“ . . . one vast impacted havoc which the years accrete And slowly heave up, fused and wrecked . . .” Maybe we should get Stephen Edgar to write about Cork hurling, though the first thing to realise about Cork hurling is that the whole problem can’t be taken in at one glance.
It’s just too big, like something out of a Douglas Adams book: Anyone who can collect the entirety of the situation in his mind has enough to do without actually considering a solution.
Getting those constituent parts together is a big enough job.
The facets of the jewel: It’s Frank Murphy’s fault for spending the money on the stadium, not coaches. It’s Dónal Óg Cusack’s fault for going to Clare. It’s Donal O’Grady’s fault for not coming back to coach Cork. It’s the fault of the delegate who said O’Grady wouldn’t be a unifying force if he did come back. It’s the fault of the coaches producing soft hurlers, the referees whistling for everything, the structures diluting the championships, the commitment to both hurling and football, the GAA itself, the military-industrial complex, the Silk Road, the Volkswagen engineers.
What comes next is well known to all. A county board meeting which glosses over the defeat and moves on to the next matter on the agenda.
This is the county which has had strikes, mass marches, Croke Park threatening direct rule . . .
And nothing changes.
This inertia is neither a symptom nor a cause, but a valuable milestone on the road to oblivion. The inexorable decline of Cork’s hurling fortunes is a path not marked by good intentions but by anodyne discussion and regretful expression, both of them equally meaningless. Some elements of the interlocking web of influences and actors which have contributed to Cork’s decay are noted above, but what isn’t mentioned is the deep-lying apathy about that decay.
People in Cork are no longer animated by their hurlers’ defeats. That is the most damning indictment and the most dangerous indicator. It may not be quantifiable by analytics but the reaction to those losses is easily measured nonetheless. There isn’t any. A tale of the expected.
Whether that shrugging of shoulders is down to official apathy or a simple lack of interest among the semi-detached, the absence of any action or initiative by anyone, at any level, shows the true danger here — the erosion of a genuine, broad-based urban connection to hurling and what that presages. The shrinking of the demographic involved in what is already a minority sport.
And because of that, behind the smirking in other counties, a cold shiver lurks: If it can happen in Cork, with its clubs and facilities, its population and its traditions, schools and colleges and superstars, it can happen in those counties too. Until then, though, they have the aCorkalypse to entertain them.
Snapshots from a week on holidays
1. A windswept resort in south Kerry, the breeze flaying every face gently with the sand lifted from the beach. Two small kids looking very unimpressed with the statue of Charlie Chaplin, who is now, of course, gone almost 40 years, never mind his movie heyday of nearly a century gone.
Along to the next item of statuary, that of a focused individual holding a football and looking into the middle distance, over the traffic.
Who’s this, snort the two small kids. It’s a . . . actually, it’s that gentleman there, striding along the promenade in a blue jumper, umbrella furled under his arm.
And so it is: Mick O’Dwyer, instantly recognisable, a man unique in Ireland with his two nicknames, Dwyer and Micko, for initiates and the unwashed respectively.
It’s eerie to be able to see a man taking his constitutional and to have a statue to the same man in your field of vision. But what must it be like for the man himself?
2. A supermarket in the same general vicinity as the above, where there’s a fundraising zone at the shop entrance.
You drop your supermarket receipt in one of eight boxes, with the corresponding name above the box benefiting.
The eight names belong to GAA teams. St Mary’s Caherciveen, Dromid Pearses, Waterville, Skellig Rangers, Valentia, St Michael’s, Renard and one more which won’t come to me.
The extraordinary will to survive among GAA clubs: In a sparsely populated zone all of them strive to keep alive, and thrive: St Mary’s, Dromid and St Michael’s have known big days in the recent past. Waterville and Valentia have provided Gaelic football with immortals.
The last evening of the holidays and yours truly is getting ice cream in the supermarket and stumbles across a championship draw right there, by the newspapers and the chocolate bars.
How deeper into the community can you get?
Halberstam lesson in the art of detail
On that recent week off I threw The Breaks Of The Game by David Halberstam in the suitcase. As ever with the great man, it didn’t disappoint.
Halberstam’s theme was a season on the sidelines with the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA, who had recently won the championship but were then in the process of falling apart. They had lost their main player, the vast, and vastly interesting, Bill Walton, and the remaining players were struggling.
As ever, Halberstam had a great reporter’s eye for the detail which makes the story come to life. In the middle of the book, a propos of nothing in particular, he offers this quick sketch: for a small wager, a marginal player predicts he can not only hit seven baskets in a row in practice - he can put the exact amount of spin on each shot to make it come down through the net and bounce backwards to where the player is standing, further out the court.
All shots comply except the last, which goes through like the others but grazes the hoop and goes astray. As a little indication of the sheer mastery of the basics I haven’t read anything as good since I came across the casual reference to the baseball player whose hands were so big he could hold seven baseballs in one . . . but that’s a story for another day.
Barca’s strange show of support for Messi
The Catalan club has sought the support of its fans for its Argentinean superstar, recently convicted of tax fraud, by asking those fans to tweet ‘We Are All Leo Messi’. Part of its argument is based on traditional sentiment about persecution, partly that other sportstars received lighter sentences for similar offences. You’d hope, though, someone in the Camp Nou is being asked just who thought it would be a good idea to support Messi in this way. Because if not, the world is even more cockeyed than we think.
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