Sunday 21 January 2018

David Kelly: No drama for the Hill on tour but plenty of comedy

4 June 2016; Dublin supporters Mollie Og Langan, age 5, her cousin Lilie Langan, age 4, and Ella O'Dowd, age 4, all from the Naomh Fionnbarra Club, before the Leinster SFC quarter-final match in Nowlan Park. Photo: Sportsfile
4 June 2016; Dublin supporters Mollie Og Langan, age 5, her cousin Lilie Langan, age 4, and Ella O'Dowd, age 4, all from the Naomh Fionnbarra Club, before the Leinster SFC quarter-final match in Nowlan Park. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Nobody got lost at the Red Cow roundabout on the way to Nowlan Park. But on the way back? Sin scéal eile.

A friend encountered a group in Paddy Henderson's from the parish of Kevin McManamon; one of whose number was making passionate love to what was evidently not his first Guinness of the excursion.

What time was the club coach leaving for home? "Ah, not 'til nine." "It's half-nine now, kid." "Ah, they'll wait, are you having one yourself?"

The novelty seems to be have gripped everyone else in the country except the Dubs; Jim Gavin's men were here exactly a week ago enduring a trial run.

And many of the 16,000 or so Dublin supporters - of the official 16,764 attendance, only a few hundred broke the Laois picket - have been doing road trips like this for years.

"We'll go wherever we're told to play," reiterates Gavin. "This was a great opportunity for us to play in such an iconic ground like Nowlan Park.

"Wherever we're asked to play, be it in the league or the championship, it's just a privilege to represent Dublin and be out there and perform as best we can."

The Dubs would not have minded had we been in Portlaoise, Portumna or Portland, Oregon; Gavin and his team are of a similar mind; it is the rest of the country that is seemingly driven to distraction by the whole circus.

Before we cross the river, we espy Barry Wrafter's wonderful sculpture depicting, we are informed, three hurlers rising as if from a supernatural world to capture the sliotar; we say a prayer for Kilkenny's current small-ball woes and move on.

Later, three wobbalin Dubbalin types also imitate art; we call it the "shawarma shuffle"; another sculpture will doubtless be erected upon Parade Row.

Business was "boomier" than normal in Kilkenny for a Bank Holiday; there were more parties of hens than stags but then again there were plenty of available stags in blue; accommodation was tight and pricey; the banks of the Nore provided an airy, green mattress for some hasty nocturnal couplings.

And so John Street surrendered itself from midday beyond midnight to a dappled wallpapering of many blue hues.

We toast Harzand's Derby success, a first for DK Weld; like Jason Sherlock on another Dublin tour of yore, a demonstration that sporting class can emerge even with the loss of a shoe.

As we walk up past Billy Byrne's (no relation), it reminds one briefly of that religious trek to Semple Stadium from the Square; this is less of an ascent, more a hummock than a hillock.

The Cat Laughs Festival is supposed to be taking place but the only evidence is in the soaring hotel prices.

The fringe festival, it seems, is acting as a curtain-raiser to the main event in Nowlan Park; the British Junior Championship adds an air of the surrealistic to it all.

Predictably, Kilkenny are losing this as well; for all the clamour to split Dublin in two, evict them from Croke Park and impound their finances, there is rarely any mention of how the stripey men's 36 All-Ireland titles have been accumulated alongside an utter neglect of the big ball game. Curious.


They do have one football, at least. "Kilkenny Football" is daubed upon it just to re-assure us; one wonders if it were ballooned out of the ground, would they have another?

The comedic value is augmented by the PA man who delights in confusing the identities of everyone; sumptuous points scorer Ciaran Kilkenny achieves a GAA first by being substituted on four occasions.

The temporarily re-located Hill 16 at the City End is hopping; their devotion to cult hero Eoghan O'Gara is now permanently enshrined in song.

The scoreboard takes on a life of its own, too; everyone, it seems, is being affected by the sun; poor Mark Timmons amongst them although he should not be fingered alone as Laois contrived to confirm the inevitability of the result after just 13 seconds.

"We hadn't our game set up quick enough at the start," bemoans manager Mick Lillis, a preposterous statement, really, for precisely the most favourable time for a team to set up is from the throw-in.

One wonders what Anthony Cunningham had told his defence to do exactly? Conveniently for Dublin, they repeated the trick moments later when Stephen Cluxton begins an 11-second, two-pass goal. Sin a bhfuil na cúrsaí spóirt.

John O'Loughlin flailed an arm which drew blood from Michael Darragh Macauley's nose; the former is ejected for good, the latter disappears for another GAA first, the longest blood substitution on record.

Ali had told us that the bull may be bigger, but the matador can be smarter; Laois, sadly, were more Comical Ali than Muhammad Ali; they began the contest after it had ended.

"They hit us with one sucker punch," sighed Lillis. "One is bad enough..."

It was enough to make a man cry. Portlaoise will get to see the Dubs after all next week.

Their hurlers will play - who else? - Kilkenny. Nowlan Park will lie idle. Enough, indeed, to make a cat laugh.

Irish Independent

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