Mary Hannigan: Irish eyes smiling? No, they were squinting with fear

There weren’t enough buckets this week to hold all the sporting tears

When that Sky Sports hockey commentator said of Malaysia yesterday, “they’re hardly going to score two goals in a minute”, you sensed Malaysia were about to score two goals in a minute, because that’s the kind of week it was, there weren’t enough buckets to hold all the sporting tears.

No moment, of course, was as gut-wrenching as that Laura Bassett own goal in the World Cup semi-final, just as we had the popcorn ready for extra-time. "I couldn't breathe, my heart was out my chest," she said after, but it could have been Jonathan Pearce talking, our Beeb commentator letting out a wail so pained and piercing that it expertly encapsulated the cruellest moment in the entire and complete history of sport.

Another new entry to the sporting cruelty list was the sight of Rafa Nadal losing at Wimbledon and the ever-increasing realisation that Rafa might never be Rafa again, along with the whistle that started that under-16 C All-Ireland championship game that finished Kildare 13-20, Donegal 0-0.

An abundance of mercilessness all week, then, and our Cork cousins would argue that their pain was no less acute after that penalty awarded to Kerry by Paudie Hughes in Killarney.


It probably pained them even more to have to agree with Joe Brolly after the game, him having described them as "the least rebellious Rebels I've ever come across" before kick-off. "Wee Paudie wouldn't know a penalty if it bit him in the arse," said he, which had Darragh Maloney and Colm O'Rourke nearly falling out of their seats trying to shut him up.

Galway, meanwhile, were left on their knees by Kilkenny, but if there was any sporting justice, that Joe Canning goal would have counted for 20 points, so they'd have been home and hosed.

As Marty Morrissey put it: "Oh. My. GOD!" A divine intervention. And Michael Duignan come half-time: "Unbelievable class, skill, power, vision – everything." And that was understating it.

Pirouetting Rudolf Nureyev might have been handy at pirouetting, but he didn’t have to catch a sliotar and slot it in to the back of the net at the same time.

Canning, then, snatched the goal of the day award from the grasp of Peter Caruth who looked home and hosed himself for the gong after his effort for Ireland against Malaysia: a Nureyev-ish swivel at the top of the D, boom, top-left corner, sweet.

“Irish eyes are definitely smiling,” howled our commentator, but that probably wasn’t true, Ireland having endured so much pain in past Olympic-qualifying attempts that even if Caruth’s goal had put them seven up, Irish eyes would still have been squinting with fear.

But they did it – and are definitely maybe in the Olympics. If mad things happen in the Continental Championships to deny them, then sport should be cancelled forever.

If that made for lovely viewing, lovelier still was RTÉ’s Páidí Ó Sé documentary, a simply beautiful tribute to the man, with the warmest of reflections on his life from family and friends. If his image was often that of a boorish, volcanic character, one who, as Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh put it, was a “lost soul” when his playing career ended, the programme gave a more rounded view of a man held in such affection by his family and community.

Bag of medals

His widow Marie emptied a bag of his medals on to the kitchen table; there were too many to count. She smiled and stroked them, each bringing back memories of chapters in their lives. If, she said, she needs to chat, she visits his statue in their home place of Ventry.

“I can give out to him,” she laughed, “get things off my chest.”

He was, of course, a rascal, too. "We were walking down the [Kinsealy] corridor to have breakfast with Mr Haughey," recalled former Kerry and Munster chairman Seán Walsh. "[Haughey] was on crutches at the time, he'd broken his ankle. He said to Páidí, 'Páidí, did you break any bones in your playing career?' 'Oh no, Taoiseach,' he said, 'none of my own.'"