Larry Ryan: Tears for Tipperary, Diego Maradona, and touching the sky

Larry Ryan: Tears for Tipperary, Diego Maradona, and touching the sky

DIFFERENT CLASS: Diego Maradona about to round England goalkeeper Peter Shilton during the World Cup quarter-final in Mexico City on June 22, 1986. Picture: AFP via Getty Images

A few things have happened since, but we shouldn’t forget this was the week Nicky English cried.

At the end of Nicky’s customary considered analysis of the All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals in The Irish Times last Monday, there was a brief declaration of personal investment.

“Finally, I’ve experienced nearly everything in my hurling career but watching the scenes in Cork yesterday was the first time I’ve cried after a match.”

For Tipperary people, it gave last Sunday’s Munster football win a final blessing. It consecrated history in the tears of the man we call God, who’d probably have been among the county’s best footballers but for his vocation as a hurler.

And in Nicky’s emotion, we could feel all over again the raw power of sport’s special days, to pull us closer. To help us connect with whatever little patch of the world we call home.

On a Sunday bathed in tears, there was room in this celebration for everyone — except maybe the heartbroken footballers of Cork and Donegal.

There was national pride available. Even with no skin in the games, you could cry for the way our past had been honoured on Bloody Sunday weekend, for the love and care showed in remembrance.

And then there were Cavan and Tipperary people, distanced socially, but who surely found someone to text or ring at the final whistles.

How many family feuds ended Sunday evening? How many cold silences were punctured by emojis?

Colin O’Riordan cried as much as anyone. And there was something in the story of a man coming home from the other side of the world for the cause that loosened the ducts.

It pulled the old ridings, north and south, that little bit tighter, brought everyone on board, even if Gaelic football was never your passion.

As the Tipp family united, all hands on deck, you nearly expected Shane Long to announce he’d be home to tog for the Mayo match, that Pat Shortt will do the pre-match speech, that Louise Morrissey and Una Healy might duet on ‘Slievenamon’.

Sad that Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin has left us — he’d have written a symphony from the blizzard of pings off Declan Browne’s phone.

No doubt, the tears flowed freest in the heartlands and among the devoted core who’ve always been there for the footballers. To whom the end of this famine means everything.

I suppose it was that kind of feeling Stephen Kenny was trying to tap into at Wembley. To inspire with emotion and a sense of belonging. And there was hardly any need to make it sound more sinister than that.

If sport helps us fence off our patch in the world, Diego Maradona gave us something different.

To watch him was to broaden your horizons. To imagine other worlds. As the great man put it, of the freedom he felt on the pitch: “It is like touching the sky with your hands.”

In those 11 touches in 10 seconds past six players in the Azteca in 1986, he put on a celebration without borders, to which the whole world was invited, even the English.

There was no technology around to reduce it to shareable content, yet the whole world shared in it. Even without emojis to guide us, how many feuds ended that afternoon in gasps of wonder?

I’ve envied those in Mexico, and sometimes spare a thought for anyone who missed it entirely. Who weren’t right there in the moment, in front of the box, rising gradually off their feet, as English defenders lost theirs.

Imagine you’d slipped out to the jacks. You’d never admit it, of course. You’d play along. But what a hole to have in your life experience? Maybe the transformative experience of the late 20th century? After which no possibility could truly be discounted.

The depth of its beauty elevated to art even the reactions of those who had to work in the moment.

The truculent admiration of the English commentators, still fuming over the opener, melting into awe.

Bryon Butler hailing the ‘squat little man’, Barry Davies flying the flag for fairness: “You have to say that’s magnificent.”

And our own Jimmy Magee, a study in perfect, understated reverence. Different class. Different class. Knowing instantly we were in another world now.

Imagine how powerful that moment was if he’d done it on behalf of the patch of the world you called home.

Victor Hugo Morales, the commentator on Argentina radio you’ve heard a thousand times, actually apologised later in the match for losing himself completely, for abandoning his primary job of providing a bit of detail on what was happening. For instead consecrating the moment in God’s tears.

“I want to cry! Dear God! Long live football! Gooooooooooal! Diegoal! Maradona! Cosmic kite! What planet are you from? Thank you, God, for football, for Maradona, for these tears.”

Later, he forgave himself, accepting it is the only thing that will survive him. “When I am nothing more than bones or dust, someone will listen to this goal.”

Imagine you had given moment after moment this powerful to the people of Argentina and Naples, how could you handle everyday life?

“What do I care what Diego did with his life?” is what the Argentine writer Roberto Fontanarrosa said, when Maradona’s off-field adventures came up. “I care what he did with mine.”

The other side of this coin? Diego’s first goal that afternoon is a cautionary tale of sport’s power to divide. Not because he cheated, most opponents cheated just to stay in his orbit.

But for some, the Hand of God wiped away the tears of God. And the squalid reaction in some of the English media to Maradona’s death reminds us never to erect the fences round our little patches too high. Lest we cannot see the sky, not to mind touch it.

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