Monday 18 November 2019

Ferocious old rivals well-fed animals ready to put bodies on line

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

We have been invaded by a cat. A horrible cat, with horrible fur, the colour of a boy racer's car seat cover. He just won't go away. It started out with a cat back injury and a family member, now disinherited, took pity on the varmint.

This cat is not a nice person. He whinges incessantly until he's fed about 18 times a day. The cat never reciprocates, he scowls and stares. He's huge, too big to be an orphan after the mammy ran off with some random Tom.

Cats are definitely getting bigger because of the hormones in food. Everyone is bigger. Just look at the size of the young lads these days. Hurling is no game for the underfed.

The Kilkenny Cats and their neighbours, the Tipperary Tigers, are big, well-fed men who will fight for every puck in yet another chapter of right here, right now hurling history.

The course of history can be changed by a single defining intervention. The First World War was kick-started by one shot in Sarajevo.

Henry Shefflin did his cruciate in last year's semi-final. It was a tragedy for Henry and Kilkenny. King Henry, possibly Lyreacrompane's best hurler, was a huge loss, but maybe Tipp would have won the five-in-a-row final anyway.

Curious, isn't it, that the cat arrived when he did? Is it an omen? He's definitely one. Screeching like a PMT banshee with the triple-glazed window offering no more sound proofing than uncushioned toilet paper and me here trying to write yet another masterpiece about a sport I've never played. We'll do our best.

Lar Corbett is the Henry of Tipperary. By the way I hear his new pub is flying. Ah Lar, but there will be nights when you will get sick of talking about hurling. For €3.70 a bore can infiltrate your very soul.

Is it too simplistic to state the winning of this match depends on the curtailing of Henry and Lar?

Lar got a fair bit of room last year. It's pretty impossible to mark him. As for Henry, he can slip away into space unnoticed and materialise on the other side of the pitch. Hurling backs beat their men by winning the ball. These could well be the last days of romantic hurling.

Football defenders would never get away with such risk taking and hurling teams are bringing back sweepers. Defending is a skill in itself, but if puke hurling comes in, I'll emigrate. Hurling is the one thing in this country we haven't managed to completely feck up.

Tipp and Kilkenny are in thrall to the game and will remain loyal to their heritage. Skill will dictate the winning of this one, but it will be very physical. There's history here.

It goes back to the ancient days of cattle raids, wife stealing, melees at 300-a-side games during summer booleying and cross-border winter cursing by malevolent double-agent itinerant poets.

Gortnahoe, pronounced Gort- na-who, is just inside the Tipp border. It is the home village of soccer star and former Tipp minor hurler Shane Long.

Glengoole, pronounced Glen-goole, is another Tipp border place. Fenner Hill forms the last part of a ferocious Premier triangle of villages with mellifluous place names ready- made for inclusion in victory speeches.

If Tipp win tomorrow the three villages will march on the town of Urlingford, barely over on the Cats' side. They will sing 'Slievenamon' with gusto and if Kilkenny win, 'The Rose of Mooncoin' will wake the dead in Gortnahoe graveyard. RIP indeed. Surely there are no better county songs.

Our clubman Kieran Fitzgerald, a Kilkenny City engineer, told us the story of the old Tipp man who cycled into Urlingford for a pint with the hurl strapped on to the bar of the bike.

When asked if he was making a comeback the stalwart replied: "You must always bring your weapons with you in time of war."

We heard of a house near Freshford in Kilkenny where the flags of all 31 counties are painted on the front wall. Thirty-one? Tipp is painted on the back door.

Tipp star Eoin Kelly won an All-Ireland college's hurling medal with St Kieran's of Kilkenny. He was awarded a sports star award-by 'The Kilkenny People.'

Brendan Cummins, the Tipperary goalie, works at AIB in the Parade in Kilkenny. Pity poor Brendan, if Tipp are beaten. The bank will have to position the best shot-stopper we have seen in the strong room counting five cents and All-Ireland medals. All small change in Kilkenny.

The rivalry is there, but as an outsider, I can see the ties that bind.

The main one is a reverence for hurling and the playing of the game as it should be played. We've been looking forward to tomorrow's inevitable rubber since the final whistle was blown in last season's 'famous forever final.'

I always felt the great Kerry and Dublin teams of the '70s never met when both were at their peak. Kerry were coming and Dublin were winning. Dublin were waning and Kerry were waxing.

Are the four-in-a-row Cats slightly on the slide with Tipp now at their peak?

You'll have to ask someone who knows a bit more about the holy game than I. I'm nearly gone in the head as it is.

Toothache is still screeching his satanic verses outside the window.

Irish Independent

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