Silver screen and TV feel the impact of hurling

Readers with several hours to spare have probably already discovered Making A Murderer, the documentary series on streaming service Netflix which details the (literal) trials and tribulations of Wisconsin man Steven Avery as he battles for justice, and his own freedom, in the US legal system.

Silver screen and TV feel the impact of hurling

What caught the eye of a lot of Irish viewers was a statuette in the office of one of his lawyers, Dean Strang.

At first glance it looked like two hurlers; at second glance it might have been lacrosse players; but a third glance seemed definitive, that it was indeed the clash of the ash.

Strang himself later informed media outlets he had received the item from an Irish friend and confirmed that yes, it was a hurling statuette.

Leaving aside the subset of discussion about whether Irish people should obsess about even a fleeting glimpse of our sporting heritage in foreign TV shows, we can move on to whether or not this constitutes part of a growing visibility for hurling memorabilia on our screens.

Exhibit B would consist of a documentary ITV screened recently of one-time newsreader Trevor McDonald roaming Las Vegas.

In between the casinos and the police ridealongs, McDonald paid a visit to one-time world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson at his oddly understated mansion; or understated if you were Liberace, that is.

As the camera panned around Iron Mike’s vast living room, your eye was irresistibly drawn to a sliotar in a trophy cabinet.

A friend of this writer gave the rundown on how this came to be. When Tyson visited Limerick for ‘An Evening With...’ a few years back, a determined fan decided to give the former champ something to remember his visit to Ireland by.

And what could be more Irish than a sliotar?

Tyson was surrounded by mountainous security men on the evening and was not autographing anything, but once the intrepid voyager conveyed to the minders that far from getting something from the ex-boxer, he wanted to give him a present, the waves parted and he was ushered in to Tyson’s presence.

Tyson was delighted with the gift once it was explained to him that it was all part of Ireland’s heritage, but the man who carried the ball wasn’t sure what had happened to the sliotar once it left his sight.

Until Trevor McDonald’s cameraman found it, of course.

It’s not as if hurling and its accoutrements have never popped up on screen, of course.

The Wind That Shakes The Barley opened on a (relatively unlikely) game being played in deepest West Cork, while, for many years before Waterford-Kilkenny clashes, the movie Rooney has been invoked, and in particular the fact that British actor John Gregson joined the pre-match parade as a Kilkenny player which preceded the 1957 All-Ireland hurling final (certainly If the two sides meet in this year’s championship, almost six decades later, you can expect it to be revisited all over again).

Eight years after Gregson walked the pitch in Croke Park Young Cassidy, a fictionalised life of Sean O’Casey featured a group of hurlers slaking their thirst after a game before getting embroiled in a row with the constabulary.

The eagle-eyed may notice the man billed as 1st Hurler: The late Joe Lynch, who was Dinny from Glenroe for many years.

Only last year we had a Disney children’s film — Descendants — that showed a bizarre game being played among the characters with what were plainly hurleys, not to mention a wholehearted embrace of the third man tackle.

But these films do not operate on the same level as our favourite hurling-infused movie: Blitz, starring Jason Statham.

Statham, a bullet-headed former competitive diver who has built a solid career in action films with a Cockney accent impervious to context, stars as a policeman. Early on, he finds three ne’er-do-wells sniffing around his car.

Undeterred by the numbers facing him, he produces... a hurley.

“This, lads, is a hurley,” he tells the three villains. “Used in the Irish game of hurling - a cross between hockey... and murder.”

He then treats the three buckos in a manner that would likely get him a six-month suspension, not to mention a hefty fine for his county board.

A few years ago I discussed this movie with the great thriller writer Ken Bruen, who wrote the book on which Blitz was based as well as many others, including the Jack Taylor series, set in Galway, in which hurling pops up as a regular topic of conversation.

Along with Muhammad Ali, Christy Ring was a huge hero for Bruen (“the first and only time I really understood the description, ‘legendary’”), for instance: “Of course Galway had those three wonderful football years (of the 1960s) but the hurlers — what a shame.

“I always intended hurling to be a central factor in the Jack Taylor books.

“Galway and hurling, like books and swans, are inextricably linked, as native as oysters.”

Bruen referred to the relative lack of sporting references in contemporary Irish fiction as a “crying shame”, adding: “It began as GAA was seen as not... cool. Heavens above, if they only knew the greatest game on earth is hurling. Their loss, methinks.”

But even Bruen ran into problems spreading the gospel. His US publishers were curious about the hurling references in the Jack Taylor series so he sent some hurleys to them, only for the authorities to take a dim view of what was coming through the mail: “Homeland Security wouldn’t let them in due to their being classified as a weapon.”

Well, maybe the lads on duty that day were just Jason Statham fans.

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