Sport is about emotion. I’ve said this before. Other things too, but mostly emotion. And sometimes the emotions aren’t good but we seek them out anyway. We make ourselves vulnerable to them, we put ourselves out there. We let ourselves be open and exposed. Not a common stance for men. We stick our unprotected heads above the parapet in the full knowledge we could get our blocks knocked off.
I met a Galway couple on the tram in from Tallaght to Connolly Station last year, on the day of the All-Ireland Final. The first Sunday in September. In their mid-sixties or so. They were well dressed, the way some people put on good clothes to go to matches. They looked comfortable as the saying goes – economically, anyway. But the man seemed sick. His skin was the colour of wet ash, a darkish, unshining pallor. It was dull and his eyes were withdrawn. Looking inward, not out. Poor fella, I thought, maybe it’s his last time at an All-Ireland, and he knows it.
The woman held a sandwich wrapped in tin foil. But the foil didn’t go all the way around the bread (humble sliced pan), there was a gap and I could see the white. And the foil was wrinkled at the edges, as tin foil is when it’s been used a few times. She didn’t seem like a woman who would badly wrap such a sandwich and she held it in her hand, it wasn’t even in a bag of any kind. Very incongruous.
I got talking to the man. Will ye do it today? I dunno, he said. He shook his head and looked at the tram floor and said: I can’t take losing another one. I knew then he wasn’t sick at all. He was riddled with nerves. He was putting himself through misery, in the hope of some relief and joy at the end of it. I was hoping for a Waterford win, but I didn’t begrudge him, after, when Galway did the biz.
Yesterday, I watched some of the France Argentina World Cup game in Cronin’s Pub in Crosshaven. I thought I’d be neutral but when Argentina took the lead, I realised I wanted France to win. In fact I wanted Argentina to lose, Messi in particular. I’m not sure why – very often how we feel about games and players isn’t rational, but comes from deep in the gut, some feeling you can’t quite trace.
I can’t really say how much I admire Messi and how much joy it has given me over the years to see him weave impossible dreams into reality. But I don’t really like him and never have. Nor Barcelona. Wonderful team, amazing history, but I’m not a fan at all. Maybe it’s the nationalism, the Catalan flag and all that. Maybe it’s their dominance. Not sure, that’s just the way I feel. And I think he ruined that Argentina team to suit his own desires.
On the contrary, I will miss Ronaldo, the great EGO himself. I just love his strutting, self-adoration. Him looking to see himself on the big screen, the perfect coif, the brand-building. I think he’s gas, making a holy show of himself. I love it.
I’ll miss Iniesta too. What a glorious footballer. How understated his genius, I’ll miss him in a fright. He’s beautiful.
I love Luka Modrić. When he missed the penalty against Denmark, I was sorry for him. I love his quiet, resolute brilliance. I loved him at Spurs and I always wished he’d go to United. I was sorry for Denmark (where I have many friends, and it’s a country I love) but I’ll be glad to see him in action again. And I think Croatia can improve a lot.
I was calm earlier during the Clare Cork game. I couldn’t make it to Thurles today for family reasons. So I watched it at home, and I had warned myself before the throw-in to stay calm and take it all in. And I did too – mostly. Didn’t look good for us with five or six minutes before half-time, when we were eight points down, and Conlon was unplayable.
At half-time things looked a bit better but what struck me most was the sense of joy I felt in that moment. Whatever the outcome, a great joy. Thirty five sweet minutes to go and I felt blessed to be there in a place where I could savour such a spectacle. To be, in a sense, part of it. Inside it. Even if I was 120 kilometres away and watching it on TV. The pure pleasure to be now in this world, now where this is happening, at this moment, right now. Where I can be granted this gift by those wonderful hurlers and the people who do so much to get them ready for the contest. All the colour, the tension, the drama, the hopes and dreams, lows and highs, visions being intertwined into our minds of what this now can give us, what heights can be reached.
Obviously the second half was delightful from a Cork point of view, with our young men throwing themselves in front of the implacable train that Clare had hurtled towards them. Leaders all over the pitch, with the backline putting the first-half behind them and holding Clare to nine points in the second half. The forwards winning hard ball and scoring some stunning points, eventually breaking the Clare spirit with a unremitting, unrelenting, momentum.
Joy too to watch the Leinster Final. What a titanic battle, brutal in its physicality and tight, but beautiful in its honesty of endeavour. The wonder of what those men can do, in the burning breathless pressure of a final. More intense and more impressive in some ways than the free-flowing movement of the Munster Final. Champions against former multiple champions, who haven’t forgotten their heritage. The ruthless ferocity of whole lives compressed into an hour and how we get to witness it. Live it.
Fergus (a proud Clare supporter and a hurling man – a man who created art out of hurling) made a joke to me a few weeks ago, in relation to the game – about summer in paradise. But you know what? It is.
Pat O’Connor, the Clare captain, is a man I admire more than I can say. He and his Banner men will be back next month. To do their county proud. And they will.