Gerard O'Regan

Saturday 26 July 2014

Hurling and soccer pointing the way to a glorious summer

Gerard O'Regan

Published 12/06/2014|02:30

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Kilkenny's Colin Fennelly in action against Offaly's James Rigney during their Leinster SHC clash at Nowlan Park last night. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Kilkenny's Colin Fennelly in action against Offaly's James Rigney during their Leinster SHC clash at Nowlan Park. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Sport is essentially about wilful escapism. The reality is that the actions of grown men – and sometimes women – chasing a ball around a football field is an intrinsically daft activity. Yet the passions it so often provokes, can enthral thousands, and sometimes millions, as is the case with the World Cup about to be unleashed upon us. Some sweet, sweet, sporting moments, beckon this summer.

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Normally field sport aficionados in Ireland, come the month of June, start to really engage with the Gaelic football and hurling championships. It's the time of year when the Irish summer fitfully gets on its way – and the dash and daring of the old games provide their traditional seasonal verve.

The sight of county colours stirs an annual reawakening, and atavistic yearnings come to the surface once more. In cauldrons of uncertainty around the country, the wishful hopes of the county team, will be put to the test. A victory will presage ideas of warmer weather and even better days to come. There will be the latent hope, of landing the glittering prize, reflected in the names of Sam Maguire or Liam MacCarthy. Of course defeat and despair will ultimately be the fate of all but one band of hopefuls in each code. But no matter. At this time of year, anything is still possible.

This season also there is another dent in the perceived parochialism of the GAA, as Sky Sports brings a Premiership aura, to something as ancient as hurley hitting sliotar. So far the station has made a steady start. But the real test will be when the championships gather pace. In this broadcasting experiment, so much to be welcomed, nuance will be everything.

We had our early season "big melee'' at the weekend, when Armagh and Cavan players got involved in a pre-match roustabout. What TV viewers across the water – weaned on the strict rules regarding physical contact in soccer would make of it all is anybody's guess. Thankfully, we now have the much commented upon black card on the go, surely an essential innovation to stamp out dirty play.

And in football, the solemn judgment of most pub based sports philosophers, is that Dublin are "unstoppable''. Those finely tuned physiques, not out of place in the Leinster rugby squad, send out an ominous signal of superiority to all their country cousins. Perhaps the best hope of some team from the sticks bringing them to heel, lies with the Cork footballers, if they really get things together this year.

The pulsating power of championship hurling, with physicality and courage of a different kind, has already brightened up our Sundays. There are many splendoured battles to be waged, before we will know if Davy Fitzgerald and his clan from Clare, can beguile us for another year and win the top prize.

And so to the World Cup, always a pageant of sporting beauty, drawing together the mass of humanity maybe even more so than the Olympic Games. As well as the more predictable soccer powers, this time round we have Iran, Japan, Honduras, Algeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Costa Rica, in the mix.

Then there is England. We are told we now live in more enlightened times, so there should be no small minded resentments, provoked by the perceived successes of our nearest neighbour. We want to see them survive for as long as possible. After all, we know the players, in a sporting sense, so, so well.

But privately it's difficult not to indulge in some perverse amusement, when some of their pundits drone on about what they believe is the unfairness of the world. Already talk of jungle spawned heat in the heart of Brazil, as a problem for our pale skinned neighbours, has provoked some mirth. On another level the tournament may also show once again the Premier League, minus all those foreign players who ply their trade in it, is not exactly number one in the rankings.

Often in the World Cup the footballing styles on display seem to represent the culture and personality of a particular country. Therefore will we have secretive Iran, exuberant Ghana, mysterious Honduras, and Japanese calm, reflected on the field of play?

But at the end of it all Brazil, the greatest footballing nation of them all, will surely come out on top. This is the country which gave us Pele, Socrates, Garrincha, and Zico – suitably poetic names for those blessed with magical skills.

And so our summer of sport for 2014 gathers pace. Let us salivate for some blissful times ahead. We want to be bewitched. And without even mentioning the names of Messi and Ronaldo we will. We will be bewitched.

Irish Independent

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