Start with the main asset. Everyone loves Thurles, from the train station if you take the iron horse, to that smooth transition from motorway to (an almost) instantaneous immersion in Liberty Square. Thurles is not Gloccamaurra. It exists when there isn’t a Munster championship game going on there. But like the rest of us, the colours aren’t quite as vivid. Thurles is the only place where people see their team lose and still feel good about being there.
This is often signified by doubt, mystification or a lust for reform, but beneath it all lies the green-eyed monster. Clearly decades of boasting about the greatest sporting event/tournament/championship on the island grates with those who have yet to encounter that greatness for themselves, which leaves you feeling a little sorry for the lack of sunshine in their lives.
Logic dictates that there must have been rainy Sundays in the Gaelic Grounds, or chilly afternoons in Semple Stadium. Surely there were. Oddly, your mind side-steps that reality and presents everything in a rosy glow — even that Cork-Waterford game in 2002 when you got soaked and had to take the cot for a week with the flu.
It’s an unwritten rule of participating in the Munster hurling championship that you’ve got to get along to as many games as you can when you retire. As a result the tableau is enacted every five yards along the approach roads to Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Semple Stadium and the Gaelic Grounds — a kid being nudged into a picture with someone his or her father cheered for years. The confusion only lasts for a minute; the picture, on the other hand, is cherished forever.
It’s unlike every other provincial championship in that it’s meaningfully competitive. Each team that’s involved fancies its chances against every other team, so winning the title actually means something.
The knock against the Munster championship is that winning it doesn’t equip a team to prosper in the All-Ireland series. This is clearly a tribute to the quality of the competition, but what’s the alternative? An occasional Connacht hurling championship?
One particular personal favourite - the racecourse in Thurles on the occasion of a big game over the road. The green space inside the track is colonised by kids pucking the ball around, toddlers falling over, people chatting . . . you can park your car there for five notes, meet your mates for a catch-up, and be in the stadium three and a half minutes later.
Nobody needs to sell the Munster championship by growing a beard. Or dressing like a leprechaun. Or talking nonsense. It is what it is.
If you have been to a Munster championship game then you’ll appreciate that there is no postmodernism involved. Irony is not necessary. The game exists, the competition is real; there is no need to read it on this level, or that level. It’s immediate. It’s present and unmediated, unfiltered and true. If you have been to a good Munster championship game, or a great one, that’s even truer.