‘There is a green hill far away; I’m going back there one fine day’ proclaims the seminal line in Glastonbury Song by The Waterboys who of course saw the whole of the moon in their time too. The quoted lines reverberated virulently in the mind recently. For two reasons in particular. Firstly out of utter heartache at not being directly involved in farming anymore. That’s something which will get acres of coverage as the year goes on, for now though, the greatest pang is to get back out on a GAA field. Similar sentiments will manifest themselves regarding a racecourse in due time. These things are cyclical.
At the time of typing, it’s been 18 months since wheels conveying yours truly parked up to watch a match. At not stage in the 31 years one has been properly attuned to all things sporting has that been the case. No matter what physical ailments or other difficulties were impeding personal circumstances at the time. Yes, of course there’ a realisation that thousands if not hundreds thereof will have been enveloped by commensurate feelings, but, anybody with even an inclination of how intrinsic a part GAA has been of my life for more than three decades now. For reasons which far outweigh the actuality of what transpires between the lines. Whatever else changes in life, that never will.
For that reason, the sight of a feast of hurling primed over a number of launchpads to ignite the latest chapter of what passes for normality returning – the commencement of the National Leagues across all the GAA codes this weekend and over the coming weeks. The clash of Westmeath and Galway might never fall into the realm of glamour-tie, but being able to watch it – even in a deserted Cusack Park – was like a light beacon at the deepest part of a coalmine shaft.
Thereafter, mind you, came the reassuring sense that we’d never been away. Firstly as Brian Cody’s Kilkenny did what they’ve doing for eons. Methodically, almost mechanically, reverting to the rudiments of what has made them the nearest to an irresistable force the old game has seen in a generation.
Tried and trusted warriors like Paddy Deegan, Padraig Walsh, Cillian Buckley and TJ Reid gradually clutched the engine into autopilot, guiding younger cadets such as Conor Browne, Eoin Cody, Martin Keoghan and James Bergin to play their part in repelling a typically industrious but profligate Dublin outfit.
Now, there’s not a whole pile anybody can learn from the first outings of the season, but it was probably signpost enough that the old ringmaster declared himself happy with the “Hunger” and “Desire” of his latest bag of Cats.
Mind you, neither John Kiely or Liam Sheedy could be too dissatisfied with the evening’s work put in by their troops either. Given the unique manner in which last season concluded, the Treaty tree-toppers could be forgiven for being top heavy with cobwebs. Not a bit of it however. The returning Richie English, Diarmuid Byrnes, Kyle Hayes, David Reidy and Seamus Flanagan clicked straight back into gear as if anointed with a grease gun.
For their part, Tipperary too will be satisfied enough with the opening shift. For a few years now, full back has been the one area obviously in need of rather urgent troubleshooting. Again, very few aspirants are awarded the part after one audition but Brian McGrath certainly didn’t do his chances of being cast in the role any harm at all.
If Act I of the 2021 season is indicative of what’s to come in the weeks and months ahead, it really feel like its never been away. That’ll do lads, that’ll do.
FOGRA: Thoughts on Sunday’s action – including Meath’s clash with Offaly – will follow in due course.
FOGRA II: I would completely concur with Anthony Daly’s fear that Limerick are being targeted by referees. The Treaty County hurl with a marauding physicality and manliness to be applauded and which most other teams would do well to copy.
Unfortunately, it goes with the territory of being atop the pile. Everybody, including officialdom in some cases, wants to dislodge you. By whatever means necessary, mostly powered by the green-eyed monster. Just ask Sean Boylan!