With the sporting summer we’ve so far had — Irish cricketers storming Lord’s, young Irish soccer players dazzling in Europe, young Irish sprinters winning medals, and some lad from Clara winning the Open up north, you could almost be forgiven for forgetting about the hurling.
Indeed, watching All- Ireland hurling semi-finals in July feels a little like eating Christmas dinner in October. It’s disconcerting, especially for the constant — yet casual — fan, who typically relies on the hurling to fill Gaelic football sized voids on off weekends.
Further discombobulation comes with the realisation that both semi-finals now occur on the same weekend — and stranger still — one happens on a Saturday night, during Mass? This is real ‘Dylan goes electric’ stuff, especially when you cop this has been going on for a year now and you were never aware.
Comfort comes at least in The Sunday Game panel for yesterday’s showdown between Tipp and Wexford, who to a person were dressed like they were heading straight to the Galway Races as soon as events wrapped in Drumcondra.
There is, for the casual fan, a certain absence of cynicism in how we digest the personalities involved in the game, be it in the media or on the sideline.
This is partly due to the fact that hurlers are much less recognisable due to those dastardly helmets, and so have had less negative impact on the collective psyche. They appear more humble, more at peace with themselves and utterly infatuated with their sport, so much so that that expression of love has become the only stick to beat them with.
They love their game too much (Anthony Daly speaks about hurlers like they are all his nephews). There are no debates about rule changes, about financial inequality amongst the counties, about two-tier competitions. Hell, they even love the restructured provincial championships.
Hurling is that six-kid family down the road who all got Medicine and somehow remained ordinary decent people. Hurling people are generally happier. And we haven’t even mentioned the UNESCO stuff.
So, all things considered, hurling could well afford an off weekend. Routine wins for Limerick and Tipp would have sufficed and given everybody a chance to take stock of all the sports consumed and actually do a decent week’s work without being utterly flummoxed by its unpredictability.
What transpired with the victories of Kilkenny and Tipp would leave you scratching your head trying to remember who actually did win The Open last weekend. It was truly epic, unsullied by anything save for the heartache of those not victorious, whose dreams, like the snows of yesteryear, evaporated in the climactic heat of battle.
For all the heroism on the field, however, there was one performance off it that will live longest in the memory for many.
Especially those stuck in cars with families or, even more pertinently, tens of thousands living abroad.
John Mullane’s co-commentary on RTÉ Radio 1 has often divided opinion. Yet the Waterford man’s performance yesterday alongside Marty Morrissey was as pure and passionate in nature as any performance on the pitch.
Hearing him screech “This is what we live for Marty!” minutes from the end of what was an incredible game may seem a little contrived on paper, but for those thousands upon thousands of people listening the world over, he was screaming a truth too often apologised for.
Nobody better articulated the frustration from the performance of yesterday’s match officials. “Just let it go would ya” was the refrain of the entire country, not just Mullane.
But he delivered perfectly nonetheless.
You would love to see him commentate on a cricket Test match.
There is a danger always, as he gains more notoriety for his performances, that
he may become self-aware and
his impromptu passion may cede to self-consciousness. But, it seems, much like the game of hurling, he is practically incorruptible.
He may trend more than Maura from Longford and dominate memes and montages, he may even be adorned with UNESCO heritage status himself.
But like so many more of us who tune in weekend after weekend to be removed and inspired, he can’t help get lost in that which he so obviously adores. Long may it last.