Because this seems to be a week (or two) of Peak Hurling, I thought it might be the ideal time to use the game in order to reenact a great old George Plimpton piece.

No, not the one where he gets his nose collapsed gently by Archie Moore, but one of the lesser-known hits: the one where he takes his (very small) daughter to Yale versus Harvard in American football: Medora Goes To The Game.

My imitation was under pressure from the start, however.

It wasn’t so much that my destination, the Cork-Wexford All-Ireland U21 hurling semi-final being played in Nowlan Park, is a very different location to George’s destination — Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Nor did I have Plimpton’s ulterior motive as an inspiration (“My vague hope,” he wrote, “Was that she would become impressed enough with Harvard to think about working hard at her studies so she might go there one day.”) My obstacles were far more banal than George’s. The first was overpopulation, because I had two passengers, not one.

A related issue was the impossible standard being set by Plimpton’s gentle instruction of his impeccably behaved daughter, because I had two, you know, normal children with me. By that I mean two keenly calibrated intelligences when it comes to MY SIDE OF THE CAR NOT YOURS, and other distinctions invisible to the naked, middle-aged eye.

Yet another issue was, to be fair, pointed out very early on by one of the passengers, who wanted to know specifically how long the game would be.

Longer than an episode of The Thundermans? How much longer? As long as two episodes if you watched them one after another, or as long as if you took a break in between them to make a sandwich and then went back to the television and put on the episode...

If you have ever accompanied young children to an occurrence of any kind you will recognise this as a red flag immediately. Any focus on the length of the occasion becomes eventually the only focus, and before we had reached the turn off the motorway for the Marble City, the measurements imagined for this match had become more and more arcane.

(Longer than the longest movie I have ever seen, or shorter? I can’t remember what the movie was but it had a lot of spaceships in it? It wasn’t as good as Coco, which I wanted to see, but you wanted to see the movie with the spaceships and I don’t think Coco was sold out at all, but you said at the time...)

As for the game itself, I am happy to take the reports published in these pages as a fair description, because the proceedings were a blur of negotiated settlements involving bribery with sugar, with the negotiations heavily in favour of the smaller parties to the process.

The equation is a pretty simple one. If X is the child’s age, Y the length of the event being attended in hours, Z the length of time before the child(ren) begin to ask for sweets, then Y is divided by the sum of X multiplied by Z, thus giving you the weight in pounds of sugar consumed by each child.

On the road out of Kilkenny, I explained that there’d be another game, the All-Ireland final (“There’s always another game,” was the groan from the back seat, which struck a fine existential note) but we’d have to see about going to that because of assorted variables such as the Motorway McDonald’s Terms of Visitation Frequency Contract of August 2018 (details on application).

Finally home, before they rushed in to deny having ingested any sugar ALL DAY, I got a “Thanks, Dad,”.

It might not have been encouraging them to go to an Ivy League college, but it wasn’t a wasted journey either.

For the record, Medora Plimpton didn’t got to Harvard in the end anyway.

Hockey heroes hailed in Nowlan Park

A journey worth taking

Kudos to the lads in Nowlan Park on all sorts of levels — the gentle, if not actually non-existent, approach to keeping kids off the playing surface between games; the refusal to be officious in dealing with anyone looking to get into the stadium; the sheer cosiness of the venue, full stop.

However, they were also crucial to the biggest cheer of the day last Saturday.

When the result was announced from the Ireland-Spain Women’s Hockey World Cup semi-final, it wasn’t intoned funereally or out of an audible sense of necessity. The announcer put some emotion into it, and the crowd responded loudly.

Kudos here, also, to Alan Good, once of this parish. He used the social media cesspit that is Twitter wisely and well over the weekend to flesh out the backstories of the players and backroom team to give context and depth to a terrific story that has electrified the country.

Elite and relaxed all at once

I mentioned above the easy access to the playing area at full-time last Saturday.

We got out onto the field at full-time to mingle with supporters and participants alike.

(An aside: if senior hurlers look young to you, then don’t look at U21s when they take their helmets off. It’s depressing).

My passengers got to see the young men representing their county up close and the latter were generous with their time. Granted, it’s easy to do that when you’ve won a game by 22 points, but the scene when lads are leaning on their hurleys and obviously talking to members of their own family, or club mates from back home, was irresistible. Elite and relaxed all at once.

The cliched complaint here is that that scene isn’t replicated at the senior level in the game, where players are kept away from supporters after matches, particularly at the sharper end of the championship.

There are good reasons for that - a few thousand in Nowlan Park is not the same as a capacity crowd in Croke Park, obviously enough - and more to the point, those players are accessible in other places. Thanks to those who stood in for photographs.

And the middle-aged man in Wexford colours who shook hands with the Cork player and patted his shoulder as they happened to fall in step heading towards the dressing-room?

If tonight’s documentary wasn’t already in the can you’d be appearing on it.

The beauty of Flann’s Collected Letters

No competition for the book of the week today — who wouldn’t want an edition of The Collected Letters of Flann O’Brien?

The correspondence of the patron saint of columnists was reviewed glowingly over the weekend, with the great man’s obsession with money in his letters given plenty of space.

This should be no surprise to any person who has ever met someone in the writing game, of course.

What I didn’t expect was the withering dismissal of the South African rugby team of the 60s — all-white symbols of apartheid — as “penny-boys of a fascist regime”.

The fascist regime you expect. The penny-boys is the evidence of genius.


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