Drawing a line in the sand

SATURDAY’S rugby didn’t start and end with Ireland and the All Blacks. It wasn’t quite as physical on Murríoch beach in Dingle for the tag rugby, but Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell didn’t have to contend with encroaching tides either. Michael Moynihan reports.

THEY were playing rugby on a beach out where Europe comes to an abrupt end.

Last Saturday morning, most of the rugby fans you know were probably rubbing the sleep out of their eyes as they warmed up the television for Ireland versus the All Blacks, live from Wellington.

Adrian Curran was shaking sand out of his shorts at around the same time. The honorary secretary of Corca Dhuibhne RFC was roaming Murríoch beach at Ballydavid on the Dingle Peninsula before 9am on Saturday morning, preparing the site for the beach tag rugby tournament later that day. Hanging yellow signs on every signpost between Ballydavid and Dingle town. Setting up the public address.

And marking the pitch: drawing a line in the sand isn’t a metaphorical expression when you’re playing rugby on a beach.

“We’re organising this since last January,” said Curran. “We got a calendar of events going and prepared really well for it. This is the first time we’ve had it back here, it’s just a shame about the weather.”

Yes, the weather. One of the great mantras in modern sport is controlling what you can control, but the coach or manager hasn’t yet been born who could bring the rain to order. At nine o’clock in the morning Curran and his willing co-workers on Murrioch beach were slathering on the sunscreen.

By lunchtime the umbrellas were out. If it were the Millennium

Stadium they could close the roof, but instead, all participants enjoyed that soft drizzle peculiar to Dingle Peninsula, a light veil of rain that cleans out the pores.

In any case, the day was about having fun, and with about 160 players registered for the tournament proper, by 1pm there were over 200 people milling around in the shadow of An Ghaeltacht GAA club, with a fair cross-section of accents to be heard.

“We had teams here from Cork and Limerick,” said Curran. “Some local teams from Kerry, obviously, a team from Nenagh. A few teams were committed but just couldn’t make it on the day, that’s just one of those things — we’ll be looking into having a lot more teams registering to play next year.

“The rugby’s a side issue, to be honest. We have people coming out here for the day — for the barbecue and the craic. There are tag rugby leagues all over the county which take the sporting end of it a lot more seriously than we do — this tournament is just a bit of fun.”

In that context all the participants struck the right note. Team names such as the Sandy Cracks, Beach Bums and Total Rubbish didn’t contravene the Trades Description Act, though obviously we’d be a little slower to make the same claim about the Dock Road Hookers.

A Munster Legends team including the likes of Mick Galwey and Brian O’Meara took to the field — sorry, beach — in the right spirit also. For those unaware of the niceties of tag rugby, the game goes through rugby league-type phases, determined by players snatching the velcro-ed tags from the shorts of the player in possession.

Galwey, a man more used to the punishing grind of maul and ruck, showed a surprising deftness in whipping tags from the hips of opponents flying past. Helps when your extended arms cover most of the width of the pitch, of course.

As the day wore on, a couple of the pitches had to be abandoned, and with good reason, the man on the PA announcing with a straight face that the organisers didn’t want anyone to drown. The ideal image would probably have been a Copacabana-type fiesta with elegant stepping and powdery sand being kicked into the air, but the squelching mud and spattered legs added to the good humour.

By around four in the afternoon you could tell which sides were heading for the final showdown: they were the ones with high-water marks of mud up around the mid-thighs, while those who were out of contention early were far cleaner above the ankles.

As the competition neared the final, more and more players were looking for showers. They were directed into An Ghaeltacht GAA club’s facilities, and Adrian Curran stressed the cross-community support for the event.

“It’s been great, everyone has rowed in to support and using the shower facilities in the GAA club grounds is only one example of that.

“When the gaelic football club grounds were being redeveloped they did training on the rugby pitch, so it’s a situation where everyone pitches in to help each other. You have all the same youngsters playing underage with the two clubs, so families are all involved with both clubs. We all work hand in hand, as it should be.”

The eventual winners were the Beach Bums; if they reassemble to defend their title next year, they could be dealing with more off-field distraction than the PA and bouncy castle on the strand last weekend.

“Next year we’re thinking about the August weekend and making a big event out of it,” said Curran. “That would mean having the tag rugby tournament on the beach again, but also staging a music festival, an underage rugby tournament, and so on.”

Underfoot conditions will be a consideration, of course. Curran outlined the particular challenge of pitch maintenance for beach tag rugby: “We’re thinking of trying the long weekend next year, but everything depends on the tides. The next time we have had a tide like this would be next August weekend, so we had to hold this tournament over these couple of days.”

After the tournament finished, the flags and markers on the field were removed, and Murríoch beach was returned to a silence broken only by the gentle thundering of the waves.

The organisers’ work wasn’t quite finished, though. Later that evening — around the time Match of the Day is usually on, say — your correspondent was returning to his hotel on Strand Street in Dingle when a car pulled up alongside, inhabited by most of the Corca Dhuibhne pack.

They were making sure everyone knew where to go in town for a refreshing drink after the tournament.

After all, they said, isn’t that what it’s all about?


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