THIS Sunday’s Munster hurling final between Limerick and Waterford in Thurles will be the most unique final in living memory.
We all have first hand experience of Thurles on Munster final day, it is one of the great sporting occasions of any year.
Thurles on Munster final day just takes on a life of its own.
There is a buzz there from early morning that you would not get anywhere and I mean anywhere.
The place is alive with the throngs arriving into the square, the supporters from both teams mingling alongside each other and not a bad word being spoken.
There is banter in the bars, the chip vans are doing a roaring trade and the long walk down to the stadium from the town begins early.
Hayes’s Hotel is jam packed, the place where it all began all those long years ago is the place to get into and be seen.
Back out the road from the Horse and Jockey in, there are traffic jams everywhere, you might have to park the old jalopy a mile or more outside the town.
The supporters of both teams walk alongside each other, again not a bad word being uttered.
Simply put, Thurles on Munster final hurling day has no comparison, it is a sporting heaven for that day and into the night.
If you have not experienced Thurles on that day, you have missed out badly.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to rectify that situation next Sunday because the big game will go ahead before empty stands and terraces.
It would be easier getting into Fort Knox than getting into Semple stadium next Sunday.
Thurles, on Sunday morning, will be a ghost town, in fact if you happen to pass through it you will not even know if there’s a match on.
Over the past two Saturdays we have experienced the old place and the eeriness that went with it.
Bar a few essential shops that were open, the place was empty. On a day of a big game it could take you two or more hours to get into the town, this time it took half that time.
There was a choice of where to park. In fact, you could put the car within 20 or 30 yards of the ground.
Working for a newspaper or other media outlets was the only ticket to get inside the four walls. The games went ahead and it was different.
Looking up at empty terraces and stands was so strange.
You had to adhere to the strict guidelines put down by the Munster Council and by Croke Park and there was no arguing with that.
The GAA desperately wanted the games to go ahead this year and nothing was going to be left to chance.
And for that we should all be grateful.
There is no doubt that it’s different. Supporters are so much a key component of big match days.
In a full Thurles or elsewhere the hair nearly stands on top of your head when our National Anthem is played and sung by those present.
So, on Sunday you will have no Limerick or Waterford supporters present and that’s a pity because these two hurling counties bring a near fanatical presence with them on big game days.
They are two of the best supported counties in the GAA and on Sunday it would be a full house, no doubt about it, if we lived in normal times.
But it’s not that way right now in these worrying times and having a Munster final in Thurles going ahead is an achievement in itself.
Will the absence of fans dilute the achievement for whichever team comes out on the right side.
It won’t or it shouldn’t.
It will be different but a Munster senior hurling medal should always be cherished no matter what the circumstances are.
It still promises to be a great game of hurling with Limerick the popular choice to emerge.
But Waterford will be up and ready after that great victory over Cork.
Tom Semple’s old field will be in pristine condition as it always is even if the old town itself will be eerily quiet.
But it’s still Munster hurling final day and we should cherish that.