Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dublin versus Tipperary: The All-Ireland Hurling Semi-final

There are I’m sure many different routes and routines employed by people for big matches in Croke Park. If I’m in company we’ll drive to the Gravedigger’s in Glasnevin, enjoy a brace of pints there, leave the car and walk down to Croke Park along the Canal.

On my own I’m inclined to leave the car at home and take the DART to Connolly Station. There I join the crowds wending their way the 20 minutes or so to the ground. I normally come out of Connolly, head North and turn left at the Five Lamps – as most people do. This time I took a different route, turning left earlier on Lower Buckingham Street and heading slightly uphill to where it joins Summerhill. Buckingham Street is an unreconstructed old Dublin slum – we’re back in the tenements. There are a few opportunists using rolled up newspapers (a nice anachronistic touch) to guide people into parking spots on the upper end of the street – but only the terminally na├»ve or totally lost succumb.

I have heard rumours (well actually John Leahy) that the Tipp supporters are staying at home until the final – the Kerry Complaint. Empirical evidence suggests otherwise. In fact there seem to be more Tipp than Dublin supporters about.

It’s a tiring walk and a hot day so I am glad to reach the stadium and enjoy a pint bottle of Bulmers. By the way, there always seems to be more than a pint in those bottles – and it’s not the ice because I always refuse it. The crowd is more gregarious than a rugby crowd and I strike up conversations with a various characters – a blocky opinionated red-haired Dublin club hurler and an old snedger with extreme BO from Thurles – both knowledgeable and passionate about their teams. It’s an older crowd generally. There is a preponderance of late middle-aged men.

In all sporting contests where teams are reasonably equal you have to ask who is going to bring the greater intensity, who is more motivated, more cranked up. In this match it’s obviously Dublin. They are missing some key players and are being written off by all the media and more significantly by the bookies – one to sixteen in fact, with the spread around 10 points.

And so it proves. Dublin come at Tipp like dervishes, and if it weren’t for a very fortunate Lar Corbett goal would have been ahead at half time. As it was they went in level after a half they dominated. Tipperary are a composed and confident team and they didn’t wilt under the Dublin fire. They scored a few elegant points at the start of the second half and from then on just did enough to hold them at bay. A gorgeous sideline cut from Noel McGrath was the highlight, and Padraic Maher showed once again what a key player he is for Tipp. They will bring greater intensity to the showdown with Klkenny in September – but so will Kilkenny.