I was lucky enough to play in plenty of big games throughout my career but the most nervous I ever was before a match was the 1987 Harty Cup final against Midleton CBS.
It’s always an easy memory for me to recall, not just because St Flannan’s won that afternoon in Kilmallock, but because I can still vividly remember the tension and stress running through my body in the lead up to that game.
I was brought back to that moment on Saturday in Mallow.
With the Irish Examiner down to broadcast the match on Facebook Live, I got in underneath the tunnel beforehand.
Young hurlers now, especially county minors who regularly play in front of big crowds at championship matches, have a lot more experience and exposure than what we had.
But I could still instantly detect the absolute confusion, and nervous tension amongst the players getting ready to play, what was for most of them, the biggest game of their young lives.
When I met Cian Broderick, the Flannan’s keeper and a Clarecastle clubmate, I tried to break the ice and lighten the mood, especially on such a horrendous day for goalkeepers. ‘Go to the absolute edge of the square with every puckout today Cian,’ I said to him.
With the strength of the breeze by that stage, any goalkeeper striking into the teeth of that gale would have been lucky to pass the 20-metre line with a puckout.
When I left west Clare at 8.50am, the weather was hairy enough but, the closer I got to Mallow, the more the conditions deteriorated. The car was swaying in the breeze as I passed through Charleville. By the time I got to Buttevant, the rain was coming down in sheets. I rarely put up videos on Twitter but I almost felt compelled to do so as I posted footage of the conditions as soon as I’d parked onSaturday. ‘Duty of care to our young hurlers,’ I tweeted. ‘Joke. And getting worse.’
It baffled everyone, especially the big crowd which had travelled from Clare, why the game wasn’t called off on Friday evening, particularly when everyone knew that Storm Dennis was inhaling deeply over the Atlantic Ocean, and getting ready to exhale strongly all day Saturday.
THE increasing speed of climate change has left us all exposed to the merciless spring weather but, while colleges games have a tighter timetable with exams, this is no time for hurling, or even football for that matter. The weather could be just as bad in two weeks — games were cancelled last March because of snow — but the revamped GAA calendar leaves minimal leeway anymore.
It’s highly probable again now that, similar to last year, the hurling league final will have to share a stage with the football league final. But that’s assuming that there aren’t any more fixture cancellations in the coming weeks.
There shouldn’t have been any games played over the weekend but the real folly in such a tight scheduling window is the GAA maintaining league quarter-finals and, even semi-finals.
Finance is an obvious motivation but a league final should be decided by the top two sides in the competition.
We’ve seen more bogus and false league quarter-finals in recent years than any of us care to remember. Bar you win the league, and don’t get relegated, nobody really cares about the competition. That attitude to the league is more relevant again for everyone — players, management, supporters — with the dog-eat-dog nature of the new round-robin provincial championship format.
The whole thing is all wrong, especially when there is such a variance with the April club month.
Clare can go all out for the league because they don’t play any club championship matches, whereas reaching a league final could yet be an impediment for some counties.
That might sound like a contradiction but matters could become a lot trickier if club championships are pushed back and it squeezes their inter-county preparatory window.
Although I had made the trip in good time on Saturday, I was glad they called off the Harty final. It would have been an insult and betrayal, both to the players and the integrity and history of the competition, to reduce it to a total lottery.
HURLING is always such a chaotic spin on the roulette wheel in desperate conditions that I wouldn’t read too much into a number of games over the weekend. Cork diced with danger in Mullingar.
On Saturday evening, Carlow were only two points down against Dublin at half-time having played against a gale. Laois got the margin down to three points with the breeze at their backs with 15 minutes to play in Ennis yesterday. Shocks looked on the cards in each of those games but the fancied teams still got the job done, which is what playing in such horrendous conditions is all about.
It was much easier to gauge the temperature in Wexford Park because the heat is always rising when Kilkenny and Wexford meet.
Kilkenny looked to be in the driving seat down the home straight but, clearly desperate to maintain his winning habit over Brian Cody, Davy Fitz hauled Lee Chin, Rory O’Connor, Matthew O’Hanlon and Diarmuid O’Keeffe off the bench to get the job done.
Cody won’t be happy with another defeat, even if he still has most of his galacticos to return, but the players will be frustrated too that they can’t crack this Wexford code. A raft of Kilkenny players don’t know what it’s like to beat Wexford.
There were still positives for Kilkenny; Billy Ryan did well; Conor Browne was a success at corner-back; James Maher and Paddy Deegan were impressive; Richie Hogan got two points from play and got nearly 60 minutes under his belt; Cillian Buckley got the full match too.
Kilkenny will still reach the knockout stages and, if they do, winning another league title will be Cody’s target.
God only knows though, when that final may be played. (Storm) Ciara had hardly gone back to bed when Dennis raised his head above the covers.
Elizabeth could arrive in the coming weeks and throw everything up in a heap again.