Eimear Ryan: Club players have warmed up to the sight of ourselves on screen

Like Narcissus catching a glimpse of himself in a puddle, you grow enamoured of watching yourself from the same perspective as you’ve been watching your heroes on The Sunday Game for years
Eimear Ryan: Club players have warmed up to the sight of ourselves on screen

Courcey Rovers celebrate their Cork Senior Camogie title win at the final whistle. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

There has been an odd sort of glamour to this strange, foreshortened GAA season. Out from the shadow of the inter-county championships, club games are firing the popular imagination. 

The water break now facilitates talk of the ‘quarters’ in a game, giving post-match analysis a distinctly American flavour. And because of live-streaming, many club players are now, perhaps for the first time, able to watch themselves play.

Whether it’s analysing opposition or watching your own performance to see what could have been done better or differently, club players are getting to enjoy the county player experience for the first time.

I interviewed the great Gemma O’Connor earlier this year, about eight weeks into lockdown. In a wide-ranging conversation that covered sports biographies, Netflix’s The Last Dance, and the pros and cons of team buses, she mentioned that she shies away from watching her own games.

“I actually hate watching myself,” she confessed. “I’m very critical of myself. I never rewatch All-Ireland finals.”

She’s in good company — Renee Zellweger, Adam Driver and Joaquin Phoenix are similarly reluctant to watch themselves onscreen. But it’s a different story for those of us for whom being filmed is a new experience.

At first it’s a bit unheimlich, like seeing your own face on screen during Zoom meetings. You think: do I really run like that? Is my swing/pick/handpass really that awkward? Is that what my teammates have been looking at for years?

But then you warm up to the sight of yourself. Like Narcissus catching a glimpse of himself in a puddle, you grow enamoured of watching yourself from a distance, the sight both new and familiar. You get used to your own awkward gait, the idiosyncratic swing. You get to see yourself in a whole new light: from the same perspective as you’ve been watching your heroes on The Sunday Game for years.

Live-streaming club games has been well within our technological grasp for a number of years, but perhaps it’s only in this strange year that we’ve felt the need to get organised and systematic about it. 

Media organisations, including this newspaper, have been excellent in facilitating coverage, and there are now YouTube channels and Facebook live streams for every game in every county at every level in every code. Not only have I been able to watch my own squad’s games back, but also my siblings’ games back in Tipp.

The ingenuity and entrepreneurship of the brave pioneers in this new digital frontier are to be commended. It’s hard not to be won over by commentators who maintain the utmost professionalism for the majority of the game, but can’t help but roar ‘g’wan Johnny!’ when their team wins a ball on the edge of the square.

In 2020, club games are on our feeds and our screens, taking up the space that was once occupied by inter-county games. Where once we might only have followed the fortunes of clubs we had a connection to, club matches have now become the universal GAA experience, the conduits through which we collectively feel that special catharsis. We rejoiced with Kiladangan even as our hearts broke for Loughmore.

This is all positive, but it’s also true that games are now more difficult to ignore. In the Before Times, it was still possible to pretend that a fixture wasn’t taking place; to bury your head in the sand when a final that you had planned to be involved in goes ahead, remorselessly, without you.

So it was last Sunday when the Cork county camogie final between Courcey Rovers and Inniscarra was broadcast. I was part of the St Finbarr’s squad that lost the semi-final the previous weekend to Inniscarra by a goal. 

If there had been a two-week gap between the semi-final and final, I might have been looking forward to watching the game, but as it was it felt too raw. I dithered all morning over whether I should stream it or not.

I ended up watching it. And thankfully, it was a cracker.

Inniscarra, in their fifth county final on the trot, were explosive from the get-go. Courceys found themselves five points behind after just 12 minutes, but in a plot twist, Iniscarra wouldn’t score again until the 28th minute.

Linda Collins and Fiona Keating, inspirational up front all day, kept Courceys in touch with points from play in that difficult opening quarter. Their first goal in the 23rd minute was a result of brilliant interplay between the two, Keating keeping the head when her first shot was saved to connect with the rebound. 

From there, Courceys’ confidence grew, with Saoirse McCarthy’s playmaking and Jacinta Crowley’s long-range points widening the gap.

Inniscarra came out with defiance and determination in the second half, but after a brilliant opening long-range point from Joanne Casey, it was a frustrating period for them, as chances dropped short or drifted wide. 

Seven minutes into the second half, Fiona Keating once again reacted calmly when her first shot was saved by Sheila Walsh to slot away the rebound. Her ghost-like ability to float unnoticed through on goal was one of the game’s highlights, and saw her complete a hat-trick by the 41st minute.

It’s always thrilling to see a club win its first county title, but Inniscarra deserve praise too for their consistency and mettle over the last several years. I come from an underdog tradition, and have always been fascinated by teams who manage to put titles back to back. 

What must it be like to be a Kilkenny or a Carnacon, to go out every year expecting to win the ultimate prize, and to have the odds and the data back you up? Winning is a habit and an attitude, that’s true, but there’s a dozen other factors too, and it’s a rare thing when all of those factors align in one panel.

Though I initially switched on the game with trepidation, by the end of it I was glad I tuned in. Good sport, as it always does, makes you want to pick up the hurley and go again.

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