It’s a funny thing, noise.
My eldest son Johnny recently turned two and among the haul of gifts, given by his aunt and godmother Katie, was a lawnmower that blows bubbles. While the bubbles element he can take or leave, the fact that there is an ‘on’ button means he can emulate his two grandfathers as he pushes the machine around the house.
It’s cute, but it’s not a racket – sorry, noise – you’d choose to experience for the whole day, shall we say. Then, there are other noises that are more than welcome.
We had become used to the trappings of reporting on games during a pandemic. On the plus side was the fact that you could stop worrying about match traffic and park pretty much outside the door; on the other hand, the lack of a crowd gave some clashes a zombie-like feel, regardless of how much importance was riding on them.
Slowly, things are getting back to normal and while the capacity of 7,000 for last Sunday’s Munster final between Limerick and Tipperary was about a sixth of what it should be, it certainly gave things a familiar feel. I didn’t even mind the slightly longer trek down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh – I parked in the spot I usually use for games in nearby Páirc Uí Rinn, which I won’t reveal, lest it become too popular – and the smaller crowd still proved themselves capable of making a din.
In the first half, it was the blue-and-gold-clad supporters of Tipperary who dreamed of toppling the All-Ireland champions as they amassed a 10-point half-time lead, but John Kiely’s Limerick side showed just why they’re the team to beat.
The third-quarter performance by the Shannonsiders was hurling from the gods, outscoring Tipp by 1-10 to 0-1; then, just to frank the dominance, wing-back Kyle Hayes strode forward to score one of the goals of this or any other championship.
By the end, they had five points to spare, even allowing for Tipp’s late third goal from Mark Kehoe and a strong message had been sent out. For Limerick, there is the boon of being the first team to achieve a Munster hurling three-in-a-row since the Tipperary side of 1987-89 but of more currency is the fact that they know that there are few circumstances in which they could be said to be out of a game. More ominously, all of their opponents will know it too and, no matter what kind of first-half lead is established, there will be an anxiety about the champions reeling them in.
They move safely on to the All-Ireland semi-finals along with Leinster kingpins Kilkenny, while Tipp and Dublin sit in the quarter-finals, awaiting the winners of this weekend’s qualifier clashes of Cork v Clare and Galway against Waterford. The margin for error has gone and things are taking shape, but the top of the mountain still looks the same as it did.
Cork U20 football manager Keith Ricken has appeared in these pages before and he was brought to a wider audience last Thursday night in the wake of the Rebels’ exciting victory over Kerry in the EirGrid Munster semi-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
A six-minute post-match interview free of all of the usual platitudes won widespread acclaim for the sheer common sense employed, not least the way in which he refused to criticise the awarding of a penalty and a red card against his team. It’s obviously easier to be magnanimous when you’ve won, but Ricken always takes such an approach and he appreciates that, without referees, there are no games.
Similarly, he sympathised with Kerry’s Paul O’Shea, who missed a chance of a late equaliser, saying: “I’ve always great pride in every guy who goes out and represents his club and his county, he goes for it.
“They don’t make excuses not to be here, they make excuses to be here. Both teams.
“It’s a very safe learning ground, the worst you’ll do in this life out here is lose a match. But you’ll learn stuff that in time in your own lives when the proverbial hits the fan and you need to step up, you will fall back on, saying ‘I’ve done it before, I can do this now’.
“For Paul and for every other young lad who was there in the country today having a go, that’s what sport is all about. It’s a safe environment for them to learn about life, to step up into manhood, to step up into responsibilities and ownership and looking into the future with a bit of positivity.”
Cork held a pre-match press conference and Ricken was no less interesting there, with one line in particular standing out.
“We often use the word devastation an awful lot there,” he said, “I think this year we realised what real devastation is when people couldn’t bury their people or couldn’t be with them.
“That is devastation, not, not making a team or losing a match. We use a lot of language a lot of the time that I often wonder, we use language like, ‘He is devastated he didn’t make it.’ Devastation is something you never get over, disappointment is what this is.”
Unfortunately, there was devastation surrounding the U20 grade on Friday night, when Monaghan captain Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh (pictured) died on his way home after leading the county to victory in the Ulster final against Donegal.
No words can make sense of such a loss, but if there is any consolation, it’s that his final hours were encapsulated by that responsibility and ownership of the situation Ricken spoke about.
He will be terribly missed by his family, friends, team-mates and the wider GAA family in Monaghan and beyond but he will be remembered, warrior-like, as forever young, departing victoriously.
In rugby, a country’s second team is often called their ‘A’ side, and the inverted commas around the letter made extra sense as South Africa sent out a team little short of a Test side against the Lions last weekend.
A 17-13 win over the tourists left little doubt that the series proper will be a tough battle and a home win this Saturday would certainly leave an uphill journey for the visiting group.
Still, the legend of the Lions has come from moments where triumph has come in adversity – who’s to say another famous chapter won’t be written in Cape Town?