Wednesday 21 August 2019

Comment - Fenway fare was so phoney that Trump could have thrown in

The Galway and Dublin hurling teams walk in the parade before the AIG Super 11’s Fenway Classic. Photo: BRENDAN MORAN/SPORTSFILE
The Galway and Dublin hurling teams walk in the parade before the AIG Super 11’s Fenway Classic. Photo: BRENDAN MORAN/SPORTSFILE
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

In Thurles there were six minutes left and three points in it when Na Piarsaigh harried Ballygunner into conceding a sideline ball fifty yards from their goal.

Ronan Lynch cut it magnificently over the bar. It looked like the insurance score but after Ballygunner's Billy O'Keefe and Na Piarsaigh's Kevin Downes swapped superb points, Peter Hogan goaled for the Waterford champions.

Now there was one point in it with three minutes left. It was one of those moments when even neutral nerve-ends jangled. Moments like that are what real sport is all about.

In Parnell Park, Con O'Callaghan cut through the St Martin's defence for the fourth time in the first 17 minutes. The ball slipped away from him as he was about to shoot but the Cuala prodigy quickly back-heeled it to Jake Malone who found the net. Cuala won the puck-out and the ball fell to O'Callaghan 50 yards out. He cut through the heart of the opposition defence like an overage player in an under-12 match before batting the ball home. Con O'Callaghan is the real thing.

In Boston it took just ten minutes for your old-style Irish Donnybrook to start between Dublin and Galway hurlers. The fightin' Irish were back in town. Getaloada dose crazy baastids. The schemozzle was fairly desultory but we'll presume it was genuine.

Though if it was kosher, it was about the only part of the Fenway Classic that was. This was Fake Sport in excelsis, an event so phoney Donald Trump should have thrown in the ball.

The club championships are one of the greatest things in Irish sport. This season we've already had Ballygunner's epic victories over Thurles Sarsfields and Sixmilebridge and Corofin's over St Brigid's, Rathnew's shock defeat of St Vincent's, the continuation of the Slaughtneil fairytale, and the nail-biting finale between Moorefield and Portlaoise.

But what makes them really special is how much they matter. Those players lucky enough to win All-Ireland finals with county and club will tell you the latter means most.

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Compelling

The more meaning attached to a sporting event the more compelling it is. There must be something tangible at stake for both winner and loser. That's why the Super 11s are such a cod. No team or player will ever be judged on how they played in the Fenway farrago.

Maybe that wouldn't matter if the game itself offered some aesthetic joy. But it's an unlovely thing. There could be no sideline cuts like Ronan Lynch's because they do not exist in this weird, spancelled creation.

Points too are verboten. All that remains is a monotonous back-and-forth search for goals on a pitch whose smallness robs hurling of its grandeur and scope. It makes one of the world's finest sports look both silly and trivial.

You can excuse the Classic as just a harmless GAA jolly-up. But the junketeers make claims for its importance, just as county councillors from landlocked midland counties once swore they'd derived real benefit from conferences in Barbados about how to develop wind-surfing on your local ocean.

When you hear an intelligent man like Pat Gilroy coming out with a line like, "Hurling could become a world sport in the next hundred years and this could be the start of it," and Micheál Donoghue, no daw either, saying that the rule changes would, "make it a better spectacle for the spectators," you suspect a party line may have been agreed upon.

Still, it might be a piece of crap but it's a harmless piece of crap, right? Maybe. Kildare hurling manager Joe Quaid pointed out that his team would have benefited hugely from even a fraction of the money spent on the Boston jaunt. Talk of hurling becoming a world game is a bit rich considering the GAA can't even make it an all-Ireland game.

Only half of our counties play it at a serious level. Great GAA towns like Killarney and Castlebar and Newbridge and Navan will never have a player in an All-Ireland senior hurling final. Even in Cork there are parishes where hurling has no presence at all. Tackle that problem and it might be time to begin the conquest of the Middle East and Micronesia.

The idea of hurling as world sport is self-delusion disguised as positive thinking. Anecdotal stuff about the Frenchman your cousin met coming out of Croke Park who thought it the best game ever has been replaced by the gleeful brandishing of tweets from Sky-loving Gary of Stevenage. No doubt a few from Cincinatti Chet will do the rounds today.

Tacky

Yet the Super 11 hucksters didn't have the confidence to let hurling make its own case. Instead, they produced Hurling For Dummies even though some might argue that importing stupidity to America is like bringing turf to the bog. They managed to create something so tacky even Yanks won't buy it.

Back in the real world, Na Piarsaigh dug deep. Adrian Breen threw himself full-length to score the goal which made them safe and in the closing seconds David Breen strode away down the left before producing an emphatic finish. That late two-goal flourish bodes well for the Limerick side's hopes of ultimate honours.

Yet Cuala have O'Callaghan. In the space of a minute-and-a-half in the second period he scored three points, on each occasion skinning his marker Willie Devereux, a good inter-county defender. Thirty seconds after the third point he shrugged off Devereux, clambered off the ground after an attempted rugby tackle by another defender, and set up Colm Cronin for a match-killing goal.

Na Piarsaigh and Cuala seem locked on a collision course. The mouth waters at the prospect of a club final which would need no hype and epitomise everything that makes hurling great.

And hurling is great. Its failure to rule the world doesn't change that.

This is our beautiful game. Accept no substitutes.

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