OPINION: Attending a county final can be an unforgettable experience

With the inter-county season now concluded, county finals are taking place around the country

BY Oisin Langan 14:55 Wednesday 5 October 2016, 14:55 5 Oct 2016

Ballyboden's Conal Keaney and Tom Cunniffe of Castlebar Mitchels in the 2016 All-Ireland Club Final. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

The calendar is a mess and club players are the victims, as are the grassroots GAA people who never really get to see their local heroes play big games in Summer conditions.

Instead they are forced to wrap up and bear the cold and rain to watch lads they’ve known all their lives plough through the dirt.  At this time of the year sunglasses are replaced by scarfs, uncovered heads are replaced by beanie caps – yeah hipsters have infiltrated the GAA thanks for nothing Jamie Clarke – and as always it’s the players who suffer most with the jersey becoming a magnet for mud.

It takes many fine qualities to win a county title but at this time of year physicality becomes a massive factor with the heavier ground slowing down the sliotar or football, causing hurling to become a similar spectacle to Robot Wars - full of hip-to-hip battles where no one is really sure who’s winning. Hurling is not a winter sport. It never has been.

Watching a Provincial club final in December is like watching a different sport to what you see in high summer. The ruck balls as we mentioned also happen in warm conditions but they’re not as frequent while the ball just doesn’t hop as well on a wet heavy sod. It’s not fault of the players it just the conditions and hurling is a sport that needs dry warm conditions fore it to be at it’s best.

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Despite all the faults I still love the club game – I like the off-the-cuff nature of teams who don’t have as much time as county squad to work on and perfect game plans. I love how much individual brilliance stands out and seeing retired inter-county lads showing the skills that elevated them to the elite level in the past. Last Sunday, at the Dublin homecoming, I could see jaws drop when Michael Darragh MacAuley and Bernard Brogan danced on stage accidentally revealing their chiselled torsos when doing handstands, I was impressed and jealous in equal measure.

In the club game there’s many impressive figures but there’s also always a guy with a belly! He may be the guy who "could have made it only for the drink". He may also be the guy who is "a genius with the ball, but would sleep on the floor if there was training in the bed". What he also is though is the guy who makes me, a shite junior hurler connect with the team - I look at him and think these guys are just like me these guys are human.

As great as covering the inter-county game is, by the time you get to the final stages you’re observing counties who have normalised success or reaching the business end. The players are as media trained as skills trained and it’s hard to get something original out of them. The reason Kieran Donaghy’s "Well Joe Brolly! What do ya think of that" line resonated is because it was a rare act of raw emotion in a post-match interview.

There are a few exceptions but generally when a club succeeds they don’t take it from granted it will happen every year and that adds an electricity and to the atmosphere. They’re also completely untrained in the ways of saying nothing to the media so it leads to a lot of honesty in interviews.

Fans watch on as the teams parade before the 2013 Cork Senior Hurling Final in 2013. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

As always, winning teams seem to need to tap into the GAA traditions of bitterness and anger as almost every interview contains the phrase "everybody wrote us off". This year, I might chance asking "WHO? WHO WROTE YOU OFF? GIVE ME ONE NAME!" I probably won’t though .

If you’ve never been to a club final I suggest going. It combines everything that’s great about sport. Community, unity, fighting for your local identity and pride in those you grew up with. Be careful with your criticism though as you’re probably sitting around or near a family member!

I like to try and jump on the bandwagon of the winning club and it’s always a great nit ht back in the clubhouse or local bar closest to the clubhouse that normally are team sponsors. For instance, this Sunday I’m going to the Cork Senior Hurling Final. If Glen Rovers win I’ll claim it, sure my brother is married to a Glen Rovers woman. She was born in London, but granted a still a Glens woman whose brother John Fox played Under-21 for Cork and is friends with the great Seanie McGrath !

If Erins Own will it will be more tricky but don’t worry I’ve got it sussed. "Sure aren’t they on the road to Waterford, and didn’t I stop their many times for petrol before the dual carriageway was built!"

Stop making your excuses now and enjoy the game!

Off The Ball


The very best bits of Off The Ball delivered every week