Last Saturday, I was in Waterford watching some games in the Tony Forristal tournament: under-14 intercounty hurling.
Most hurling supporters are well aware of this competition, but your familiarity has never stopped this column from revisiting some subjects. In any case, fondness for the tournament rests on several different planks.
One: it was founded for the right reasons.
This is not a competition to feed players into the intercounty maw, but to commemorate people who had given their lives to helping others succeed with the games. Tony Forristal himself actually passed away in road traffic accident while travelling with the Waterford U21 hurlers. The other competition is named for another Waterford man, Sonny Walsh, who passed away suddenly while training kids in the De La Salle club fields. The Larry Quinn trophy is given to the man of the match in the Division 1 final and is named for another Mount Sion man, one who put huge work into ensuring the tournament was a success from its early days.
The tournament began with just two teams, Waterford and Kilkenny; there were 23 listed in the programme last weekend.
Two: the age is right.
A talented 16 -year-old would be on the radar of the county minor selectors and liable for promotion; 12 or 13-year-olds would be too small, too weak, too young. Fourteen is just right because there’s the requisite disparity in sizes, hulking bruisers with five o’clock shadow marking frail children who look like they’ve changed out of their confirmation clothes. Entertainment for the spectators.
Three: the quality.
By the time a kid is 14, he’s able to use a hurley properly: the boy’s struggle with a length of timber half his height is tilting irreversibly in his favour.
In one of the games I saw, Galway were putting Laois under considerable pressure, and the Laois keeper was seeing a lot more of the ball than his management team would have liked. But the keeper made three fine saves, one after the other, to warm applause from the crowd.
Galway eventually got their goals, but there was a kid with a memory to put into his back pocket when heading back up the road later that evening.
Four: the closed circuit.
The temptation is to extrapolate senior success from the seeds sown at this level, but it didn’t compute. If you take the results going back 20 years — which means the players from 1996 would be 34 now — then Kilkenny’s dominance wasn’t traceable through annexing this trophy year after year. As of Saturday the most successful county at this grade in that time was Cork.
Five: the atmosphere.
I can’t speak for all the games, but the ones I was at had a likable vibe going on: competitive but not cut-throat. I didn’t see any parents disgrace themselves, certainly, and inside the Mount Sion clubhouse the refreshments were being dished out with a generous hand. One of the ladies pressed an armful of sandwiches on me — literally: enough sandwiches to fill your arms — and when a visitor from Leeside asked if the tea was Barry’s, she was briskly assured it was, and had it presented — piping hot and muscular in its strength — without delay.
Six: the occasional gem.
Despite it all, you can’t help yourself. Will you see tomorrow’s superstar here? The fine programme produced last weekend featured interesting past captains and man of the match winners: Wexford, Adrian Fenlon and Paul Codd (1987 and 1990); Tipp, Paddy O’Brien and Eoin Kelly (1993 and 1996); Waterford, Patrick Curran (2010). That quality’s been there from the start. The first man of the match award went to Ciaran Carey of Patrickswell, after all.
Can coaches and managers afford sexism?
It surely came to your attention that the National Hockey League recently appointed its first female coach - the Arizona Coyotes last week made Dawn Braid the team skating coach.
What’s notable about this is the NHL is not the first professional league in America to see a woman appointed to a senior role. In basketball, the San Antonio Spurs appointed Becky Hammon assistant coach over two years ago, while the Buffalo Bills of the NFL have had Kathryn Smith as a full-time coach - responsible for special team quality control - since earlier this year.
Given the sheer level of professionalism ascribed to US pro sports, and the naked admiration for those sports which is expressed by many participants and coaches in Irish sport, how long before we see a similar appointment here, with a woman on the sidelines in more than a supporting role?
The reflexive answer is ‘a long time’, but the pressure in every sport is to produce a winner by any means at your disposal: can coaches and managers afford sexism?
The secrets of Suzuki’s success
Details, details, details.
I was slow to come to appreciate the attention being paid by one Ichiro Suzuki to his preparations, but I’m glad now it came across my radar.
Suzuki is a Japanese baseball player who has starred for many years with teams such as the Seattle Mariners, and a recent ESPN magazine piece offered some telling insights into his focus.
It’s not so much his stretching before games — which all serious athletes do — but the micro-management: He has a special wooden instrument which he uses to massage the soles of his feet, just to make them particularly responsive and ready for the game. He looks after his bats very well, which is what you’d expect from a professional — they’re the tools of his trade after all — but Suzuki goes to extreme lengths: He has a humidor, a special box which is fitted out with chemical rods which reduce the chances of harmful moisture getting into the timber in the bats.
Not nerdish enough for you? Early in his career, he flung a bat on the ground in frustration. Appalled by his own loss of temper, he brought the bat to his hotel room that evening by way of apology. Laugh if you like. Between his early seasons in Japan and his years in America Suzuki he has the most hits of any player in the top baseball leagues. He’s 42 and still a professional in the big leagues.
‘Reeling in the Years’ will have some task
I haven’t touched on the ongoing ticket controversy, or OCI controversy, or whatever you want to call it, because it appears to be moving so fast that it’s practically impossible to take a position before being outflanked by yet another outlandish development.
The most accurate description of how this year is shaping up has been the tongue-in-cheek reference to the makers of Reeling in the Years, and the job they’ll have getting everything that’s happened in 2016 into one programme.
It’s hard to believe that we’ve only gotten within touching distance of September.
What can sport offer us off the field, never mind on it, in the next four months?
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