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Eamonn Sweeney: Hurling Man – a breed apart

in the first half last Sunday at Walsh Park, Galway corner-forward Davy Glennon slipped past his marker, Waterford corner-back Stephen Daniels, and looked set to score a goal. Which was when Glennon hauled him down. Over in Nowlan Park, Kilkenny's Colin Fennelly suffered a similar fate as he cut inside Cork full-back Brian Murphy.

It's a reasonable bet that had Fennelly and Glennon not been fouled they'd have scored goals. Instead their teams were awarded penalties, neither of which produced a goal.

Watching the fouls on Fennelly and Glennon, it struck me how common this particular type of offence is in hurling. We've been watching forwards being wrestled to the ground just as they were about to pull the trigger for a long time now.

It's probably because penalties are more difficult to score in hurling but this blatant rugby-tackling of an opponent through on goal isn't anything like as common in football. There's nothing manly or honest about it, it's simply a cynical act of the kind which prompted the introduction of the red card for a professional foul in soccer. The very type of offence, in other words, that the new black card rule is designed to stamp out in Gaelic football.

Yet during the debate about the introduction of the black card it was stated again and again that hurling didn't need such a rule. Cynical fouling, we were told, is absent from hurling. Now, having seen many hurlers hauled down as they were about to score, I was puzzled by the difference between rhetoric and reality. But then I realised that these statements were coming from Hurling Man, a creature ordinary mortals like ourselves do not possess the power to fully understand.

Hurling Man is not to be confused with the hurling fan. He is a different bag of sliotars altogether, a self-important colossus who resembles a cross between Matt The Thrasher from Knocknagow, Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons and one of those TV wine connoisseurs who could detect fruity wood notes in a bottle of Blue Nun. Anyone who's ever followed the GAA has encountered him along the way but, just in case you haven't, here are a few pointers to help in the identification of the species . . .

1 Hurling Man doesn't know why you bother with that aul' football at all at all. You can change all the rules you like but it'll always be a terrible spectacle on account of its bastard origins.

2 Hurling Man can debate at length the competing claims of Christy Ring and Mick Mackey to be regarded as the greatest player in the history of the game even though he never saw either man play.

3 Hurling Man was talking to a man who knows a man who knows a man who's involved with the team and told him that the manager has definitely lost the dressing room.

4 Hurling Man thinks the All-Ireland hurling final should be played in Thurles because the sod is much better.

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5 Hurling Man is always unhappy with whatever system the GAA have come up with for the National League because he doesn't think any of the strong hurling counties ever deserve to be relegated or forced to play against Kerry.

6 Hurling Man is convinced that there's a plot to do away with the Munster Hurling Championship, so when the first exciting incident happens in the Munster final he shakes his head and says to everyone within earshot, 'And to think they were going to get rid of this.'

7 Hurling Man believes there's little point in trying to promote hurling in the weaker counties because they just don't have the tradition.

8 Hurling Man believes that if hurling was promoted in the proper way it could spread to other countries and become a major worldwide game.

9 Hurling Man gets great enjoyment out of an internet forum discussion on the efficacy of different brands of helmet even if it's a while since he wore one.

10 Hurling Man thinks Liam Griffin's statement that hurling is the Riverdance of sport is one of the great profound statements of Western civilisation. And so is the Micheál ó Muircheartaigh thing about neither of Seán óg ó hAilpín's parents coming from a hurling stronghold.

11 Hurling Man has a lot of favourite Micheál ó Muircheartaigh quotes which he'll tell you if you come back here for a minute.

12 Hurling Man isn't sure about Galway.

13 Hurling Man believes The Sunday Game should be anchored by someone with "a feel for hurling." Someone like Hurling Man.

14 Hurling Man derived much of his knowledge about the game from those Raymond Smith books he used to get at Christmas but is embarrassed by this and pretends he derived it from the giant folkloric collective unconscious.

15 Hurling man knows the right way to spell Paddy Rutschiztko. Which is Paddy Ruschitzko.

16 Hurling Man believes that the referee should let the game flow. Unless Kilkenny are doing the fouling.

17 Hurling Man felt personally let down by Lar Corbett's behaviour in last year's All-Ireland semi-final and will never forgive him for that affront to the spirit of the game.

18 Hurling Man believes there should be more ground hurling.

19 Hurling Man gets an orgasm if someone doubles on the ball in the air.

20 Hurling Man knows they hadn't a lot of ball work done when the teams met in the league.

21 Hurling Man is not the best person to meet on a long train journey. But he's better than the man who has a theory about how an Open Draw system could be made to work.

22 Hurling Man will occasionally say things like, "I seen he done well on Sunday," because it adds a folksy down-to-earth flavour to the conversation. What are you, a snob?

23 Hurling Man thinks Henry Shefflin took the wise option by pointing that penalty in last year's All-Ireland final. He'd have thought the same if Henry had gone for goal.

24 Hurling Man knows that it's not the 4-9 from the full-forward line which won the game but a particular clearance by the right half-back in the 11th minute.

