intersection of Kerry’s greatest team with destiny, while the 2004 match pitted household names against each other. Both games, in fact, fizz with personality and character, many of them distinct and familiar to us, known even now by first names (in the case of the hurling game, for instance, four of the participants went on to write autobiographies, and a book was written about both teams.) The appeal goes on. The two games form a couple of handy bookends when you examine them closely.
That miserable late-September context for the football game is the eighties inter county match experience par excellence. Take the crowd itself: jammed in, heaving yet curiously monochromatic, obviously wearing rain gear to counter the elements (and resolutely early-eighties rain gear at that, no North Face waterproofs in sight). Croke Park itself is a long way from its renovation, and the football itself is also of its time: no sweeping, no short kick-outs.
The hurling game practically jumps off the screen in comparison. The sun shines with a brightness particular to Semple Stadium in the summer, and the jerseys are vivid: so is the crowd, who have discovered the delights of the replica jersey and give a throbbing background to the action.
Yet in its own way the game fought out between Waterford and Cork is as distant as Offaly-Kerry, though it seems modern to us on the surface.
The fact that some of the participants are bareheaded marks it immediately as another age, but there are no short puck-outs and the exchanges are one-on-one for the most part: a ninety-yard, God-direct-it, fight-it-out-for-yourselves-up-there is no hanging offence for the defender, as it would be now.
There’s also the way both games have an attractive narrative just below the surface. Waterford play almost the entire second half of the ’04 game with fourteen men, which means the most basic question goes beyond this tackle or that scoring opportunity: can they make it to the final whistle, one man short?
Lurking offscreen in the ’82 game is an even longer story arc, one which bends back into the previous decade. Even as Mikey Sheehy lines up the penalty that Martin Furlong will beat away, the question is thrumming in the background: will Kerry win five titles in a row?
And of course there’s the final twist. The 1982 game ends with that spiralling ball coming over Darby’s shoulder, and the dipping shot into the corner of the net; the 2004 game ends in Ken McGrath’s left hand, the Waterford man fielding Cork’s last attack to save the day.
All things considered, the competition for classic status is pretty stiff if these games are your benchmark.
Your columnist is old enough to remember when there was only one classic game, by the way - the 1977 All-Ireland football semi-final between Dublin and Kerry.
That’s progress, at least. Now we have two.
Reasons to check the terms and conditions
This just in from the Department of Bottomless Cynicism.
You can now buy a face mask in the colours of your favourite American football team. Simply go online and order one, thus showing your devotion to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Green Bay Packers, or whatever team you follow.
Just don’t expect it to be, ah, protective in any way.
Yours truly consulted a website to see if this was merely a tasteless attempt to cash in on the greatest catastrophe of the last few decades and saw that, in fairness, the proceeds go to deserving causes in the States.
Just as well, because in the small print there’s a brisk dismissal of any suggestion the mask might do what you might expect from a mask. Au contraire: the mask “ . . . is not a medical device. It is not intended to be personal protective equipment and should not be used by healthcare professionals or used in a healthcare/clinical environment or setting. The Fashion Face Covering is not intended to prevent or protect from any form of illness or disease (or otherwise).”
Maybe you’ll still want to buy one, I don’t know. Or maybe some organisation closer to home will decide this is a good way to raise funds for charity. However, why does it leave a bad taste in the mouth, a very bad pun which is very much intended?
Double Lives is required Lockdown reading
Respect to Bloomsbury for getting out a copy of Double Lives by Helen McCarthy in these difficult circumstances. You might have seen this book being reviewed recently - in glowing terms - and the early going is very enjoyable.
The subtitle is A History of Working Motherhood, and the mesh of economics and history strikes a chord with this reader - not to mention a rolling phenomenon, the way certain books suit the (extraordinary) times. The division of labour in households during the lockdown - and how equitable that division is - means this book is more apposite than ever.