Tadhg Coakley: Six images that sum up our glorious summer of sport

The pictures that articulate the emotion and high drama we've witnessed in recent weeks. 
Tadhg Coakley: Six images that sum up our glorious summer of sport

IN FOCUS: Supporters look on as Kerry’s Sean O’Shea prepares to kick the winning point at Croke Park.
Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

Well, it’s been another wonderful round on the circle game of sport, and the summer isn’t nearly over, with GAA club games now coming fast and thick and brilliant. Time was when the great four Sundays of the inter-county season were in September, but nothing lasts forever, even the glorious epoch of Brian Cody.

How to sum it up so far? In his latest book, The Last Days of Roger Federer, the writer Geoff Dyer bemoans the truth of Roland Barthes’ ‘barbed claim that in music criticism, a work or its performance is only ever translated into the poorest of linguistic categories: the adjective. But what else is there?’ Well, in sport, thankfully, there is the image. And I’ve delved into the treasure trove of photos and images that adorn this and other publications, picking six which spoke more to me than anything that could be said in words.

One 

IN FOCUS: Supporters look on as Kerry’s Sean O’Shea prepares to kick the winning point at Croke Park. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie
IN FOCUS: Supporters look on as Kerry’s Sean O’Shea prepares to kick the winning point at Croke Park. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

There is something about the sunlight on Seanie O’Shea’s shimmering head and shoulders in the great photo by James Crombie that gives the shot a feeling of ethereality. Of course the photo is framed by what is about to come and its import, but there’s more to it, too. It’s how we can see the moment through the eyes of all those fans – there isn’t just one polyphonic novel in the image, there’s a whole library in the photo’s scale.

The philosopher Roy Critchley says that sport is full of the potential of experiencing another version of time, the creation of history, a history of moments. This photo captures and illuminates such a moment.

There’s the sweetness of the tension and the stillness of Seanie. How time has stopped. Claire Keegan teaches about how the tension before and after the drama is more important in storytelling than the drama itself and James Crombie has captured that, master storyteller that he is.

Two 

TIES THAT BIND: Westmeath goalscorer Kieran Martin embraces Tom Farrell, father of former Westmeath goalkeeper Eoin.Pic: INPHO/James Crombie
TIES THAT BIND: Westmeath goalscorer Kieran Martin embraces Tom Farrell, father of former Westmeath goalkeeper Eoin.Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

James Crombie’s photo of Westmeath goalscorer Kieran Martin embracing Tom Farrell after the Tailteann Cup Final in Croke Park is the most emotional photo I’ve seen in sport this summer, all the more so since last Friday. Tom’s son, Eoin, who had been the Westmeath goalkeeper, passed away the week before the photo was taken.

Two other embraces captured by Crombie this summer also stood out: John Kiely embracing his wife Louise after the hurling final, and David Clifford hugging his mother Ellen and father Dermot after the men’s football final. Both were moving and joyful, and showed the implacable bonds between sport and family.

But the photo of Kieran and Tom shows layer upon layer upon layer of emotion, like a Caravaggio painting. Of the subject matter behind the photo, no words can be found.

Three 

EMBATTLED: Galway's Damien Comer clashes with Armagh players on his way off the pitch. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie
EMBATTLED: Galway's Damien Comer clashes with Armagh players on his way off the pitch. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

We have to call out the dark side of sport, otherwise we’re letting it down and letting down the children and young people who play sport. The first thing that struck me about the violence at the end of the Armagh Galway match was: ‘here we go again.’ The second thing was: ‘why is it always in men’s sport?’ While women have to fight for every bit of respect they can garner in sport, the men are displaying toxicity again.

Separately, the news this summer that women players are paying a huge financial price to represent their counties was as depressing as it was expected. It can’t continue, it shames us all – except the great women athletes involved.

Meanwhile the LIV Island (TM pending) golf debacle rumbles on, involving more and more former sportsmen. This fiasco as has much to do with sport as Love Island has to do with love.

