Galway fans yearn to see favourites' tag justified
MY SENSE of Galway hurling karma crystallised in the Hogan Stand during the 1990 final. In those days of questing for All-Ireland tickets – as primal a task as ever undertaken by man the hunter in Mountjoy Square, clad in animal fur and wielding a pointy stick – you took what you could get and it wasn’t unusual to be on your own courtesy of a spare ticket, sometimes denominated in Canadian dollars.
An elderly man from Galway had been sitting beside me and after Tony O’Sullivan had signed off on Cork’s unlikely comeback with two minutes left, he arose sorrowfully to avail of the small consolation of a swift exit. As he departed, he took his cap from his pocket and turned to some jubilant Cork supporters in the row behind. “We’ll never beat ye in a final.” With that morose observation he was gone.
Back in the Dergvale hotel in the company of other Cork people I told the story in all of its pathos, a poignant counterpoint to the vibrant satisfaction thrumming around the table. One of my companions, apparently missing the point of the narrative, put down his glass and declared: “He’s right”. So far, he is.
One aspect of Katie Taylor’s Olympics challenge is she must go beyond the national personality in international sport. As a people we appear instinctively happiest when surprising others: beating England in Euro 88 etc.
Having an athlete like Taylor who consistently wins at the highest level, carries the wildest expectations and implacably meets them is really unusual. The coming days will bring the ultimate test of this “will to power”, forcibly reminiscent of Cathy Freeman at the Sydney Olympics 12 years ago.
Freeman had to light the flame at the opening ceremony and then win gold for Australia and its indigenous people. At the time I thought no athlete had ever been under such pressure to achieve.
Gaelic games lack the international dimension, that us-against-the-world narrative, which we love but the dynamics of power are similar. The leading counties are used to it. Of the five times a four-in-a-row sequence has been achieved in All-Ireland championships, on four occasions the distinction has been won by Kerry, twice in football, and Cork and Kilkenny in hurling – counties that between them have topped their respective rolls of honour for most of the GAA’s history.
Wexford are the others and their sequence – the first time it was achieved – put them joint second at the time, 1918.
Ulster football counties appear to enjoy taking on this tradition as Sunday again demonstrated although without good teams the iconoclastic impulses wouldn’t count for much. But there are many examples of counties that quail in the face of sporting aristocracy.
The feats of the Kerry footballers in the 1970s and 1980s and Kilkenny’s hurlers more recently are all the more impressive when championship format is taken into account.
Although Mick O’Dwyer’s team was clearly more gifted than the opposition from 1978 on, winning every single match is a hard task – as the county found out when an unparalleled five-in-a-row bit the dust in what otherwise might have been a run-of-the-mill piece of last-minute caprice.
Kilkenny had the option of the qualifiers but didn’t avail of it once in four years or 21 matches.