A rare mea culpa. In pronouncing, before it started, the new Munster Hurling Championship the Best League in the World, it turns out, in hindsight, that I was grossly understating things. I was selling it short.
It deserved a bit more fanfare — arguably the full apocalyptic rugby treatment incorporating a suite of war metaphors, four or five hashtags, and a tear-stained rumbling montage narrative with brutal gladiators waging biblical storms on provincial battlefields for the glory of two precious points.
It’s just working. Right now, wherever Gianni Infantino is dreaming up a new competition with oilmen and insurance companies and wherever Amazon or Facebook execs are in town sniffing around streaming rights, there is surely somebody asking if there’s any chance of a three-from-five structure. Or a ‘rats-in-a-barrel format’, to use the correct terminology.
In my defence, the success of it has surprised some punters, who haven’t yet considered going to the matches. It has exceeded all expectations, the icing slapped on a delicious cake last week with the arrival of the only thing more seductive than unpredictable top-class competition — controvassy.
Through Waterford’s eyes, another shafting, another persecution of a downtrodden, wounded people.
Through Tipp’s, justice for ‘73, The Umpire Strikes Back — the ghost of the Richie Bennis 70 finally laid to rest.
But they have all played their part. Cork have been Cork three times in a row and are still Cork. Limerick’s recovery from Pat Ryan’s spuds-to-chickens miss is the clearest sign yet they are wriggling free of ancient anxieties. Clare are having so many pots at the coconut shy that some days they head home with an armful of teddies. While wounded Waterford may eventually be left with only Maximus Gleeson standing, coming back with his shield and probably some praetorian guard’s helmet.
Really, though, this has been all about Tipp. The secret ingredient that made the round-robin cake rise has been Tippness, an unfathomable condition nobody can truly work out, despite everyone having a stab at it, as Brian O’Meara points out today.
Tomorrow the cameras return for a fourth week on the spin, a nation compelled by this documentary insight into the world’s most complex people.
All we knew of Tippness going into this wasn’t nearly enough to prepare us.
We knew about the wild mood swings, the see-saw lurches between jubilant assembly of shrines to the McGraths’ wrists and the grim certainty that we’ll never catch another ball not to mind win another match.
We knew about the tendency for bitter recrimination in defeat that makes an England World Cup inquest look philosophical.
And some even spoke of a certain paranoia, over the years, though can you be truly paranoid if they really are all against you?
But what we hadn’t taken into account, going into all this, was the fundamental lack of urgency in Tipp. A place where it still ranks among the most pointed sleights to ask, ‘what rush is on you?’. Where most conundrums of scheduling can be resolved by the phrase, ‘ah, we’ve time enough’.
The lack of tolerance for haste is most visible on narrow roads around the county when a man dismounts a tractor to engage in conversation through the car window of an acquaintance, rendering the road impassable in the process.
In Tipp, the average time between his vigorous salute acknowledging the arrival of an inconvenienced road user and a departing smack on the roof of his pal’s car is up around four minutes. The national average is one and a half.
Counter-intuitively, given our agitation when things go wrong, Tipp remains a place of ‘ah shure, it’ll be grand’. Which shouldn’t be mistaken for optimism, for we are not really an optimistic people. But why do today what you could leave until tomorrow?
I recall meeting one of our most enterprising ambassadors, Paul Collins, once, about a small job. He had a sitcom dreamed up, set in space, but maybe in the space over Tipp, and he was flying in William Shatner, who he was meeting Saturday at the Rock of Cashel.
And Paul had no plot or no script or anything much ready. But what rush was on me? Hadn’t he four days. It would be grand. We never calculated how any of that would affect Tipp. Given four full games to get a small job done — two wins, say — wouldn’t anyone spend at least one of those days in bed?
Given all this scope, they have, alas, torn the arse out of it. Getting out of bed against Cork with half an hour left, then hitting snooze til 15 to go the last day.
And now they are up against it, like a man with a column he knew he had to write a week ago scratching around for a final par 10 minutes before the deadline.
They could probably have used Eamon O’Shea this last few weeks, a man who has spent a bit of time outside the county, and who fends off time’s seductions by concentrating on more esoteric matters such as living in the moment and process over outcome.
If they survive, Michael Ryan might come into his own again. But for now he is a man trying to cure his people while maybe suffering a touch of the same ailment himself, a man who only started picking his best team the second day out.
Maybe that’s why he decided to stay quiet after Limerick, didn’t trust himself not to blurt out, ah shure, we’ve time enough.
Maybe it’ll still be grand. Though, come to think of it, we haven’t yet seen Shatner’s spaceship land in Ballywire.
Women take back seat
Phil Healy’s brilliant dash and Sanita Puspure’s enduring competitiveness might have lifted spirits, but it must still have been a particularly demoralising week to be a woman involved at the top level of Irish sport.
Amid all the usual hoopla around this morning’s men’s friendly, word the IRFU had passed up a parallel women’s tour — despite the hosts offering to foot the accommodation bill — suggests this is not yet quite all of the people’s game.
But at least the women get regular airtime, in RTÉ’s great thirst for rugby action. The complete TV blank of yesterday’s crucial women’s World Cup qualifier with Norway was lamentable, amid a pre-Russia hunger for football and this team having a limited opportunity to win hearts and minds.
The return is live but a moment has passed, with qualification slipping away. The broadcasters have made excuses, but if the will was there, surely there was a way.
Heroes & villains
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Whetting appetites for a long World Cup of guff with a slice of literary magic on Radio 5 Live: “I was just thinking of George Orwell’s 1984 and wondering which animal you would be.” The great divide: The fiercest traditional rivalry in world sport is dead and gone now, apparently, since Carbs’ switch to the sticks.
A nation once again, after a heady 12 years.
HELL IN A HANDCART
After a brilliant night, had every right to despair at JR Smith’s last-ditch gaffe in Game 1, but could he have done more to lift his boys for overtime rather than treat JR to a Karius-style shunning? Did those miserable minutes tip the finals the Warriors’ way?
Must be sailing pretty close to a tipping point bolting on a third bill for viewers wanting to watch it all. At what point will people give up and trust it all to the dodgy streams?
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