REAL beauty needs no embellishment. And that’s what putting words to Kilkenny and Tipp’s thunderous final seems like trying to do.
A famous sports writing story from history is appropriate. Laurence Stallings, a war correspondent, was assigned to cover a college football game in 1925 between Pennsylvania and Illinois. A lot of magnificent and unforeseen events happened that day, among Red Grange running a total of 362 yards to lead his unfancied Illinois team to a 24-2 victory.
Probably the best sports writer of all, Red Smith described Stallings pacing up and down the press box afterwards “clutching his haircut”. Stallings was in the throes of panic and despair. “It’s too big,” he said. “I can’t write it.”
Stallings had covered World War 1.
He would have been in a similar jock if parked in front of a blinking cursor on the upper deck of the Hogan Stand on Sunday evening. Watching on from north London, we had sympathy for the corps of sports journalists trying to capture the nature of spirit of something so special and so huge.
The phrase “there are no words” is scored by any writer with ambition of doing a decent job. Finding the right words and putting them in the right order in a manner that does justice to what has been seen and felt by millions must have tempted them to grab that cliché and run with it.
What we saw was perhaps the most entrancing version of the great game that is hurling. Those aren’t heavy words lightly thrown around by people today. We all remember last year’s drawn final and the replay and the feeling that we’d witnessed something that might not come around again in a lifetime.
We also remember thinking the same thing after finals of 2009 and 2010. Hurling keeps confounding us, keeps giving more and more.
The game this decider reminded me most of was the 2003 semi-final between Cork and Wexford. Roy McCarthy swivelled and fired in a magnificent last-action goal to force a replay and a few of us stayed rooted to the Hill 16 steps afterwards. Nobody moved or spoke much for a couple of minutes. Something enormous, otherworldly had been played out a few yards away and we needed a bit of time to process it before stepping back into the throng and rhythm of post-match pints and chatter.
Without question, Sunday’s match blew that and everything else away. The stats go a distance towards marking it out: Tipp scored 1-24 from play and didn’t win; this was the highest-scoring final since 1970’s 80-minute affair.
The one that gets me is that there were no wides from the 44th to the 72nd minutes.
With everything on the line, under the most extreme physical and mental pressure, everybody’s aim and nerve was true. The point-taking duel of Seamus Callanan and Richie Hogan, in particular, was astonishingly good.
Also bewildering was the pace at which the skills of the game were executed. The striking, blocking, catching on the run, control of the sliotar travelling at magnificent velocity with one deadening touch … it was like the animated Nike advert featuring Rooney and Ronaldo and co, only it happened in real time and on the Croke Park sod in one glorious take.
That is not to denigrate any other sport. If the day had a bum note it was the best-game-in-the-world/master-race element to the commentary and online reaction.
It feels churlish to bring this up after such a stunning match, but people would do well to not feel the need to attack the Ireland Georgia game – and by extension the entire sport of soccer – in the aftermath. It’s unpleasant and comes across as desperate and insecure.
That desperation and craven desire to please is evident in all of these compilations of Twitter and Facebook reactions of English and American people after every hurling contest.
And Joey Barton getting about 12 trillion favourites and retweets for saying he might Sky + the game is a particular low point. Might as well tweet back. “Do you like us Joey? Do you love us? HAVE WE GOT THE BEST SPORT IN THE WORLD?”
In a way you can see why folks want to crow about this spectacle and indulge in the wonder of newcomers. Hurling and football at their best are Ireland at their best. We’ve been more famous internationally lately as a nation of recession and default and religious scandal.
Anybody watching yesterday would have seen expertise, bravery, grace under pressure, heroism; fellas lifting themselves and their teams to a place nobody had seen before and few thought was possible. It was pure.
The beauty of the game was articulated in every play. Having a pop at a boring game of soccer between two average sides does not enhance that beauty, it just betrays a lack of confidence.
After yesterday and with the dizzying prospect of more of the same on Saturday week, the last thing anybody who loves hurling needs to feel now is a lack of confidence or a need for validation.
The game said everything.