Lighting the way in an All-Ireland final
Tomorrow will see the biggest match of the year played under lights for the first time when Clare take on Cork again
Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald celebrates at the final whistle following victory over Cork in the 2010 Munster final replay – a game played under lights at Thurles. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Tomorrow will see the first All-Ireland final played entirely under floodlights when Cork meet Clare in Croke Park for the hurling replay. It’s just under 10 years since the first competitive inter-county hurling match was played under lights and it also involved Cork, who defeated Wexford in the league at Páirc Uí Rinn.
The lights were turned on briefly during the 2011 final between Kilkenny and Tipperary due to gloomy skies but were switched off before half-time as the conditions improved.
Attitudes to playing under lights remained suspicious as long as Cork remained the only county with the facility. But gradually as the light spread, floodlit matches became a regular occurrence during the league season.
Dublin’s Spring Series initiative has brought league matches to Croke Park although the county’s relegation to Division One B reduced the number this year to one, the regulation match against Limerick.
Tipperary’s 2010 All-Ireland -winning captain Eoin Kelly has extensive experience of playing under lights and will be part of the Super 11 hurling exhibition before tomorrow’s replay.
Super 11 is an innovative new hurling game being trialled by the GAA, played on a smaller pitch with 11-a-side and tomorrow’s demonstration will feature well-known intercounty hurlers.
Kelly says that whereas the lights in Croke Park are excellent there is still the occasional risk of the lights distracting a player even if it’s less likely than at other grounds.
“The lights in Croke Park are easily the best but even there the glare can be a hindrance. I love playing under lights and it’s ideal for the league because people come out on a Saturday night, enjoy the match and then go off and most wouldn’t have work the next day.
“We played Dublin in the league two years ago and the atmosphere was great for the last 10 minutes so I’m looking forward to this even if I’d prefer an All-Ireland final to be played on a Sunday.”
Peter McKenna, the Croke Park stadium director, says the lights will be on from the start of tomorrow’s final. “We’ve decided to switch them on at five and enable the players to get used to the light before it becomes darker.”
The only previous occasion the lights were switched on for a championship match was the 2008 All-Ireland football quarter-final between Kerry and Galway, which although played on an August evening was overshadowed by torrential rain and darkening skies.
McKenna says the illumination from the Croke Park lights is adjusted to the highest specifications for hurling.
“There are different settings for hurling, football, soccer and rugby and the brightest of them is for hurling, based on the lighting specifications for cricket at the MCG in Melbourne. It means that more of the lights are operational and it cuts out dazzle and glare.”
However Kelly is concerned that in such a high-profile match there exists the danger of a costly error.
“In Croke Park there’s still a small glare the odd time that can put you off a bit when the ball is lofted out or in the air. This game is so tight I’d hate for someone to make a mistake that might have a bearing on the game because of that.”
McKenna is confident there will be no such influence on the match. “We’ve had a good deal of player feedback on the lights and never got a negative reaction to playing under lights. The floodlights are so high and intense that you can barely see shadows on the pitch.
“Even in an afternoon match glare can be an issue, particularly at this time of the year with the lower sun.”
This could be seen during last week’s football final with players and occasionally referee Joe McQuillan having difficulty with the glare.
Three years ago Waterford won the Munster hurling title after a replayed final in what was the only previous championship decider played under lights. Maybe it’s a positive omen for Clare manager David Fitzgerald – he was in charge of the winners in Thurles the evening they defeated Cork.