‘Nothing transports me back to Ireland like hurling commentary’
Sunday Sport on RTÉ is a lifeline for a hurling enthusiast missing the action but listening in from Jeddah
Hurling fan David Murphy (left) with his my uncle Pat, dad Michael, wife Cilla and sister Laura, at last year’s Munster SHC semi-final (Tipp v Limerick) in Semple Stadium, Thurles.
With the passing of time, many of us inherit many of our parents’ mannerisms, and enjoyment of things we would never have admitted to in our youth. I am now at the age where I can happily say I enjoy the placid circumlocutory of RTÉ Radio 1, so beloved by my father.
There’s one show I listen to every week from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, where I now live, and that is Sunday Sport. The programme is especially good during the GAA season, most of all for the all-Ireland hurling championship series. Like many an expat, I find great solace in the familiar; the accents, the mannerisms, and the callouts to those listening at home and abroad. Nothing in the world transports me back to Ireland quite like the commentary on hurling matches.
I remember the excitement as a child of travelling up to Dublin to watch my county, Kilkenny, or my father’s beloved Tipperary, go to battle for honour and silverware. The whole pomp and ceremony of the event. The early morning start, sometimes with a visit to the local church to try to get the big man on side for the day. The packing of the car with jackets, umbrellas, flasks of tea or bottles of soft drinks, and sandwiches (usually ham) and crisps.
Once the parking of the car was out of the way, you were immersed in the noise and excitement of the walk towards the citadel of the GAA – Croke Park. Watching the droves of fans (usually up from the country) milling about, sometimes looking confused.
My dad and uncles would bemoan the cost of parking, and regale us with tales of days when you paid no more than a pound or two. We would also hear stories of our grandfathers cycling up to the games, but not before milking the cows.
When the sandwiches and tea had been consumed, it was on to the pub for a pre-match pint, a part of the day I suspect the adults looked forward to the most. Us children were seated somewhere out of the way and subdued with glasses of Coke and packets of crisps, while they propped up the bar downing pints.
Suddenly, the packed bodies inside the pub would start shuffling out as the minor game came to its conclusion. That was the sign that we were ready to move on. I loved getting my first glimpse of Croker, an impressive structure that towers over surrounding buildings. As you got closer, it seemed to take over the sky.
Once inside, my father had to locate a match programme. When it was firmly clasped in his hand, we moved to our seats. The younger/cooler members of the travelling party would head to ‘the Hill’, and depending on the weather, get drowned with rain, or on the rare occasion, sunburnt.
As the sweets were handed out, our attention would shift to the Artane Boys Band. When they appeared on the pitch, you knew things were about to get serious. In between, my father would pour over the programme and give his verdict on the team, either cursing or lamenting an inclusion or an exclusion. It was always a source of great pride if one of your clubmen made the team – you always saved your loudest cheer for those players.
There always seemed to be a micro-silence just before the teams arrived on the pitch (or bounded onto the pitch like spring calves let out to grass). The cheering and roaring reached deafening levels as your team ran out and your county flags shot up into the air.
The adrenaline surging through the players’ veins would barely abate as they sat down or stood impatiently for the team photo and the march behind the band. The cheering would be broken by the almost reverential pause for Amhrán na bhFiann.
Then the ref would gather the players as he prepared to throw in the ball, wisely taking a step back as the counties drew first blood and pulled hard on the thrown ball. The excitement would be thick in the air as the hopes and failures of the year hung on the next 70 minutes of all-consuming action.
These memories always flood my mind when listening I am to Sunday Sport from my sitting room in the Middle East. The power of the commentator’s voice, the passion, the soliloquies, the emotion, the scene setting, the roar of the crowd in the background.
Listening to the all-Ireland semi-final between Cork and Waterford recently, I was enthralled. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine being there among the masses. Watching the Déise and the Rebels going toe-to-toe; watching ‘The Rock’ and ‘Big Dan’ renewing old rivalries on the sideline.
All going to plan, come the first Sunday of September, I’ll be attending the all-Ireland final for the first time since I left home. I’m hoping to get tickets, but I presume they’ll be like gold dust for the unique pairing of Galway and Waterford.
Hopefully, my father and I can go, like the old times, but this time also bring along my Australian wife. More than anything, I’d love her to experience the grandeur of an all-Ireland final day. Now it’s just a question of sourcing tickets, and who to shout for?