Remember the build-up to this year’s All-Ireland hurling semi-finals? Remember when we were all blissfully unaware that we were about to enter into one of the greatest weekends of action the GAA has ever seen? It feels like years ago.
There was such a catalogue of incredible events on the pitch at Croke Park over the past 48 hours that time itself seems skewed. Even within the inflated confines provided by extra-time, it is absurd that Peter Duggan’s point, Nickie Quaid’s save, Tony Kelly’s sideline cut, Conor Lehane’s goal, Shane Dowling’s goal, Pat Ryan’s goal, Daithi Burke’s tussle with John Conlon and those 112 Hawkeye referrals happened in the space of just two matches.
It was an exhausting 180-minute highlight reel.
There were some things that were predictable. We knew that Burke vs Conlon was going to be epic, for instance. We also knew hurling people everywhere would rub the world’s faces in the brilliance of their sport.
But there were thousands of things that were totally unpredictable. For instance, an exciting match featuring a sweeper broke out on Saturday – who could possibly have guessed that might one day happen? And who would have thought that the hurling snobs would be proven right all along, that hurling is indeed the greatest sport on the planet?
I was sitting in the Cusack Stand on Saturday and commented on Colm Galvin’s positional switch. The spectator beside me turned out to be Italian and claimed not to know the rules of the game. I’m sure he did appreciate Galvin’s effectiveness as a sweeper, though. The catenaccio was oozing from the Croke Park pitch, Galvin emulating Gaetano Scirea with every passing moment. We can all sleep sound in the knowledge that the legend of the Clonlara man will be told and spread from Lombardy to Sicily in the coming months.
The Italian gentleman had a friend beside him who was Venezuelan and I can only assume her trip to Europe was made especially for Saturday’s derby; a reconnaissance mission for Caracas Crokes, perhaps.
It was one of those days where we could all feel a proud, Irish ownership of hurling. Anyone in a similar situation to the one I was in could smugly proclaim to visitors “the green flag means a goal, which is worth three points, did you know?” The match was so good it almost made me go in search for articles entitled “You’ll Never Believe The English Twitter Reaction to Saturday’s Croke Park Barnstormer”.
On Sunday, it was a spot in the Hogan Stand between Limerick and Cork fans for me. I was braced for war on the pitch and war in the stands; fierce foes and neighbours, contemptuous familiarity coming to the boil. But, in a weird turn of events, both sets of supporters cheered for their teams instead of informing the referee of the violence that will be exacted on him later.
It’s rather easy to get used to the vitriol spouted at referees in football matches, which comes as a result of an increasingly attritional game. With yesterday being something of an artistic marvel, however, both men in black were perfectly anonymous.
Anyway, why would anyone bother wasting any of their breath on anything other than the players in these thrillers? This is a golden age for the game of hurling, and we’re all just soaking in as much of it as we can.