Irish Examiner sports column June 19 2009

July 16, 2009

Easy, let’s not write off the small ball game just yet

THAT put us rightly in our place.

Hurling snobs everywhere were left choking on their cigarillos and smashing their snifters of absinthe after last Sunday’s dull Munster senior hurling championship draw between Waterford and Limerick.

Roll up your silk smoking-jackets and put those 78s of Noel Coward songs back in the sleeve. Let that air of smug superiority and impossible aesthetic standards waft out the window like a bad smell.

It’s all over. Officially. The reign of the grand old game came to an abrupt end last weekend and Waterford and Limerick carry the can for its demise.

Even if heavy rain and slippery turf can be added to the charge sheet, those were the two teams that ushered in the final demise of the small-ball game.

They shouldn’t shoulder too much of the blame, of course, they just happened to be in the seats when the wheel went round.

Eventually the reality of Gaelic football’s primacy was going to sink in. That just took a little longer than everybody expected.

The reaction to last Sunday’s draw in the Munster senior hurling championship was interesting in all sorts of ways: friends and colleagues who are aware of this column’s … fastidious approach to Gaelic football weren’t slow to shake their heads mournfully at the festival of slipping and dropping and missing that went on in Semple Stadium.

Years of eye-rolling as football midfielders mauled each other like strangers in a San Francisco bathhouse were cited in evidence against your correspondent; we were reminded of loud sighs exhaled as yet another wing-back was checked when moving upfield for a return handpass; and certain comments from years past about the wisdom of allowing football to be played in Croke Park — Gaelic football, that is — were brought up, and not to our advantage.

There’s no hiding from the fact that last Sunday wasn’t entertaining. What we found interesting, however, was that directly after the game, participants commented freely on its quality.

“It was a poor Munster championship game… it wasn’t a great championship (match) by any standards,” said Limerick boss Justin McCarthy. His captain, Mark Foley, was even more forthright: “Whereas it was close and exciting at times, the standard wasn’t great and you’d be hoping from a neutral perspective that the quality will be better the next time.”

Compare Derry-Monaghan a few weeks ago. After that clash — an ugly enough affair, even by football standards — Derry boss Damien Cassidy said: “It was a battle but it was not going to be anything else. People sitting at home may be complaining about the quality of football but we are not in the business of entertaining people.

“This is an amateur game — you sacrifice your working life and your family life. And we don’t get paid for entertaining people.”

Cassidy is right, of course: he’s not obliged to produce fun viewing but to produce victories in a competitive environment. We just feel it’s significant that in the immediate aftermath of a poor hurling championship game participants find the time to gauge the aesthetic appeal, along with the result, while after a poor football championship game a participant acknowledges people will be unhappy with the quality of the entertainment.

We’re not going to try to pretty up last Sunday. It was a poor game, and this isn’t designed to make a case for the beauty of hurling (you could say that most Gaelic football games perform that function pretty well; okay, we couldn’t resist that one).

What surprised us was the reaction to the poverty of the fare, as if hurling fans had that hour of dreariness
coming. Maybe they’re right, too.

Still, it beats the alternative.

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie; twitter: MikeMoynihanEx

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