Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Tipp Back on Top

When Lar Corbett cut through the mists of a rainy Croke Park to blast home his first goal of the afternoon in Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling final, PJ Ryan must have felt like Roy Scheider in Jaws when the shark suddenly loomed up from the seas. Kilkenny, like the Amity’s Chief Brody, were going to need a bigger boat.

The most astonishing thing on a day of general astonishments was that despite every Tipperary blow finding its target and Kilkenny losing their talismanic Henry Shefflin after a quarter of an hour, Tipp only led by a point at half-time. It was reminiscent of last year’s final, where Tipperary got off to a flier but still somehow couldn’t find a chink in the black and amber amour and were put down in the end.

But there the comparison ended. In the second half came the deluge. Tipperary went into a seven point lead again and suddenly Kilkenny didn’t reel then back in as usual. Mortality claimed the cats for their own while the Hurling Gods remembered that Tipperary were the team that stood up to Kilkenny in a League final 2009 that not only meant nothing in itself but that put the bigger day of a Munster Championship game in a month’s time at Páirc Uí Chaoimh at risk.

It was all seen as less important than showing Kilkenny that Tipperary were not to be pushed around by God, by Man or by the Devil and eighteen months later Tipperary were rewarded for their pride and heroism on a day when it counted for nothing with victory on a day that counted for everything.

The 2010 All-Ireland hurling final was played in an extraordinary atmosphere, not least because of the intensity of the challenges on the field. Had it been football, there would have been three red cards at least. But because it’s hurling, men took and gave their belts.

How odd it was to see a Tipperary forward being returned his helmet after the punches had died down, and then both Noresider and Premierman turning around to face the ball, like nothing more violent had happened than bumping trolleys in Tesco.

When John Wayne was filming The Quiet Man, he was taken to a hurling match. They asked the Duke if he’d like to be out there with a hurl himself. Wayne said he wouldn’t like to be out there without one. Should the shades of John Wayne or Victor McLaglen have drifted over Dublin 7 on Sunday, they would have liked what they saw.

As did we all. The singing of the Galtee Mountain Boy at the end was, in its way, almost as magical as Joe McDonagh’s famous West’s Awake – can it be? – thirty-one years ago. The crowd’s accepted that the days of the pitch invasion were over, and just sat back to admire those gallant men who kept the flag flying high.

And even more remarkably, the atmosphere, so intense as to be almost frightening, was utterly good humoured among the supporters afterwards. They wouldn’t be eager to admit it, but the counties are of the one blood, really, and they know they’ll meet again soon. Kilkenny did not win their five-in-a-row, but they still played a Champions’ part in one of the great days ever in Irish sport.