(Update 13/5/13: follow-up article here.)
Last weekend one of my brothers had the bright idea of heading down to Dungarvan to see De La Salle play Ballyduff Upper in the county championship. We got to see two of the better club sides in the county – quite possibly in the country – serve up a tight affair which was in doubt until the last few minutes. It was hard but it was fair and we were able to watch the game without any of the stress that comes with being a partisan observer. Throw in a balmy early summer evening and the oft-charming surroundings of Fraher Field and it was well worth €10 of anyone’s money.
Having also taken in the Blues at the RSC the previous evening, another frustrating late goal denying us all three points against Longford Town, I was beginning to fancy myself as Mr Waterford Sport so when I saw on Twitter that Tramore were playing Bonmahon in the Junior county championship, it seemed like a very bright idea to go down and check it out.
Having negotiated the entrance to the pitch, where I seriously wondered whether the GAA in its wisdom might insist that every club game of any description should have a €10 entry fee, my Tramore-based brother and I settled down on pitchside cackling about how we’d probably have our heads taken off by a flying hurley. The brother, a decent player in his day (Sonny Walsh Cup winner) expressed his belief that he would never have been cut out for the rough-and-tumble of what we were about to see.
This would turn out to be prophetic. Within the first minute one Tramore player got caught on the head with a hurley, then the Tramore centre-back took a wild hack when his opponent had put his hand down to pick up the ball. As the ref was trying to sort this out an almighty ruck broke out in the middle of the field. This was serious sabre-dancing, two players giving each other forests of timber. Had there been linesmen both would have been red-carded but there was no way the lone official could tell who had done what so he handed out a lecture and left it at that. The next flashpoint saw the Bonmahon centre-back plough into Tramore’s advancing corner-forward, a purely cynical tackle on a player half his size that caused the ref to snap. “None of ye want to play the game, so just forget about it”, he said and marched off towards the dressing room with the demeanour of a man who wanted to tuck his hand into the breast of his uniform.
It looks mad 24 hours after the event that the ref would abandon the game after just three minutes, so it’s important to emphasise how correct it felt at the time. You could understand, while not approving of, a game descending into anarchy as events unfolded. Conditions are poor, decisions are contentious, tempers fray, and all hell breaks loose. But this was two teams going at each other right from the throw-in, red of tooth and claw. And it wasn’t as if this was the Gaelic games equivalent of Galatasaray v Fenerbahce or Al Ahly v Zamalek. Tramore v Bonmahon, for Christ’s sake! If the coaches were sending out their teams with fiery speeches about socking it to that shower a few miles up the coast then they need to be locked up for the safety of the entire populace.
I’m guessing this game isn’t typical of Junior club hurling. An old school friend I spoke to after the game didn’t seen to think it was. Still, it’s irritating to see a pernicious stereotype about the GAA, that (to paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield) you would go to a boxing match and a hurling game might break out, being given form in such a dispiriting fashion. If it is typical, I think I’ll stick with games where there are multiple All Stars on the field.