IT WASN’T just the slate-grey skies and buffeting wind which created the chilly, sterile atmosphere that followed Sunday’s All-Ireland final in Croke Park.
The contrast between the raw passion of the game and the stage-managed presentation couldn’t have been more pronounced.
At its essence, hurling is a primal sport, rooted in ancient values and unwritten rules.
And for those of us who were privileged enough to be in Croke Park, Sunday’s epic encounter between Kilkenny and Tipperary bore true testimony to the warrior code which continues to permeate the game.
The entire match was played with a feral intensity. The first free was awarded after Noel McGrath launched himself at an opponent. Had it been the Champions League, McGrath would now be serving a 34-game ban.
But this is hurling. This is the GAA. Michael Wadding declined to book McGrath and simply awarded a free.
There wasn’t a murmur of complaint. Such was the pace, will, and boundless energy of the hurlers there was no time to dwell on the past.
It was totally frenetic and the crowd was carried on the storm of action; shouting, praying, and willing that each new wave would sweep them closer to safety and success.
Sadly, the scenes which followed the final whistle were an absolute betrayal of the riveting drama that was witnessed by the crowd of 81,765.
Having beaten the team that couldn’t be beaten, the people of Tipperary ached to be with their champions, who after all, are their brothers, sons, neighbours, and friends.
But Tipperary were denied this traditional celebration by the black wall of hired bouncers, gardaí, and stewards who stood staring intently into the Cusack Stand, Hogan Stand, and Canal End.
There was no need to man Hill 16 as those potential troublemakers were safely caged behind a nine-foot Perspex-topped barrier.
It was a disturbing spectacle. Segregation in Croke Park. Supporters being kept from their team by outsiders who held up luminous orange webbing.
As the would-be hooligans were kept in their pens, the carefully choreographed ‘Plan A’ swung into action. A massive blue and yellow banner was carried onto the pitch.
Presumably to save money, the GAA’s marketing department bought some golden ticker tape, the idea being that the colour would satisfy either of the eventual winners. They should have shelled out the extra few euro because the glitzy tinsel was suspiciously amber in hue.
Of course if an English soccer fan had been in Croke Park, he would have found the presentation entirely acceptable.
English fans are used to being herded like cattle, while banners and exploding confetti are standard practice for cup presentations across the globe.
It must also be stated that if there ever comes a time when GAA supporters are content to sit in the stands, and be entertained by these largely homogenous spectacles, then there will be no reason to complain.
However, and herein lies the crux of the matter, it was evident to all and sundry in Croke Park that Tipperary’s fans were not happy at the way they were forced to stay in their seats.
And the main reason the presentation was such a huge anti-climax was because it was artificial. It came courtesy of the muscle of the private security firm. It was contrived, manufactured, and unreal. The empty pitch just didn’t ring true to the occasion.
The sanitised scenes seemed so
totally removed from what had gone before that it was oddly disconcerting. It looked unnatural. It was like being served a bowl of flavourless ice-cream after a plate of curry.
Those watching on television must have felt like they had switched channels. In a few short minutes we went from the spirit of Cúchulainn to the corporate spirit of Mastercard and the Champions League. It was utterly soulless.
And the same questions beg to be asked. Why was this being done? And in whose name has the cultural pillaging of our All-Ireland finals been committed?
Croke Park keep telling us it’s for the safety of supporters, none of whom have ever been seriously injured in a pitch celebration.
They tell us that it’s about the cost of personal injury claims. This is both laughable and risible. If money is tight in Croke Park, then don’t spend €500,000 on fireworks, or €800,000 on consultancy fees.
Of course it goes without saying that Croke Park’s apparatchiks were beaming with delight on Sunday. They would have considered the sorry spectacle to have been a resounding success. That tells its own story.
The really sad aspect to it all is that it could have been brilliant. When Tipp substitute Pat
Kerwick sang [The Galtee Mountain Boy’, everything was in place for a truly iconic moment. But a singer needs an audience and Kerwick didn’t have one.
Thousands of jubilant Tipperary fans should have been standing in front of Kerwick, joining in gleeful unison and belting out the chorus. Instead they were dispersed across a vast stadium.It was a pity.
Some have also questioned why RTÉ didn’t broadcast the Tipperary players’ lap of honour.
Television producers understand what makes good pictures. And a squad of players running past row upon rows of empty seats just doesn’t work.
Most of the neutrals and many Tipperary supporters had vacated the wet, windy ground by the time the players did their circuit of the pitch.
Croke Park Ltd may have got what they wanted, but for Tipperary fans it left Croke Park feeling all too cold. Too cold by far.
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