All Stars all square on day of celebration

IT was honours even in this meeting of the touring All Star teams of 2008 and 2009 in Hurlingham on Saturday, a fitting result to what was an entertaining affair.

In atmosphere and setting, The Hurling Club – a sprawling complex founded in the 1940s by a group of Irish immigrants – resembled New York’s Gaelic Park.

All the elements were there, shirt-sleeved supporters under blue skies, a railway line in the background, 13-a-side teams, quip-filled live commentary (the indomitable Micheál O Muircheartaigh doing the honours, a Tony Browne point “From all of 109 yards, the longest point ever scored in a hurling match in Argentina!” typical of the offerings), along with a mix of native Irish socialising alongside those whose ancestry is part Irish.

Apart from games such as this, hurling hasn’t been played here since the Second World War, when a shortage of imported Irish ash brought a sudden end to the sport.

Hockey and rugby are now the main sports of choice at the Hurling Club, but if the reaction of those who came to Hurlingham on Saturday is any guide – the reaction of the kids especially – then there is a possibility hurling could again become part of life out here.

The All-Ireland championship this was not – just a single hurley broken, one free awarded by referee Diarmuid Kirwan during his 45-minute stint in charge of the whistle before handing over to Marty Duffy, the man in the middle for this year’s All-Ireland SFC final but making his debut in the small ball game.

Over the last three days, since landing in Buenos Aires, the players from the various counties have mixed freely, formed strong bonds, so there was never any danger that this one might spill over.

With a good sprinkling of Kilkenny players on both teams also – understandable, as the Cats have won the past four All-Irelands on the trot – and with the Canning brothers from Portumna and Galway on opposite sides, there were even more reasons why this was never going to be a blood-and-guts affair.

Nevertheless it contained so much of what makes hurling a special sport and was fully appreciated by all. Eight goals were scored, all roundly applauded; Offaly’s Brian Carroll got two for the 2008 All Stars, Eoin McGrath and Joe Canning with the other two, while Michael Rice, Alan McCrabbe, John Mullane and Lar Corbett each found the net for the 2009 crew.

Also receiving generous applause were the two keepers (and captains) Brendan Cummins (2008) and PJ Ryan, for a succession of fine saves in what was a free-wheeling game.

Best round of applause of the day, however, was reserved for Joe Canning, and a superb sideline cut from 45m out on the left that bisected the uprights with about 30m to spare in both height and distance.

There were five points between them at the break, the Liam Sheedy-coached 2009 boys ahead before Brian Cody’s men staged a comeback to draw level at the end.

But really, this game wasn’t about winning or losing, and it was more even than just playing the game.

It was about sport, about revitalising old roots, while simultaneously forging new friendships. And it worked.

Scorers for All Stars 2008: B Carroll 2-1; E McGrath 1-1; J Canning 1-1 (0-1 s/l); E Kelly 0-4; C Naughton 0-2; T Browne 0-2 (0-1 65); M Comerford 0-1.

Scorers for All Stars 2009: A McCrabbe 1-2; L Corbett 1-2; M Rice 1-2; J Mullane 1-1; N McGrath 0-2; R Power, T Walsh, E Kelly, 0-1 each.

ALL STARS 2008: B Cummins (Tipperary); M Kavanagh (Kilkenny), J Tyrell (Kilkenny); M Foley (Limerick), JJ Delaney (Kilkenny), F Moore (Galway); T Browne (Waterford), Seán Óg O hAilpín (Cork); J Fitzpatrick (Kilkenny), M Comerford (Kilkenny), E Kelly (Waterford); B Carroll (Offaly), J Canning (Galway).

Subs (used in unlimited interplay): C Naughton (Cork), E McGrath (Waterford)

Not used, injured, E Brennan (Kilkenny).

ALL STARS 2009: PJ Ryan; P Maher (Tipperary), O Canning (Galway); T Walsh (Kilkenny), B Hogan (Kilkenny), S Hiney (Dublin); M Rice (Kilkenny), A McCrabbe (Dublin); N McGrath (Tipperary), R Power (Kilkenny), L Corbett (Tipperary); E Kelly (Tipperary), J Mullane (Waterford).

Sub used (unlimited interplay): A Fogarty (Kilkenny).

Not used (injured): M Walsh (Waterford), E Larkin (Kilkenny).

Referee: D Kirwan (Cork), replaced by M Duffy (Sligo), 45.

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