The worst part of it all is that the feeling is only going to get worse. In the immediate aftermath of defeat, it wasn’t so bad. It had been obvious from a loooong way out that we were doomed, which at least had the virtue of not getting our hopes up. Had we lost having come agonisingly close, in much the manner we did against Cork in 2006, it would have been sickening for days afterwards. But you’d have gotten over it before too long. This, on the other hand, is going to reverberate for ages. Quite apart from the death-by-a-thousand-cuts that will be talking about GAA online for the forseeable future, the prospects for Waterford hurling suddenly look rather bleak. The All-Ireland, the only thing that will satisfy us after the success of the last decade, looks further away than it ever did.
Nearly five months on, and I’m glad to report how wrong this piece of anguished speculation has proven to be. Not the part about the All-Ireland being further away than ever – De La Salle’s inspirational odds-overcoming to land the Munster club title has not been enough to cancel out the damage of multiple retirements and the sense that there might be rancour in the camp. Heck, you couldn’t even say with confidence that we’d beat a Cork C team should we meet them in the Championship. No, what makes a mockery of this piece of prognostication is that I can think back to that fateful day and feel a warm glow inside.
The homecoming helped. None of my siblings had the privilege of watching a team of record-breaking losers return to a cold, wet, windswept Quay and it is not likely to be a coincidence that none of them share my rosy-tinted view of the events of All-Ireland Sunday. My wife and I went along out of a feeling that we didn’t want the players to outnumber the spectators, and it was truly moving to see that many thousands of others shared the sentiment.
It has also helped that I’ve managed to avoid talking about it online. God bless wellboy over at Up The Déise for his commitment to maintaining an open forum, but the crowing of the outsiders – not many of whom, it should be noted, would be from Kilkenny – would have been insufferable. I don’t know for sure because I avoided it, as I did with AFR and the GAA Discussion Board. And for the most part I’ve stayed away. Life really is too short.
Most importantly, the day made me realise how much we take the All-Ireland final day for granted. When you read Peter McKenna’s embittered comments about the blithe indifference of the authorities in Dublin to the sixth of a million people who pour into the city every September in comparision to the hoopla that attended to a one-off event with a few thousand visitors to Co Kildare, you can see the casual general attitude to these great events. And even in the GAA in particular, the All-Ireland can feel routine – until, having been shut out of it for all your life, you actually get to experience it.
No words can describe the tsunami of emotion that swept through Croke Park when Waterford took to the field that day. Perhaps the best reference point is that it hit the players hard, as Tony Browne admitted afterwards. But even John Mullane could appreciate that moment, the culmination of two weeks of giddiness that was enjoyable in itself. Just thinking about it is enough to send endorphins flooding into your system.
Time will dim these memories. I once thought that following Liverpool could never be anything other than pleasurable after the orgy of joy thatwas Istanbul. And should Waterford slide from sight of the hurling summit we may well curse that day as the tipping point, when we missed both our best opportunity to reach said summit and taught ourselves a lesson that it was futile to even bother. But for now I can think positively about 7 September 2008, and I’ll settle for that.