Michael Moynihan: There’s a curious new sound of summer across the championship playing fields

Michael Moynihan: There’s a curious new sound of summer across the championship playing fields
Referee, Mark Maher, throws the sliothar in to start the first hurling championship game of 2020, with Donal English and Paul Leopold, Sarsfields, Cormac Walsh and Sam Quirke, Midleton. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

It’s well established that there’s no such thing as simple observation in science - that organisms, groups, people, and other phenomena are changed because of that observation.

What about phenomena which are not observed, or at least observed in the flesh (as opposed to the excellent Irish Examiner live-stream)?

The constituent parts of a good senior hurling championship game were on offer in Páirc Uí Rinn tonight. In Midleton and Sarsfields we had two local rivals in action, with neither of them overwhelming favourites; a calm evening with little wind and no rain to ruin proceedings; a heaving crowd of passionate supporters, thirsty for action...

Well, you see the constituent part that was missing. There were passionate supporters on hand. There just weren’t too many of them.

One effect of the empty stadium is the audible clash, the carrying sound from two hurleys colliding. Midway through the first half a Midleton forward wound up and pulled - legitimately - to disperse a thicket of legs and sticks in the middle of the field: the impact carried across to the stand and beyond.

That’s one of the forgotten aspects of a big crowd, the cloaking of all of these encounters in silence. From a distance a thundering collision can be seen from the back of a terrace, but if the terrace is packed the sound effect never quite makes it up to the space beneath the scoreboard.

And what effect does that have in turn on the experience?

Sars got a goal on 22 minutes when centre-forward Liam Healy careered through the middle of the Midleton defence, flicking home with a clever finish.

In a traditional championship game, with a traditional championship attendance, this run of action would have been accompanied in its latter stages by a falsetto keening from the (Midleton) spectators, as the prospect of a goal became clearer and clearer.

Not so in Páirc Uí Rinn, where the quick spike in shouting died quickly in the air.

What US sports have found, admittedly from a very limited sample size, is that the absence of a crowd has certain quantifiable impacts on how a game plays out.

The advantage of being at home is not as pronounced, for instance, when there aren’t thousands of partisans in the officials’ ear.

This isn’t as much of an issue with Gaelic games, given the tradition of neutral grounds for significant games, but the lack of a soundtrack makes it appreciably harder to judge the quality.

Was Midleton-Sars bloodless?

That would be stretching the point. Without the ambient surroundings of a large, engaged attendance one could hear the late challenge on Midleton wing-forward Tommy O’Connell, one which drew the last free of the first half (converted with curling panache by Conor Lehane), leaving it 0-14 to 1-9 at the break.

In general, however, it was difficult to gauge just how competitive the game was without that interactive constituency weighing in from the stands. At times the noise seemed appropriate for a keenly-contested league game, or a challenge match which had suddenly sparked into feistiness.

Cillian Roche, Sarsfields contests a ball with  Conor Lehane of Midleton. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Cillian Roche, Sarsfields contests a ball with  Conor Lehane of Midleton. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

The upside of the silence? A rapidly growing database of player nicknames; audible groans when a free-taker knew his strike was tailing wide; and a higher level of mentor-supporter banter.

A friend of this correspondent claims to have detected observers - or maybe auditors - at a Dublin hurling game lately who were evaluating players by the sound of their striking as it carried across the field, an affectation which sounds both completely ridiculous and utterly believable.

If any such mavens were in Páirc Uí Rinn they surely appreciated the sharp retort when Luke O’Farrell found the net for Midleton in the second half, but it was Sars nudging ahead in the closing stages and fittingly one of their forwards - James Sweeney - had the final word with a fine point.

No matter what the accompaniment, 2-17 to 1-17 was a decent score. And reflected a decent contest.

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