Kilkenny shatters Waterford to claim third straight All-Ireland hurling title
For baseball fans, the matchup might have resembled the Yankees versus the Red Sox back when the Yankees were still good and before the Red Sox became preening, strutting -- in other, words, the Yankees. Waterford was trying for its first All-Ireland title in more than 40 years, much as the Red Sox went from 1919 to 2003 without winning a World Series. Kilkenny, on the other hand, has dominated the sport the way the Yankees ruled baseball in the waning years of the 20th century, and it looks set to continue doing so, as its under-18 team also won an All-Ireland title today.
Hurling is an odd game to North American eyes because players can advance the ball by just about any means: striking it with the hurley, running with it balanced on the hurley, slapping it forward, even kicking it. Kilkenny had Waterford's number in all those ways and more, and Waterford's frustration showed early, with players whining about non-calls and making impotent passes to the side of the field rather than attacking the goal.
For those not up on their hurling, a player scores a goal, worth three points, by striking the ball past the goalkeeper and into a soccer-like net, or a point, by batting it with the hurley through two North-American-football-like goalposts above the net. It's the latter that impressed this first-time spectator most, the players sending the ball through the posts from long distances and steep angles with flicks of the wrist that looked as effortless as tennis forehands -- or at least as effortless as tennis forehands looked before it became fashionable for tennis players to grunt to show how hard they're working.
I sat in the middle of a large group of Waterford rooters at Croke, and I learned a bit of Gaelic, a phrase that sounded like "Ahfer foegh's sake!" If any Irish speakers know the meaning of this phrase, please let me know.
The final is major news in Ireland, and the country's taoiseach and president attended. Toward the end of the match, the public-address announcers asked safety stewards to take their places and fans to refrain from running onto the field after the game. When fans ran onto the field after the game, the P.A. laconically announced: "Safety Plan B." The stewards, rather than linking arms in a show of strength and thereby inviting a confrontation, as their American and most of their European counterparts would have done, allowed the fans onto the field to mingle in celebration, keeping watch to ensure that no one got out of hand. No one did.
© Peter Rozovsky 2008