Clare restore balance to hurling’s main stage in classical style
Saturday’s All-Ireland replay was a reminderthat sport provides serious drama as well as exhilarating spectacle
Clare’s Conor McGrath celebrates scoring his sides fourth goal against Cork. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Just as it is a condition of Gaelic games that every exciting match will be scrutinised, tagged and filed as ‘the greatest ever’ or ‘the best since . . .’ so also are the inevitable responses that ‘the defending was poor’ or ‘I don’t get the fuss about this’ or ‘the nineteen hundred and splash semi-final was far better’.
Who really cares? When matches like the Dublin-Kerry football semi-final or the two-day epic of the hurling final occur, you enjoy them in the moment because that’s when they take place. Everything else – conversational review, rationalisation, categorising and comparisons – is strictly historical post hoc.
Aristotle’s principles of tragedy maintain that it should purge the emotions through pity and terror in order to re-balance what he regarded these most extreme feelings.
Whatever about pity, any supporter in any sport knows the impact of terror in a big match – the feeling that your team is going to lose or the desire for the match to speed up when that team is doing well: let it be over and let us be ahead.
About to win
Pity can be evident but more in the crestfallen sense of self pity. I remember when the 1990s All-Ireland hurling final between Cork and Galway was nearly over and Cork about to win, an old man from Galway stood up, took his cap from his pocket, addressed the jubilant opposing supporters just behind him – “we’ll never beat ye in a final” – and shuffled away.
Similarly, former Northern Ireland deputy first minister Séamus Mallon recalled his father taking him to see their county Armagh take on Kerry in the 1953 All-Ireland final. It was a match Armagh lost but would have come closer to winning had they not missed a penalty. Mallon spoke about the scene in Eamonn Rafferty’s Talking Gaelic.
“I could take you to the exact spot where I sat, on the old sideline seats in Croke Park. I remember my father at the final whistle. He was a quiet, undemonstrative man and he always wore a hat. He took it off, stamped on it and stood there crying. It was the first time I ever saw him cry. I will never forget it.”
It’s doubtful if a Kerry man present on the same afternoon would have been so stricken in his reaction had Armagh won. That’s practice. Kerry have won more finals than any other county but also have lost more.
When the week before last the final whistle sounded at the football final, Mayo supporters could be seen breaking down in tears, as their seventh final since last winning the Sam Maguire went the same forlorn way as the other six.
Yet in the weeks between the hurling final draw and replay, a friend from Cork said dismissively of his county’s close brush with All-Ireland success for a few seconds at the end of the first match that people in Cork wouldn’t have accepted that as an All-Ireland even if they had won.