“I’ve never seen my wife so excited!”
Not the kind of remark by a close friend that you tend to forget. Frank, son of Donegal, is making his way through the crush of a bar in Drumcondra.
August 21, 2005. Why not exult? Galway have just smathered Kilkenny, 5-18 to 4-18.
Eleven points up with 11 minutes to go, they held off a late charge as the finale to an extraordinary contest. Len Gaynor immediately declared it the finest game he had ever seen. The pity at the time was the attention alloted to Séamus Roche’s controversial refereeing.
Frank has seen me and his face is a bulb. Maura, daughter of Galway City and reared with scant love of GAA matters, is beside him. Maura changed her mind because of hurling. She cannot speak, save to smile.
That public house was the most singular mood ever found after a match. People were shaking hands, like evangelicals, hectic with good wishes. A stranger would have had a hard time discerning who had lost.
That evening, Frank knew open sentiment would not be minded. The whole place was coming down with going up.
“What about that?” he repeated, in a daze, looking around as if he expected to see the Galway team in the corner. “Genuinely, I have never seen my wife so excited…”
Kilkenny folk were baying for Brian Cody’s departure as they ordered drink, blasting him out of it. A man from my own place, someone who would clear a creamery of mice and worse, insisted I agree with him on Cody having to go. I tried to smile and turned away.
Even the mightiest achievements in sport hang by gossamer from the frame of their years. This Sunday, Kilkenny take on Galway in the Leinster final. Judging on the season so far, the reigning champions should win by five or six points.
Ten years ago, the idea of Sunday’s meeting would have seemed daft. But events overtake every other consideration in the end and so it has proved for hurling.
All Ireland quarter-finals for provincial champions, Galway in Leinster, talk of motions to Congress about preventing Kilkenny winning through the back door: these tilts all derived from what one county achieved, 2006 onwards.
Never forget: all those achievements, despite their weight, were hung by gossamer.
Everything could have been different. Same evening in 2005, back down home, a local met up with several Kilkenny hurlers out on the town. They were upstairs in a pub on Rose Inn Street, the noise outside on the pavements like a weir, and they were discussing who would be the next Kilkenny manager.
Brian Cody had given in the dressingroom what came across as a farewell speech.
The players were struggling for names and they kept struggling over a session’s worth of speculation.
Cody’s autobiography records that moment. He was minded to go, getting off the team bus, but thought again after being approached to stay on by three players in the hotel car park. What if those players had held their whist?
Galway-Kilkenny encounters have shaped 21st century hurling. Should Kilkenny win well this Sunday, it will be an ominous sign not just for 2015 but for a while. Galway became an audit for the stripy men. Insiders murmur that Brian Cody gets more animated over them than over any other opponent.
Defeat to Galway in the 2001 All Ireland semi-final reset his views on preparation.
Following 2005, the counties’ meeting in 2006 and in 2007 were a milestone that could easily have been a millstone. Last season, meltdown in the drawn match removed Jackie Tyrell from centre back, a temporary rejig that held and became significant.
So and all, next Sunday opens its arms with promise, not least because that August day in 2005 remains a hallucination. It was a luminous occasion beyond the lid of heat. I met up beforehand with a friend, a Craughwell native. There fell a pleasant hour before battle.
As we took our leave, Michael leaned in. Kindly, ever so kindly, he told me Galway would win and that Niall Healy would score goals. “Watch him do the Craughwell jump when he gets the first one,” he said. “Watch for the jump.” Galway hurled as if on a cliff, nervous of where their brilliance would bring them.
Seagulls wheeled and complained in the stadium. Niall Healy jumped before the wire. Brian Cody thought of going.
Now we realise that Kilkenny’s comeback, although unsuccessful, was the four-in-a-row’s true beginning.
Looking back, it was a game they needed to lose.
Some of the attacking was superb. Eddie Brennan finally found his feet. But the backs offered too much fouling, too much lunging in, too much space. Noel Hickey’s importance was emphasised in his absence, like a bell across frosted fields.
All would be put right. Come time, with Hickey back. Cha Fitzpatrick, made a midfielder, would indirectly mind Michael Kavanagh by holding hands with Tommy Walsh on the right flank.
Truth told, that day in 2005 was a hallucination ever before it ended. Win, lose or draw, Frank and Maura were coming down to Ballyhale for a couple of days. Heading off, we bought a bottle of Crested Ten, thinking ahead. I fell asleep halfway down, as Frank drove and Maura became more certain about Séamus Roche’s decisions.
They woke me in Derrynahinch, disgruntled, shaved from sleep. I must have been dreaming that Brian Cody continues and that Kilkenny take seven of the next nine titles.
The whiskey had been too much after a long outing.
Those thoughts, after such a day, could only be madness.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved