Unique glory of hurling shown in ‘The Game’

Entertaining three-part series on RTÉ begins on Monday, July 30th

“It’s a physical game,” says  Kilkenny manager Brian Cody with trademark flat realism. “Above all else it is a game of skill.”

“It’s a physical game,” says Kilkenny manager Brian Cody with trademark flat realism. “Above all else it is a game of skill.”

 

Croke Park at sunset. “Hurling’s a game for the gods, and gods played,” croons Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, 87 years young, as Waterford’s sideline cut turns each blade of grass into shrapnel.

If The Game by Crossing The Line productions, doesn’t launch hurling into the global consciousness nothing ever will. The voices narrating the slow-motion mic-ed up collisions will be familiar to most Irish people with Brian Cody’s heavy tone perhaps the most affecting.

“It’s a physical game,” says the Kilkenny manager with trademark flat realism. “Above all else it is a game of skill.”

A desperately difficult game, smiles Joe Canning, and it’s all about your wrists, Henry Shefflin shows us.

Ger Loughnane succinctly sums up the impossibility of fully explaining hurling to those who have not lived it.

“How can you explain feelings?”

So begins a smooth hour about, well, The Game and how it resonated down through the centuries of Irish life. The thrill of a leather ball smacking ash and that feeling entering your “soul.”

The poetry cannot remain constant throughout this three-part series, going out on RTÉ One Monday, July 30th at 9.35pm, so a history lesson picks up the slack.

After what has occurred this summer alone, it would be a shame to let this documentary, with its stellar cast of characters, pass unexamined.

American baseball aficionados or Pakistani cricketers will instantly understand attempts to explain the uniqueness of the sport.

“What we are talking about here is a universal human experience,” explains historian (and interim Offaly football manager) Paul Rouse.

Ancient hero

“The story of people hitting a ball with a stick is a story of which is told everywhere from Iceland to Ethiopia, to the Far East and across to the Aztecs.”

That is possibly why hurling will never catch fire off this island; other cultures have their own versions and digged up evidence of matted-cow-hair sliotars preserved in bogs for 800 years.

No modern or ancient hero is excluded, it seems, as two years or research bounces off the screen. Each one linking the chain to the next. See Brendan Cummins and Eimear Ryan being tongue-tied in the presence of Nicky English or English’s reverence towards Jimmy Barry Murphy.

This theme rumbles throughout as county colours pale as the ’95 Banner rising inspires a teenage Henry Shefflin.

“I wouldn’t tell Anthony Daly this but to see him lifting the cup I went straight out into my back garden, I was dreaming of being those players . . .”

Of course the history of Ireland intertwines with the GAA and its restoration of hurling by Michael Cusack, among others, is revisited and explained.

“Above religion the only language that people in Cork speak is hurling,” explains Seán Óg Ó hAilpín of that initial exposure to hurling following his life altering trip from Sydney sun shine in 1988.

“If you want to hang around with the kids you got to do what they are doing.”

Flashbacks to the mightiest of wing backs in Rebel red, his voice cutting up talking about the greatest human need. “To be loved.”

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