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Eoin Larkin, Kilkenny, in action against Paddy Stapleton, Tipperary, in the 2014 All-Ireland hurling final at Croke Park, in incredible game on every level. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE
Eoin Larkin, Kilkenny, in action against Paddy Stapleton, Tipperary, in the 2014 All-Ireland hurling final at Croke Park, in incredible game on every level. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE
SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

Hurling's greatness lies in special feeling the furious and skillful sport evokes

IN the recent blast of nostalgia rolled out by the TV stations as a form of microwaved sustenance for the real thing, some of the footage once again reaffirmed how nostalgia is such a powerful collaborator in framing history.

In the popular imagination, time often reinforces the status of past players and past games, as if their feats from those eras become more glorious as the years pass. That can have such a powerful influence on memory that some of those old matches will always occupy a certain status in the mind’s eye.

Every match is of its time and era, which always makes comparisons difficult, but, fully accepting that reality, trying to compare ‘great matches’ is still instructive in examining nostalgia.

In recent weeks, TG4 showed the 2004 Cork-Waterford Munster final, and the 2014 Kilkenny-Tipperary drawn All-Ireland final. For many hurling people, that 2004 epic was regarded as hurling’s greatest game, a spell-binding classic which Waterford edged with 14 men.

John Mullane of Waterford and Seán Óg, Cork wing-back, battling in the 2004 Munster final. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan
John Mullane of Waterford and Seán Óg, Cork wing-back, battling in the 2004 Munster final. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Watching that drawn 2014 final though, forced a revision of that 2004 game’s status in the minds of many of those hurling people who had always placed it at the peak. That 2014 match was possibly the greatest All-Ireland final ever. Does that not grant it an elite status, almost incomparable with any other match?

Who knows, yet the numbers, and sheer quality of that 2014 drawn All-Ireland final underlined just how good that game was. Decorated by luminous class on both sides, the accuracy was off the charts; the tally of 54 scores was the most recorded in an All-Ireland final; there were 20 different scorers from play. Tipperary hit 1-28, but it still wasn’t enough to win.

Of course, it doesn’t always take high volumes of scores to validate a match. The 2004 Munster final had 41 scores, 13 less than the 2014 drawn All-Ireland final, but Cork’s style was the beginning of hurling’s new evolution, which subsequently accelerated hurling’s shift to a shorter game, where guarding possession became more paramount.

Joe Deane celebrates Cork's goal against Waterford in 2004. Picture: Brian Lougheed
Joe Deane celebrates Cork's goal against Waterford in 2004. Picture: Brian Lougheed

Kilkenny went on to absolutely dominate the latter part of the last decade, but that dominance forced every team to try and come up with different ways of trying to beat them.

Tipp adapted Cork’s possession game by advancing it to more of a stick-passing template but, watching the Tipp-Kilkenny 2009 All-Ireland final on TG4 last Sunday, reinforced how different the game still was 11 years ago to how it is now; there was one short puck-out; most of the balls from defence were lamped long; the match was largely dominated by 50-50 aerial duels.

Up to that point in the decade, Kilkenny had never been disarmed in the air, especially on puckouts, as they were in that 2009 final.

That added to the claustrophobia, which meant players had to execute the skills in far less time, which subsequently added again to the spectacle.

So was the savage intensity of that match more of an accurate barometer of its brilliance than the 2014 final, where the huge volume of scores suggested it was looser and more open?

Brian Cody certainly thought it was — in the replay, Kilkenny were a totally different animal, restricting Tipp to 13 less scores than in the drawn match.

That replay was far less entertaining, but the result is the only outcome that has ever mattered to the winners.

Does anyone outside Kilkenny even remember the 2014 replayed final now? Yet any discussion in trying to rate matches is at the core of the debate, and the fun.

Action from the 2014 replay. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE
Action from the 2014 replay. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

There is no empirical process that can produce a conclusive outcome that everyone agrees on. Given how much hurling has evolved in the last 15 years, and how it continues to evolve, it’s no longer a like-for-like comparison.

Hurling was always considered the fastest field game in the world but, since the turn of the last decade, hurling is getting faster with each passing season. That fact alone makes it harder again to make comparisons with hurling now from past eras.

Yet nostalgia’s real power is rooted more in feelings than memory. Epic scores and glorious feats may sometimes be difficult to recall but the most vivid memories people often take from games is how those moments made them feel. 

Supporters will forget the final score, but nobody forgets those ecstatic moments at the final whistle when their heart was bursting with pride and happiness.

Laois celebrate beating Dublin last year. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Laois celebrate beating Dublin last year. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

That was evident on The Sunday Game last Sunday when the Laois-Dublin hurling match from last summer was re-shown. It reaffirmed how well Laois performed that afternoon, but the defining image was the huge explosion of emotion on the O’Moore pitch afterwards. In time, those Laois supporters will be able recall those feelings of glorious elation and pride more so than the quality of the Laois performance.

As the silent championship summer eases its way into June, as the pitches harden and the longing for those eternal summer Sundays becomes more acute, that’s what supporters will yearn for most; of travelling into that electric blaze of colour and atmosphere with family and friends; of bringing young children to a big match for the first time; of seeing a neighbour’s child, or someone they coached at underage, make their championship debut; of experiencing that crazy range of emotions over 70-plus minutes when your county is dangling on the precipice of elimination or progressing to a provincial final.

And all those visceral feelings will be treasured far more than ever whenever those glorious championship days do return.

Enda Rowland of Laois saves a shot from Dublin's Danny Sutcliffe. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Enda Rowland of Laois saves a shot from Dublin's Danny Sutcliffe. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile