London calls for a look at how other half live

2014 hurling championship started last month, well before the television broadcasters began their salvos

The Emeralds GAA club ground, Páirc Smáirgaid, in Ruislip, London.

The Emeralds GAA club ground, Páirc Smáirgaid, in Ruislip, London.


The race for domination of this season’s television championship coverage has had a staggered start with The Sunday Game team first out of the traps. The SG social media department have been extremely busy dispatching their proselytising propaganda with clockwork regularity over the past fortnight. The retweeting department must have been on overtime such was the volume being redirected to the greater cyber world.

Sky entered the war this week with their opening salvo (which drew an unnecessary tweet from the SG’s loose cannon), a short advertisement featuring Clare hurler Tony Kelly and Dublin dynamo Michael Darragh Macauley, ironically being aired on RTÉ. There also was a quite understated launch at Croke Park last Monday with the new analysts and presenters being presented to the interested GAA world.

So the television rivalry has begun with RTÉ pushing themselves ahead before a ball was pucked or kicked. We await Sky’s bells and whistles and some insightful analysis.

Hopefully the viewing public will be the winners over the next number of months.

So it was with considerable interest that I made my way to my first championship hurling match of the year last Sunday. Awake, and on the move early but didn’t get the dinner in after breakfast (a la D’Unbelievables) so that I’d get a clear run at the day. Hurling championship I hadn’t been to the venue since St Finbarr’s played there in a friendly in the late 1980s. I really don’t remember much about the first time I played there with the Cork hurlers in the late spring of 1979 (on our way to Jersey to play the locals in a game of hurling). But last Sunday it was the venue for part of the hurling championship 2014.

The journey is a lot less trying when there’s a train involved. “Sit back and let CIE do the driving,” the advertisement of yesteryear went. We sat back and let our train driver (from a different company and union) do the driving. Yes, we were heading for Páirc Smáirgaid, aka the Emeralds GAA ground, without a match ticket but we were sure enough that wouldn’t be a problem.

There’s always banter on match day but today was different. There was a distinct lack of noise or colour.

The station was quite enough. No hats or flags for sale. No “anyone buyin’ or sellin’ a ticket” to be heard.

Even when we arrived at the ground one would be forgiven for thinking that I was after getting the date wrong. But soon enough a high-vis clad male from Cork assured me I was in the right place but he wondered what the hell was I doing there. Yes, a smiling Bill O’Callaghan from Mitchelstown (over 50 years spent in this capital city but his accent is very much of home) was on gate duty and he represented the GAA well in his front-of-house position. The €9 entry fee was paid with the match programme being good value for an extra two quid.

Soon some of the home team players began arriving in dribs and drabs, only recognisable by the bags and the hurley.

The opposition arrived by bus but without the police outriders today.

Country music rang out over the Tannoy, which all went to assure us that we were among friends. The away fans were arriving and the pitchside bar was busy for a while and the sun shone brightly as the teams warmed up.

No band today. The pitch looked well. The team line-ups were announced. A youthful sounding Seán Ó Sé sang Amhrán na bhFiann and Tipperary referee Fergal Horgan threw in the sliotar.

The few hundred present basked in the sunshine but the game never rose above mediocre. Half backs Joe FitzPatrick and Matthew Whelan stood out in an impressive opening quarter for Laois but after that a bit of a lull set in that never lifted.

London did well and could have caused a shock but Séamus Plunkett’s team held on. But Laois’s championship 2014 didn’t begin last Sunday in Ruislip against London.

Tiny crowd No, it began in Mullingar, against the home team before a tiny crowd as the eyes of the hurling world were all on Thurles, where more than 20,000 and a live television audience watched Kilkenny and Tipperary battle it out in the league final.

The Westmeath game came on the second weekend of a five-team, round-robin series played over a month-long period with the top two teams out again on June 1st against Galway and Wexford.

Surely, while the idea is good enough, the time frame isn’t very fair on the teams. Five games in six weeks is hardly showing much consideration to amateur teams who don’t have the luxury of the rest and recovery time that the professional sports people have.

I realise that coming up with a format which will suit all the relevant counties is probably an impossibility but the so-called less successful teams need to be nursed along very carefully.

I’ve already expressed the opinion that hurling is in danger of becoming even more elite than it already is.

The facts, acknowledged or otherwise, are that one of six teams will win this year’s All-Ireland senior hurling championship.

There are at least six more that would love to be competitive with the top group and are making very credible efforts within their counties to reach that high standard but they’re not getting enough help or encouragement from headquarters.

This weekend the action continues and hopefully before that first Sunday in September we’ll see a “new team” creating a few headlines.

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