25 Hurling Man just loves the Christy Ring quote about sticking a knife into every football east of Bandon. Or is it Kinsale? Hilarious.

26 Hurling Man likes to get his All-Ireland ticket the night before in a hotel bar after falling into conversation with someone who's got one to spare.

27 Hurling Man will tell you the stories about the Tipperary hurler, the Kilkenny hurler and the Tipperary hurler and the Limerick hurler and then tell you there's no truth in any of them.

28 Hurling Man thinks that hook there should be repeated for the benefit of any kids playing the game. It's a dying art.

29 Hurling Man thinks a black card rule would kill the game though it might survive in isolated pockets like the handful of survivors in The Walking Dead.

30 Hurling Man is concerned that the game is in trouble in Cork city.

31 Hurling Man is delighted to see the hurling revival in Dublin as long as they don't win anything of real significance.

32 Hurling Man says we shouldn't forget Billy when we're talking about the Rackards.

33 Hurling Man has doubts about Eoin Kelly's temperament. The Waterford lad, not the Tipp one.

34 Hurling Man mourns the loss of the North Mon and Farranferris.

35 Hurling Man believes inter-county players who've given a lot to the game should be allowed to choose the manner of their departure from the county team.

36 Hurling Man believes players should never be paid but should be looked after in some undefined way.

37 Hurling Man thinks no one is going to complain if the ref makes a draw of this one.

38 Hurling Man saw no malice in that pull. Or any pull.

39 Hurling Man wonders if you can follow the flight of the ball there, you being from a football county.

40 Hurling Man misses Carrolls All-Star wall charts in pubs and signed that Bring Back the James Last Sunday Game Theme Tune Petition.

41 Hurling Man enjoys the aul' banter.

42 Hurling Man thinks that in fairness the moderator is being a bit paranoid about libel.

43 Hurling Man wouldn't expect anything better from you, it's yourself you're showing up you ignorant hoor.

44 Hurling Man's nightmares are dominated by a green plastic Wavin hurl.

45 Hurling Man once met an American who told him they had no game like this in the States and couldn't believe the players were amateurs.

46 Hurling Man can remember the precise contents of the first Our Games annual bought for him.

47 Hurling Man admires Antrim's long struggle to keep the game alive despite British oppression and thinks the 'B' Championship is the place for them.

48 Hurling Man uses anecdotes from ghosted autobiographies and pretends they come from his personal experience. If challenged he'll say, "That's an old story. I can't believe you didn't hear it before."

49 Hurling Man believes that in the Amazon rain forest, the Western Sahara and the depths of Siberia, native herders and tribesmen are awed by the fact that hurling is the fastest field sport in the world

50 Hurling Man knows you're all only jealous.

Stage set for O'Gara to deliver

The history of Munster rugby is to a large extent the history of apparently impossible assignments successfully overcome.

The double last-gasp victories over Saracens in 1999 and 2000, the win over Toulouse in Bordeaux in the second of those years, the away victory against Stade Francais in 2002, the miracle against Gloucester in 2003 and the scarcely less impressive destruction of Sale in 2006 all flew in the face of form and logic. The more daunting the task, the happier Munster in their pomp were to tackle it.

Yet they've rarely seemed to be up against it to the degree they are today against Harlequins. You might imagine that this would be classic Munster territory, not least because Quins are the kind of hugely-hyped and supremely confident Premiership team the Thomond Park men have particularly relished putting to the sword in the past.

Instead Munster travel to the Stoop as 9/4 outsiders and there is unusually little talk about the possibility of an upset. Perhaps that's because right now Munster don't seem very like Munster, at least not in the way we came to know them during their golden years.

The wariness about Munster's chances may also have something to do with what happened last year. The team arrived in the last eight as top seeds with six wins out of six. A home defeat by Ulster was the last thing the team or their supporters expected. It seemed the curtain was about to fall on a glorious era.

Yet here Munster are again, something which speaks volumes about the side's resilience. And if logic suggests they have little chance against a Harlequins team which, like Munster last year, has gone six for six, well that used to be just the way Munster liked it. Besides, Quins did emerge from a group of surpassing weakness and have been in iffy form themselves lately.

The likes of Conor Murray, Paul O'Connell, Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan might well be playing for Lions places today but nobody has as much at stake as Ronan O'Gara. Declan Kidney's fortunes have been tied up for so long with that of his most famous former pupil that it's somehow fitting that O'Gara is facing one of his greatest challenges just days after the sacking of the Ireland manager.

Had Kidney kept faith with O'Gara in the Six Nations, the veteran outhalf might well have got the team home against Scotland and France and saved the manager's job. The implication that O'Gara's form had suffered the kind of precipitous decline which rendered him a liability can't have been lost on him.

Today O'Gara gets a chance to prove all the doubters wrong. And Irish rugby could receive no greater morale boost than to see O'Gara and Munster conjure up the ghosts of the glorious recent past. O'Gara has always been a man for the big occasion and it seemed unjust that his international career ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

You hope he can pull one more big winning performance out of the hat. If he can, this could be the miracle match to top them all.


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