The bluffer’s guide to September sport: Part 1 – Hurling
Why the final at Croker will be one helluva spectacle
Hurling is getting hip. Last month the Lonely Planet guide included the All-Ireland hurling final on its global top 10 of 'local' sporting experiences, echoing a National Geographic verdict last year that a hurling final in Croke Park is the "sporting experience of a lifetime".
Yet, even in Ireland, hurling remains a mystery to many. Here is a quick guide to the fastest game on the planet.
These hurling fellas really like to talk up their game - what makes it so special?
What other sport mixes refined hand-eye co-ordination with martial art levels of ferocity, not to mention the almost balletic balance attained by the finest players at full tilt?
The best hurlers will have mastered dozens of skills and the elite possess tricks known only to themselves. The 'physicality' of the tackling, a small ball travelling at up to 150kph and a scoring system that allows for rapidly fluctuating fortunes also combine to make top-class hurling one helluva spectacle.
Where did this super-human sport come from?
There was an old GAA boast that "the men of Ireland were hurling when the Gods of Greece were young" but the details are sketchy on that one.
Medieval Irish manuscripts recount a 27-a-side hurling tussle between the Tuatha de Danann and the Milesians before the first Battle of Moytura on the Galway-Mayo border in 1272 B.C. The Tuatha de Danann are still appealing the result to the Disputes Resolution Authority.
What about tomorrow's finalists?
Kilkenny are the relentless, consummate craftsmen of hurling. They have won 35 All-Ireland titles, seven in the past decade. In Brian Cody they have the most successful manager in the GAA's history and their star forwards, TJ Reid and Richie Hogan, look destined to be all-time greats.
Galway tend to veer between exasperating and exhilarating. Their speciality is ambushing the game's aristocrats in semi-final shootouts.
They have played in 21 senior finals and won four, the last in 1988. The maestro Joe Canning is the team's leader.
So the Liam MacCarthy is heading back to Kilkenny yet again?
The bookies have Kilkenny at 1/2 and Galway at 2/1, but Galway have spooked Kilkenny more often than any other team in the Cody era. There's also the possibility that one of Joe Canning's finest hours may be nigh.
And the last word?
If you hear anyone moaning that today's hurlers aren't a patch on the old timers, reply with this quote from Christy Ring: "Let no-one say that the best hurlers belong to the past; they are with us now and better yet to come," said the Cork hurling legend (1920-1979).