A terrible beauty: a glimpse of the late 80s rivalry between Galway and Tipperary

In the aftermath of beating their perennial bogey-team, Wexford, on Sunday last, Tipperary manager Michael Ryan referred to the fact that his side “never fail to have a good game with Galway”.
A terrible beauty: a glimpse of the late 80s rivalry between Galway and Tipperary

He’s correct; it’s a rivalry that seldom fails to deliver.

The drama of the 2015 and 2016 All-Ireland semi-finals has seen a Renaissance of this duel that last reached its zenith in the late 1980s.

Laochra Gael’s recent celebration of Peter Finnerty’s career couldn’t have come at a more opportune time as they followed his induction into the TG4 Hall of Fame with a showing of the 1988 All-Ireland final.

Obviously the late ‘80s was a different era but there’s something beautifully paradoxical about looking back at it now in that it’s too old to be new, yet too new to be old.

It’s style, both in fashion and in play, is stuck between the introduction of technicolor to the TV coverage in the early 70s and the coming hurling revolution of the 1990s.

Nobody looks totally comfortable, yet.

It was probably at this time too that the cult of the manager made its way into the hurling world.

The respective appointments of Michael ‘Babs’ Keating and Cyril Farrell probably were probably made in smoke-filled committee rooms as opposed to being the result of long interview processes, but both men added to the spectacle.

Babs prowled the sideline like a South-Tipperary incarnation of Serge Blanco, boldly sporting all of the primary colours on his jumper.

No county crested half-zipped top with his initials on it for him (God knows, Babs is Babs), not even a bainisteoir’s bib.

The only thing that set him apart from the patrons on the terraces was his refusal to sport the classic felt (or was it paper?), ‘Tiobraid Árann’ emblazoned head cover that passed for a hat in 1988 and a miniscule armband that may or may not have had the GAA logo on it.

Cyril was a far cry from the man we see in The Sunday Game studio these days too. His striking red jumper made him stand out from those marooned around him as he pulled frantically at what was left of his hair in frenzied attempts to get his message across to the troops.

One of the most refreshing things about watching the game was how recognisable the players were.

The scarcity of helmets did wonders, not only for dentists, but also for our rapport with the players.

You just knew who everybody was by looking at them, no numbers needed. Gerry McInerney was in his pre-white boots phase, as he engaged in a classic battle with a very lean Declan Ryan.

Nicky English was unusually quiet, spending most of the game slightly exasperated with his gum-shield always half-in or half-out.

Pat Fox stood out with a few touches of class along with his bandaged knee.

And then there was Brendan Lynskey.

His presence at centre-forward seemed to be a religious pilgrimage in search of punishment.

He gave hits, he took hits and he literally put his body on the line at every opportunity.

It was enthralling viewing on its own, deserving of a player-cam and if Joe Brolly is truly searching for the ‘warrior spirit’, it’s Lynskey he should be looking for.

Helmets had a much different role than they do the modern game. They gave character as opposed to lessening it. Tony Keady, Joe Cooney and John Leahy wore headgear that befitted their status as classy hurlers.

They went for the classic, faceguard-less helmet with the strap tied as they strode gracefully around Croke Park.

Cormac Bonnar, however, was a different animal. The only man with a faceguard, it filled him with menace as opposed to making him look like a man who didn’t fancy it. He was akin to medieval knight, jousting his way towards goal.

Luckily for Galway, Conor Hayes was there to meet him, clad in his own classic, gold helmet that may very well have been forged from Viserys Targaryen’s crown.

The game really has changed utterly since 1988 but those who would try and convince us that a terrible beauty has been born over the past few years should stop casting such a romantic gaze toward the past.

Ground hurling is the best example. The approving roar of the crowd after a well contested pulling match was inevitably followed by an equally emphatic denunciation when they realised where the ball had ended up.

It was a much simpler game, as the puck-out strategies of Ken Hogan and John Commins illustrated.

Pick a side of the goal and leather the ball as far as possible down that side of the field. But there were signs of what was to come too, like when Tony Keady had the gumption to try a short free as the game approached its conclusion. One can only smile when imagining the tongue-lashing he got off Farrell when it went completely wrong.

The passion, integrity and intensity on display was mind boggling and was best illustrated by Aidan Ryan hurling the ball with half a hurley (the bottom half for those of you wondering). It was a brilliant night’s entertainment.

It wasn’t better, it wasn’t worse it was just brilliant in its own right.

Let’s hope for more of the same this weekend. Tipperary have made it clear that the league matters to them this year while Micheál Donoghue has said that he thinks Galway are “coming into a bit of form”.

All the ingredients are there. Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t keep it such a secret?

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