The old man sits a grandchild on his knee and recalls that time when...
What? When Chippy Brady threw him a match ball at Dalyer. Ringy left him carry his hurleys from the Showgrounds, New Zealand’s rugby stars were sent away from Limerick with the All Black knocked off them.
The noise was authentic, passions genuine, the smells un-perfumed. Sport was more than a TV show.
How much in how we consume our favourite games now changing? Are weekends spent surfing between British soccer, American football, Gaelic games and European golf? I know a lot of mine are.
Sometimes all a man wants to do is work through three dozen spicy chicken wings and watch Carlton versus Essendon in an Aussie Rules dead rubber at 2am on a Saturday.
But there’s nothing like pulling on the boots and following the floodlights. Tonight I’ll be sat amongst the rest of Cork City’s football fans to see how the Leesiders do against the Premier Division’s leaders. On Sunday, with a bit of luck, I’ll click through the old turnstiles at Semple Stadium for the hurling. And if I miss something, there’ll be no live pause function.
Some of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had with strangers have been with a spent game at our backs as we file down the steps of a stadium. Some of the best one-liners heard were on a terrace rather than Ireland’s comedy clubs.
In a world when you can click a red button and be transported to Amen Corner in an Azalea-scented corner south of the Mason-Dixie Line, it’s no harm to drag yourself to the local driving range with a friend and drive a bucket of balls up a hill for a half hour.
I once swam — and this is something I do not advise – the River Suir, after a Cork victory in Thurles in a Munster final.
During JBM’s first tenure as Rebels chief we converged on Liberty Square in the sunshine to face a Clare side at the fag-end of their great era. Iconic names like Davy Fitz, Sparrow Loughlin, Jamsie, Lohan filled Loughnane’s team-sheet but it would be the young pretenders who kick-started a summer which would end in a first All-Ireland since the double year of 1990.
It was one of those days in the town which was seemingly sketched by a Munster hurling traditionalist in broad brush strokes. Bright sunshine? Tick. Bit of craic with the other crowd? Tick. Meet the lads on the other bus in Hayes Hotel beforehand? Tick. Jimmy Magee rolling through Liberty Square in the front passenger seat of a massive coach, taking the plaudits of the parting crowd like Caesar returning from a vanquished Gaul? Tick.
Afterwards guard, we celebrated.
I remember trying to watch Pete Sampras beat Andre Agassi in the Wimbledon final through one eye and a full beer garden until I and a neighbour (a bigger boy) realised the rest of the busload had long departed. Game, set and match.
One wrong turn out of the square later (how do you do that?) and we ultimately — like one of those hoary TV scripts — ended up on one side of the river... with our coach on the other.
And in a decision worthy of ‘The Inbetweeners 2: The Trip to Tipp’ we agreed there was but one thing for it. We hopped in and Eric the Eel-ed it across through reeds and shopping trolleys, emerging, breathless on the other side as our bus pulled out of the car park and south along the road.
We walked the busy, busy road out of the town, our so-called blood and bandages plastered to our wet skin. Did you know that GAA fans like to roll down their car windows and make jokes about lads who look like they’ve missed their bus by going for a dip in the nearest lough? Well, they certainly do, reader.
Our thumbing eventually solicited a lift to Cashel from a hurling fan from Tipp who had no dog in the Semple Stadium fight earlier. When we saw a Cork reg car in traffic ahead down the road we bunked in there and explained afterwards. The disgruntled driver literally turned the air conditioning up to ‘pneumonia’ but dropped us to the end of the hill at home.
I got in for the Sunday Game. But I knew I’d been off the couch.
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