So this is it, John Updike’s lyric little bandbox in the heart of Boston. His description of Fenway Park remains both accurate — the preponderance of green sharpening the focus, no matter where you look — and a little vague.
What exactly is a bandbox, anyway?
Yesterday, of course, the baseball stadium housed the AIG Fenway Hurling Classic, having seen a college football game the previous evening.
All of which meant the ground — I almost said fabled turf — was re-realigned to fit the demands of Super 11s hurling.
The sniping at the modified game seemed misplaced yesterday afternoon, particularly when the teams took the field before all the markers of Boston identity: The Green Monster wall in left field, the vast sign for Dunkin’ Donuts, that CITGO sign visible beyond the stadium. It reinforced the fundamental strangeness of the experience, a game of hurling in one of the most famous stadia in the States, and the sheer achievement in having it played there.
This shouldn’t be downplayed. No doubt the critics of Super 11s are working on their own plan to get almost 30,000 people into an American stadium to watch Gaelic games, to broadcast those games to millions on television, to bring a flavour of the sports of home to Irish people living abroad.
We await developments, but until then they remain so, so angry, to quote The Sultans Of Ping song that echoed around Fenway before Dublin and Galway took the field for the opening encounter.
The games themselves? In the opener, Galway exerted their considerable physical powers to keep Dublin at arm’s length — literally in some cases. Having spent the season taking their points the All-Ireland champions adapted easily to the goal-oriented 11-a-side game and eased to a 55-39 win.
In the second game, Clare versus Tipperary, the proceedings took a decisive turn when Patrick Maher was red-carded halfway through the second period, leaving Tipp short-handed for the remainder of the game. They cut the deficit to five with time running out but couldn’t close the gap: 50-45 it finished.
In the final, Galway were sluggish in the opening half and trailed 30-9 at the break, the Banner county that much more direct and hard-running when they got a sniff of goal.
After the break, Galway wired into Clare and hit three scores in the opening two minutes to trail by eight. With Peter Duggan in free-scoring form, however, Clare reasserted control and ran out winners, 50-33.
All sides took a little time to get to grips with the dimensions of the field, unsurprisingly, and all four teams became involved in what are termed by general consent ‘unseemly scenes’. Though there was nothing compared to the free-for-all in the opening contest in the series two years ago, having another Box at the Sox might be something to drop from the agenda if the series continues into the future.
The crowd warmed audibly, however, to the feats of goalkeeping on display, almost more than the goals themselves. An unscientific estimate — based entirely on the accents audible outside the stadium — would be that many of those in attention were natives, recognising the inherent drama in a ‘keeper facing a forward 10 yards away, and the reflexes needed to turn the ball away.
There’s a benefit to the teams, certainly. Clare joint manager Jerry O’Connor pointed out the advantages of the weekend for an inter-county side: “We’re using the weekend as an opportunity as well for ourselves, all of us, to sit down and review what went well last season, what didn’t go well, and what can we do to improve.
“There’s a novelty factor involved — where else are we going to get the opportunity in the middle of winter to play on a really good pitch and to stay together as a group for four or five days?
O’Connor’s views were echoed by Tipperary’s Michael Ryan: “Absolutely, we’re looking at it as a gift — there was no competition for us in 2016 and in 2015 I looked at the game on television that year and we were feeling we’d love to be out there — and we are out here now.
“The game’s played at a fast pace and they all get a chance to play — to play in Fenway Park, too. Now we pick up a lot of memories along the way, but playing Fenway Park for all of us, that’s going to be a special memory for everybody.”
True enough. Just like John Updike over half a century ago, everybody left Fenway Park yesterday with memories to keep them warm in the New England winter.
And a few pointers, maybe for next summer in Ireland? Galway remain brawny and Clare deft, Tipperary capable of scores and Dublin with some work to do. A little learned, then, but a good deal more to discover when the January rolls around again.
Dublin 39 Galway 55.
Scorers for Dublin:
D. Sutcliffe, J. Hetherton (8 each); F. Whitely (5); P. Winters, P. Crummy, J. Madden, D. Burke, E. McKenna, C. O’Sullivan (3 each).
Scorers for Galway:
J. Flynn (20); C. Cooney (10); P. Brehony (9); S. Maloney, D. Glennon (5 each); C. Whelan, J. Cooney (3 each).
S. Chester, D. Sutcliffe (c), P Smyth, S. Barrett, S. O’Conor, J. Madden, K. Hetherton, T. Connolly, F. Whitely, G. Whelan, J. Hetherton.
P. Winters E. Boland, P. Crummy, D. Burke, D. Gormley, R. Hayes, J. Tracey, D. Kelly, C. Costello, D. Grey, N. McMorrow, A. Moore, E. McKenna, C. O’Sullivan, C. Mac Gabhann.
C. Callanan (c), C. Whelan, P. Mannion, A. Tuohey, B. Molloy, E. Burke, C. Cooney, J. Hanbury, J. Coen, J. Cooney.
C. Mannion, C Donnellan, D. Burke, D. Glennon, G. McInerney, J. Flynn, J. Glynn M. Dolphin, M. Donohue, N. Burke, P. Brehony, P. Flaherty, R. Burke, S. Loftus, S. Maloney.
J. Ryan (Tipperary)
Tipperary 45 Clare 50
Scorers for Tipperary:
J. McGrath (16); N. McGrath (10); C. Kenny (6); J. O’Dwyer, G. Browne (5 each); S. Curran 3.
Scorers for Clare:
P. Duggan (25); T. Kelly (8); C. McGrath (6); I. Galvin (5); D. Fitzgerald, D. Corry (3 each).
Paul Maher, D. Maher, T. Hamill, M. Breen, T. Fox, Patrick Maher, S. Curran, J. O’Dwyer, D. McCormack, C. Kenny, M. Kehoe.
A. Flynn, P. Shanahan, B. Maher, J. McGrath, G. Browne, S. Callanan, S. Curran, B. Hogan, S. O’Brien, C. Darcy.
D. Tuohy, P. O’Connor (c), J. Browne, D. McInerney, C. Malone, D. Fitzgerald, P. Collins, T. Kelly, C. O’Connell, S. O’Donnell, P. Duggan.
O. O’Brien, J. Conlon, C. McGrath, B. Duggan, A. Fahy, E. Quirke, D. Reidy, G. O’Connell, R. Hayes, I. Galvin, D. Corry, P. Kelly.
A. Kelly (Galway).
Galway 33, Clare 50
Scorers for Galway:
C. Cooney (13); J. Flynn (6); E. Burke (5); C. Whelan, S. Maloney, P. Flaherty (3).
Scorers for Clare:
P. Duggan (27); C. O’Connell, J. Conlon (6); D. McInerny (5); D. Corry, J. Browne (3 each).
C. Callanan (c), C. Whelan, P. Mannion, A. Tuohey, D. Burke, E. Burke, C. Cooney, J. Hanbury, J. Coen, J. Cooney.
C. Mannion, C Donnellan, B. Molloy, D. Glennon, G. McInerney, J. Flynn, J. Glynn, M. Dolphin, M. Donohue, N. Burke, P. Brehony, P. Flaherty, R. Burke, S. Loftus, S. Maloney.
D. Tuohy, O. O’Brien, P. O’Connor (c), D. McInerney, C. Malone, G. Morrissey, T. Kelly, S. O’Donnell, P. Duggan, R. Taylor.
J. Conlon, C. McGrath, B. Duggan, A. Fahy, E. Quirke, D. Reidy, G. O’Connell, R. Hayes, I. Galvin, D. Corry, P. Kelly.
D. Kirwan (Cork.)
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