TV View: Epic Croke Park spectacle shows hurling stands alone
Clare’s stirring fightback earns pundits’ forgiveness over half-time ‘gamesmanship’
Clare’s Tony Kelly, Peter Duggan and Jack Browne tackle Galway’s Johnny Coen at Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Eddie Brennan told us a story in the build-up to the All-Ireland hurling semi-final between Galway and Clare. It was a personal tale of how, after losing a semi-final with Kilkenny in the 2005 championship, it hurt so much that he took off to New York for the weekend of the final but finally decided to watch the game between Cork and Galway in a pub and paid $20 dollars at the door for the privilege.
The point he made, though was that losing a semi-final was harder than losing a final.
“I found All-Ireland semi-finals can be a weird kind of occasion; it’s a bit like the bride not turning up for the wedding, you don’t get to the big day,” was the, well, weird analogy Brennan came up with before expanding: “It is all about getting over the line, it doesn’t matter whether it is ugly or good.”
As it happened, neither Galway nor Clare got over the line but the few hours of their endeavours from Dublin 3 once again showed hurling, as a spectacle, is head and shoulders above all other field games. The analysts in their highbrow studios finished their duties almost as fatigued as the players down below who delivered yet another classic.
Michael Lyster observed on RTÉ that teams were out on the pitch ahead of matches “earlier and earlier, it seems like they’re out for two days before the match”. Of course, that was ahead of the game and before Clare’s half-time shenanigans when they seemed to have lost the exit code to their dressingroom. They were slow to arrive back out on the pitch for the second-half leaving the Galway players and the match officials to have a good old natter about what might be keeping the Banner men.
“I don’t like this thing of leaving the other team out there,” remarked former Clare captain Anthony Daly of the situation, although his comment earlier in the half-time analysis – “We’re after getting away with murder” – probably provided the clue as to why the Clare management were clearly giving a good old-fashioned bollocking to the players in their quest to play catch-up on the All-Ireland champions. If that took an extra four or five or six minutes, then everyone could wait for them and sure they probably didn’t hear the fourth official knocking on the door . . . What unfolded in the second-half and on into extra-time provided plenty of forgiveness for what Ollie Canning on Sky Sports deemed to be “gamesmanship” on Clare’s part.
When the full-time whistle sounded with the teams level, Daly no longer had any reservations about that ploy of leaving Galway waiting. “Maybe it was the extra few minutes oxygen they got in the dressing room . . . breathtaking stuff,” said Daly of Clare’s resilience.
Not that former Galway manager Cyril Farrell was entirely in agreement. “Galway are shooting themselves in the foot,” observed Farrell, noting their 16 wides in the match, 12 of which had come in the first-half alone.
And on it went, tit-for-tat through extra-time. “It’s over, it’s over, 62 scores and nothing can separate them, a quite incredible evening of championship hurling,” extolled Sky Sports commentator Dave McIntyre.
His sidekick Nicky English agreed. “It’s hard to say [Clare] don’t deserve the draw, their resilience and never-say-die kept them in it. It was great entertainment.”
And Sky’s Rachel Wyse told us that studio analysts Canning – with a foot in the Galway camp – and Jamesie O’Connor - with a foot in the Clare camp – did “actually shake hands at the end”.
Over on RTÉ, Daly was telling us why hurling is different to all other games. “The hard tackles. No one questioning the ref. That’s why hurling is the game.”
Who could argue?