Four 

ROYAL VISIT: Jack O'Connor and Kingdom icon Mick O'Dwyer with the Sam Maguire in Waterville. Picture: Cian O'Connor
ROYAL VISIT: Jack O'Connor and Kingdom icon Mick O'Dwyer with the Sam Maguire in Waterville. Picture: Cian O'Connor

The poignancy of the photo of Jack O’Connor and Mick O’Dwyer with the Sam Maguire cup is undeniable. It is also a lovely depiction of the continuity of sport, how it abides.

Joni Mitchell says we can’t return on the carousal of time, but we can we can look behind from where we came – which is exactly what we’re doing in this photo. We’re also paying respect to a great man and a great sportsman. We’re also expressing our love.

If you’re of an age where you can remember the eight All-Ireland wins by Mick O’s glorious Kerry teams between 1975 and 1986 (and I can), then you can remember when you were forty-seven years younger. That’s something worth celebrating and the photo was respectful and celebratory as well as reaching out into the past and the future.

Five 

CAN SEE, CAN BE: The match programme for the Ladies Football finals last week, created by Jen Murphy.
CAN SEE, CAN BE: The match programme for the Ladies Football finals last week, created by Jen Murphy.

My favourite image of the year was the programme cover of the LGFA TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football All Ireland Finals. Created by Jen Murphy Design Studio, Castlebar, the image says so much more about sport than any words of mine could. Jen told me how herself and her colleague Ciara brainstormed various images for the cover but came up with one that reflected their own first experiences of Croke Park as girls, the emotions behind them, and how inspiring they were.

The image is both universal and personal in its perspective. What I love most about it (unlike the photo of the fans watching Seanie O’Shea) is that we can’t see the child’s expression but we can feel it through her and we can relive our own first experience again.

The tagline underneath is #PROPERFAN and the girl is that, and we are all that through her. Beside the attention to detail in the image, the girl’s shadow shows the girl’s thoughts, as Jen said: ‘this could be me, one day.’ ‘This could be me, one day’ is such a great expression of what sport is all about, when children first encounter it. The image is another brilliant depiction of continuity, reaching out into the future and the past.

Six 

CONSOLATION: Armagh’s Michelle McArdle is comforted by her children Jamie, Jodie and Chloe after defeat at Croke Park. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
CONSOLATION: Armagh’s Michelle McArdle is comforted by her children Jamie, Jodie and Chloe after defeat at Croke Park. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

The last great day of the inter-county GAA season has passed by with joy for Antrim and Galway and Kilkenny, sadness for Armagh and Cork. But it’s a tempered sadness; all the camogie players who graced Croke Park on Sunday did their families, their clubs and their parishes proud. As club players will continue to do, day-in day-out in the weeks ahead. How lucky we are to be able to experience it all.

Unfortunately, losing is an essential part of sport and a skill we all need to learn and relearn (men especially). This photo of Armagh’s Michelle McArdle with her children Jamie, Jodie and Chloe after the Junior camogie final on Sunday shows this crucial process in action.

On Sunday evening the Cork senior camogie manager Matthew Twomey put losing a match in perspective in the aftermath of Dillon Quirke’s heartbreaking death. Players and backroom teams will dust themselves off and go again, but the families and friends of Dillon Quirke and Eoin Farrell and all such families don’t have that opportunity.

I think this photo of Michelle McArdle and her children shows how vital sport is and how it doesn’t matter at all.

The Game: A Journey into the Heart of Sport by Tadhg Coakley is available in bookshops now.

To celebrate Cork Heritage Week 2022, this Saturday, August 13th in Cork City Library, Grand Parade at 2pm, Tadhg Coakley and Eimear Ryan will read a selection from their sports-themed publications, discuss Cork’s strong sporting culture with Jordan McCarthy and examine the importance of sport in our daily lives.

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