Saturday 7 December 2019

It's nice to see Kilkenny do so well at croquet, but we do miss the great oul hurling

Ireland's oldest sports columnist Billy Keane gives his views on the 2114 All-Ireland Football Championship having had himself cryogenically stored in a deep freeze 100 years ago when he could not face up to the reality of Dublin winning two All-Irelands in a row

Colm Cooper in action for Kerry against Dublin last September
Colm Cooper in action for Kerry against Dublin last September
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Little did I realise that Ireland would be in the state it is now when I took to the freezer back in 2014. I'm sorry I didn't stay frozen for a few more years

Alas, there is no hurling championship this year due to PlayStation 104, the massive increase in the incidence of mammy's boys and scaredy pants, the destruction of the ash by worms, the Russian invasion and a glut of claims for head injuries, limb destruction and post- traumatic stress.

But, sure the hurling was great oul sport long ago, even if it was confined to the few counties where the oak grew tall and the fairy forts were few and far between.

I remember well the year Clare won it. A visionary by the name of Davy Fitz managed The Banner back then and he was a great man to fire up the players with rousing team talks as long as the full 37 verses of 'Spancil Hill'.

We'll miss the hurling, but isn't it nice that Kilkenny are doing so well at the croquet and sure haven't Cork the 25 drives to be going on with now that the player revolt over the quality of the dunking biscuits has been satisfactorily resolved.

As Frank Murphy, Ireland's longest-serving GAA official recently remarked, "the clash of the ash has been replaced by the thump of the table" – a reference to the loud bang made when the winner of the card game smashes the five of trumps on the hard wood.

I'm told the big question in the football this year is will Finglas win the three-in-a-row?

There was a time when we had 32 counties in Ireland. My own place was Kerry and in the old days we were known as The Kings of the Pigskin.

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There's hope though, what with the Kingdom's great victory in this year's Tommy Murphy Cup. Not bad for a county with a population of 4,500 park rangers.

There was a team in every county when I was a boy. Of course that was well before the days of the county clearances.

Bear with me now while I give you a brief history lesson.

There was a steady shift in population from the country to the city back in the last century.

Dublin grew bigger and bigger until some of the suburbs stretched as far as what used to be known as Laois and Offaly, who now play with Abbotstown in the All-Ireland championship.

The group that moved Ireland into one small patch in the East were called the IDA. It was all part of a cunning plot to weaken the GAA in the country counties.

But the IDA went too far. It was like the murder in that old movie 'The Field'. All they wanted to do was make sure we got a good hiding but they ended up finishing us off.

The pundits tell us this year's domestic championship will be decided between Clontarf, Finglas or Fingal. I wouldn't write off Coolock though.

There are a good few players of Kerry stock on the Coolock team. The O'Shea's people came from Ventry, which is now part of the national park that stretches from Donegal to West Cork, and the red-haired lad playing corner-forward would be a direct relation of Gooch Cooper, who nearly beat Dublin on his own, back in the epic semi-final of 2013.

Some of us kicked up around the time when the country clearances gathered pace.

There were soothing speeches from the politicians, the GAA and the IDA, with memorable phrases like 'the confinement of paradigms' and 'the expansion of intrinsic metrics' which no one rightly understood.

Back then we voted for whoever put the most in our pockets and any government that tried to curb spending was summarily kicked out.

There was no money to subsidise the services in the farflung country places.

Ireland went bust several times over and we were all moved to Dublin as the population dwindled to a skeleton crew in what became known as The Bush.

This is the centenary of the year Sky took over the showing of Gaelic matches. The foreigners fell in love with our football, and soccer is now confined to places like Switzerland where people aren't that gone on liveliness.

The younger folk will be astounded to hear that there were 80,000 fans attending the All- Irelands in the historic old stadium of Croke Park, which was sold off for housing around the time of the 2033 bubble.

I'm told last year's final between Coolock and Artane attracted only about 3,000 fans to Pairc Mary Lou.

The domestic championship lost all attraction when the top players were lured abroad by the big wages.

Borussia Monchengladbach Parnells and Racing Club de Paris Emmets will play before a crowd of 100,000 in today's quarter-final of the Bundesbank European Cup. God be with the days.

In my time, lads used to take to the bed and hope that when they got up the country would be fixed, but it never was.

We used have these places called pubs and we went there to talk away our troubles but sure there are none left.

Evidence garnered from the investigation of the stomach contents of a man who died from eating refrozen fish fingers points to the fact that it's far too dangerous to go back into the fridge for another 100 years, but I think I'll chance it anyway.

Maybe when I come out the next time, the countryside will be repopulated and the football will be flourishing.

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