Sunday, September 07, 2008

Kilkenny shatters Waterford to claim third straight All-Ireland hurling title

Hurling aficionado and crime novelist Declan Burke had described this Kilkenny team in terms that made them sound like the Ballets Russes, Patton's Third Army and the 1927 New York Yankees rolled into one, and he was right. Today was my first hurling match, and I had never seen one team so thoroughly dominate another in any sport, Kilkenny taking a 2-16 to 0-5 lead in the first half at Dublin's Croke Park on the way to winning, 3-30 to 1-13.

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

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Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Your comments, sir, about the NYY were uncalled for. Everyone knows that the NYY are letting the Cubs win the WS this year as the year ends in an 08.

September 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The playoffs without the Yankees this year will be as odd as an All-Ireland final without Kilkenny.

I was pleased to read on both newspaper I've seen today that Kilkenny is considered one of the great teams ever and that its performance yesterday was considered by some the best ever in an All-Ireland final. I feel a bit as if I've seen the 1927 Yankees play. .

September 08, 2008  
Blogger Declan Burke said...

Peter - "Ahfer foegh's sake!" is gaelic for, "Golly gosh, one's representatives aren't quite up to the mark today".

Man, you were privileged. Being half-Wexford, I'm born and bred to despise Kilkenny. But that was easily the finest performance I've ever seen in 30 years of watching hurling. In soccer terms, the current Kilkenny team is a blend of Brazil '70 and Real Madrid circa the 1950s. It's an over-used word, but they were truly awesome. Cheers, Dec

September 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll tell you: Aside from the novelty of the spectacle, I knew I was seeing something special. Like you and me, the sportswriters yesterday were all reaching for superlatives to describe Kilkenny's performance.

And guess what: A few hours after the game, I heard an American voice telling a waiter in a pub that he (the American) played on a hurling club in the U.S. Where? I asked him. In Philadelphia, he said. It transpires that the area has not one but two clubs. Maybe some of the members could be enticed to hear a visiting Irish crime writer read from his work.

If you are half-Wexford, are you born and bred to love Ruth Rendell?

September 09, 2008  

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