Monday 16 July 2018

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England ENG 1

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Belgium BEL 2

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New entrants to fabled annals of Kilkenny hurling welcomed with open arms


A sign for St Patricks GAA club in Ballyragget, County Kilkenny who won the intermediate hurling county final.
A sign for St Patricks GAA club in Ballyragget, County Kilkenny who won the intermediate hurling county final.

Tommy Conlon

The two ould codgers were in the corner shop on Thursday morning, looking at the array of newspapers spread out before them.

"Jazes, is this what the GAA is coming to?!" said one of them jauntily, as the front page of The Irish Sun hit him square between the eyes. Suddenly both were chuckling heartily as they digested the story, hot from Ballyragget.

In fairness, all the tabloids had done a bang-up job. The pictures on social media had gone viral over the previous 24 hours. And now the red tops were steaming in, all puns blazing. ('STRIP STRIP HOORAY', 'GAA STORM IN A D CUP!', 'X-RATED GAA SCANDAL'). Naturally, in the interests of good taste, sliotars had been strategically added to the photos in all the pertinent locations.

The pair of gentlemen shuffled off, still giggling like schoolboys.

Some of the Ballyragget boys were presumably morto last week, and might still be feeling a frisson of discomfort. They needn't; they have added greatly to the gaiety of the nation. Representing their club St Patrick's, they had won the Kilkenny intermediate hurling championship the previous Sunday, no small achievement in a county where the competitive standard is famously demanding.

The celebrations had carried on from Sunday into Monday and then into Tuesday. Veterans of these time-honoured rituals in every county will testify that the Tuesday is often the best day. They've come down from the high of Sunday/Monday and are now in a mellow state, at peace with themselves, at one with the world, given to philosophical reflections on the long road that has taken them to this blissful bower.

They will gaze lovingly at the silver cup sitting on the table in front of them, marooned in a flotilla of empty glasses. They will even speak lovingly to each other as the publican arrives with the 74th round of pint bottles, possibly Bulmers - the old Clonmel chardonnay itself. "Ah you were great on Sunday, wouldn'ta won it without ya." "Ah no, you were great." "No, I'm telling you now, and I don't say this too often, you were great." "Aye. That ball you caught there, down in the corner." "Ah." "Do yiz want a few bags of crisps, lads?"

And so it goes in a dark, small town bar while the rest of the world is working: heart to heart, man to man, love in the afternoon.

Obviously we're not privy to the exact circumstances of the rag in Ballyragget. Maybe one of the lads simply ordered a few pizzas on his mobile phone or something. And instead of pizzas, Fifi and Cristal showed up. It can happen. And sure, they couldn't turn them away without offering them a drink or two. Next thing the girls were togging out to practise a few drills. At least one chap, in a moving demonstration of solidarity, also togged out. For some reason, he forgot to put on his club jersey. Come to think of it, he forgot to put on his shorts and socks too.

Helpfully described in the aforementioned reports as a "curvy Italian lass", Fifi confessed she didn't know a great deal about the sport. But if she, and indeed Cristal, know a bit more now, then the lads can justifiably claim to have done their bit to help the GAA's European project. Croke Park has been spreading the gospel of Gaelic games on the continent in recent years. "I am a fan of course," added Fifi, who has recently taken up residence in the Marble City. Such is the evangelical power of hurling.

Anyway, in all the excitement, nobody apparently remembered to stipulate that this European summit would be held under Chatham House Rules. And in this perilous era for privacy, some mobile phone video ended up online. "Lads, take it down to f***," someone on WhatsApp or Facebook implored, alas too late.

Thankfully, Ned Quinn is on the case. The venerable chairman of the Kilkenny county board is, one feels, the right man for the job. Even then, it will take all his formidable administrative skills to navigate this delicate inquiry. He has already gone into conclave on the matter. He has spoken to officers from St Patrick's. He has no doubt consulted the Official Guide, the GAA's Talmud, for wisdom and instruction on the vexed question of Gaels and showgirls.

It can only be a matter of time before both women are summoned to Nowlan Park for cross-examination. Ned will presumably insist that they remain fully-clothed on this occasion.

The national folklore collection at UCD tells us, from testimony supplied by a local teacher in 1937-38, that the north Kilkenny town has enjoyed a tranquil existence for centuries. (Albeit, he notes, that "the habit of standing at street corners" is a popular pastime.) "With the exception of the siege of Ballyragget, 1775," writes our sage, "turmoil of any kind has not disturbed the peacefulness of the village since that date."

That's a long time to be suffering in silence - 222 years, to be precise. No news isn't good news all the time. In one brief visit therefore, our two heroines have made an historic contribution to the humours of Ballyragget. They will never be forgotten.

Move over, then, Lory Meagher and Sim Walton and 'Drug' Walsh and all ye mighty men of black and amber. Step forward, Fifi and Cristal, you have taken your place in the fabled annals of Kilkenny hurling.

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