The thought of it had been hovering around like a black cloud over Galtee Mór all week. Thurles on Saturday night for the football and again Sunday for the hurling. The idea of staying overnight was appealing, particularly with an early-throw in on the Sunday, but when the matter was broached, it was shot down. Emphatically.
Admittedly, there were fleeting thoughts of leaving Saturday night go, but in the end, conscience got the better of me and I steeled myself with the old maxim; if you expect nothing, you can’t be disappointed.
In Tipperary, Cork have a senior when it comes to apathy for football, even if they are going through a purple patch. Thankfully, this meant that we didn’t have to leave until late and parking was almost too easy. The relaxed nature of things in and around Tom Semple’s field was more akin to the prelude to a minor game than the semi-final of a Munster championship.
As we strolled through the pitches at the back of the Killinan End we had a birds-eye view of the Tipp warm-up, as it was happening literally in front of us. Hard to imagine seeing that before a hurling game. Speaking of hurling, Thurles Sars were playing JK Bracken’s in a game on their pitch. Again, hard to imagine it happening before a big hurling championship game, not to mind a semi-final.
A couple of talking heads informed us that it was a junior game, and that in the football “Tipp were in grave danger of winning.” Hurling snobbery will die hard in this, or indeed any, part of the world.
Inside we were relegated to the New Stand (which is more like the Old Stand as regular patrons will know) and we were joined by 3,337 other souls for the Munster Senior football semi-final. Cork weren’t badly represented in that small number, but Tipp were more vocal in their support on a perfect evening for football.
Of course, while expecting nothing is just a mechanism for trying to ease pain, it also leaves room to be pleasantly surprised. And pleasantly surprised we were as Cork did what they should always really be doing to Tipperary in football.
It meant that by the time Loris Karius was asking himself “my God, what have I done?” we were skipping back down the M8 with a pep in our step after a surprisingly relaxing evening. This journey was earmarked as the most likely time for an existential crisis. A time for reflecting on the madness of it all, a time for questioning the point of it all. But instead we were positive, happy and, dare I say it, even cautiously optimistic.
At home, the beers in the fridge purchased as a means for escape were transformed into ones that could be savoured while watching Gareth Bale’s moment of magic. Still though, by the time the alarm went off on Sunday morning, motivation was low. Imagine how bad it could have been?
Thurles was like a different place on Sunday. We were there early, because, well because parking is an issue for hurling days out, but there were others who were there even earlier. The Square was nothing like it would be on Munster Final day, but at least you knew that there was a match on. There were even a few Cork lads trying unsuccessfully (thankfully) to find a rhythm on a drum through a haze of Clonmel wine. At 10:30.
Up and around the stadium there was a definite sense of occasion if not quite the same tension you get for the knockout games, though that wasn’t long changing after the throw-in. There was even a regular if largely inefficient and unnecessary bag-check. On Saturday evening you could have walked in sporting a balaclava and nobody would have batted an eyelid.
The theme from Chariots of Fire was a welcome change from the usual fare and captured the Corinthian – or is it Spartan? - spirit of the Munster hurling championship much more effectively.
Anyway, this time our own numbers had grown by one and we were joined by 22,453 others. Again, we were pleasantly surprised for long spells. However, just as Cork should always be beating Tipp in football, in hurling it’s important to expect anything and everything. And that’s what we got. Same as it ever was.
All in all, the madness was all worth it and sometimes there’s no point in trying to make any sense of it. Even ‘Hawkeye’ captured the mood of the country by dishing out more ‘tá’ than ‘níl’. There was a great win for the footballers, an emotional rollercoaster with the hurlers and plenty to talk about, look back on and look forward to.
Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.