Thursday 18 January 2018

Diarmuid Lyng: Few things teach valuable life lessons like a hurling replay

Diarmuid Lyng

There are lessons to be learned in drawn finals. I went through it. Experienced it. Loved it. Hated it. But learned from it. The thing that I hated most, ultimately became one of my best teachers. It shaped me and bent me in ways that made me fall in love with the great game.

It was one of those moments that either makes or breaks you. Makes you close up, or makes you stand tall, defiant, certain. This is who I am. What I represent. What I want to be.

We played Kilkenny in the Leinster minor final in 1999. Liam Griffin was effectively our manager. Statistical analysis, diet, strength and conditioning were all part of our weekly intake of what it was to be an inter-county hurler. It was amazing to be part of. We had a great chance to beat Kilkenny and win Leinster, Wexford's first since 1985.

My first run-out in Croker! The pride. But it didn't turn out like I thought it would. I pulled wild under the old Hogan Stand after about 12 minutes. Got booked. Sensing that I was buckling under the pressure of playing in a Leinster final, Griffin took me off after 15 minutes. The game sped on without me, much to my dismay. I watched as we competed in every sector, traded score for score with the stripey men. And then it was over. We were level and we would have to do it all again a week later.

The pressing problem on the bus back down to Wexford was that we had plans. And we had a certain degree of notoriety now. And some of us weren't willing to let that go. Weren't capable of letting it go. Some of us needed the pain of the experience to teach us a lesson that selfishly was a good thing in the long run, but it didn't feed the team. It rendered the tactics and the diet useless, because we lost the respect of each other. Lost respect for ourselves. A night on the town followed for a few of us. I was dropped from the panel for the replay and the damage was done. Griffin stood strong, but the integrity of the group had been compromised and we were well beaten in the replay a week later.

The day after the final, as news broke of our transgression, I remember standing in a half-built house in Wexford that I was working on for the summer and crying in my father's arms as he informed me that I was to be dropped from the panel.

It was the worst thing in the world at the time, complete with back-page headlines in Wexford. But when I look back at it, it shaped and defined the type of player I wanted to be. The type of person I wanted to be. It wasn't good enough any more to just roll with whatever came at me. To smile my way through life as though I knew what I was doing. The pain of the experience gave me a focus. A strength that I knew was an experience lived. Learned from.

So, replays teach us things about ourselves that can matter. For the Cork and Clare players, the ones that went out and left it all out there, threw caution to the wind in terms of their own selves, their own ability to let loose of the insecurities of being a semi-professional athlete and to perform within the framework of a team, but like Domhnaill O Donovan, who abandoned the framework when there was nothing else left to do, those ones have learned that it's possible.

It's big days like this, days when you think that there'll never be a more important day after it, that's when you learn a lot about yourself.

Hurling is an aside. The game itself will be magical. It always is. There's beauty at every level of hurling because it represents a beautiful part of all of us. That child in us that just wants to play. To score and be loved for it. It's as amazing to feel as it is to witness.

The mastery of a game that had insurance provisos in the sixth and seventh century that in the battle from one town to the next, if you killed or maimed someone, there had to be an agreement as to what you would give to the offended party. If it was death then possibly a couple of cows. If you broke a man's arm it might be equated with a months labour from a farmhand. That's what has survived and that's what lives in all of us.

And if you can't connect with that, that's fair enough. 'Hurling people' are criticised for being slightly obnoxious about being hurling people. Which isn't right. My only criticism of hurling people is that they sometimes can't see the same magic in other areas of life.

They'll poke fun at an artist for not performing under the intense scrutiny of another artist swinging a stick.

But in reality they are purveyors of their own magic. It's to be respected as we expect ours to be respected too. If you can't find it, look a bit harder. It's there. Share it. It's for all to see and all to be a part of. We'll know soon enough who the 2013 All-Ireland champions will be, but, either way, there'll be lessons learned and the magic will continue.

Irish Independent

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