Anyone who has been perusing material in this space for long enough will undoubtedly have seen reference made to the Corner House. That being my father’s ancestral family home. A book could and maybe one day will be produced on how beloved the old place was to me. Its appearance here today pertains to the Bush black and white television set which dominated most of the relatively small kitchen. When previously mentioned, it was in reference to watching either live English soccer or highlights of Australian Rules Football or Italian football.
On this occasion though, I recall a time when the Irish Cup in basketball was a really big deal. It still is, of course, to aficionados and ‘ordinary’ followers of the fast-paced five-a-side action but shamefully the ‘mainstream’ sports media tend to ignore it. That is not in any way to denigrate the wonderful TG4 Sport. Were it not for them, large parts of the sporting year would be cut off from the public at large like a dingy in a whirlpool.
The most recent incarnation of Cup Finals weekend at the National Basketball Arena was as good as it ever was. Even going by a cursory glance. Moreover, it certainly attracted a serious attendance at the Tallaght venue. Which got me thinking during the week. The ‘other’ NBA, the real deal, is one of my other great passions in life and – as anybody who is attuned to basketball matters Stateside will know, play off season has been in full swing over there for about a month at this stage.
However, as is often the case with me, I am quite a bit behind in viewing terms compared to the stage the competition is actually at present. With the result that it was only in the last day or so that the Play In game between the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls was watched to a conclusion.
Now, I know full well that there will be people saying ‘Sure that’s miles behind, why would you be bothered looking at it? My answer to said query will forever be the same – to quote Dame Shirley Bassey, I am what I am. And what I am works for me. Anyway, what prompted that which you will read hereafter was the paltry attendance and what was a knock out game for the Heat and Bulls. For those not au fait with the workings of the NBA season, the are 82 ‘regular season’ fixtures where after teams hoping to go all the way will need to play another 20 matches at least. Yet for that particular joust there were more empty spaces than those which exist between Boris Johnson’s ears!
Contrast that to the pair of Munster SHC matches played on Sunday last where – regardless of what the outcomes were – all teams had another shot at progression. Yet both Cusack Park in Ennis and and Semple Stadium Thurles were full to bursting. Yes this probably the sporting romantic in me but what of it, from my reading of it at least, every game in the Munster SHC means something. Even if it doesn’t materially so. Akin to when Ireland have the opportunity to beat England in something. From international rugby to competition ploughing and everything in between!
Anyway, one of the major stories in Irish sport this es were played at all. As much as it grinds my gears, I suppose a large chunk of credit must go to Brian Lohan. Undoubtedly one of the great full bs in the game, but his seeming unwillingness to make up with Davy Fitz is a stain on his aura.
Anyway, before the ball was even thrown in, one could be forgiven for thinking it would boil down to a shoot out between Tony Kelly and Pat Horgan. Indeed both men were central tenets of what was an absorbing contest. That said, the sub plots involving the two lead protagonists made for an even more gripping storyline.
On one side, you had Horgan obviously trying to prove a point having been hideously snubbed by Kieran Kingston last season. Then, even though Kelly was at his mesmeric best, including burying two goals, for once, the brilliant Ballyea player could be said to have been upstaged by the Banner County’s half back line.
John Conlon’s delivery of an imperious performance is almost taken as a given at this stage, but, as with Kelly, the Clonlara clubman had to concede top billing to the two lieutenants either side of him, Diarmuid Ryan and David McInerney.
If the All Star team was being picked in the morning, it would at the very least be a photo finish between the Diarmuids – Ryan and Byrnes – for the No. 5 slot. The former has really burst onto the scene this year in the sense that his defending has really come on, as well as his proven ability to get scores.
In summation, Clare are certainly in a position where they have forward propulsion on their side again. Inclinations backed up by the fact that both their Minor and U-20 teams also competed with great gusto – the first named facing Galway in their All Ireland Final this coming weekend.
Ultimately, the above was constructed by way of comparison between the situation in Clare currently and the low ebb things seem to be at in Wexford. Regarding their senior team at least. In fairness to those Slaneyside, they had an exceptional U-20 team this year who just had the misfortune to come across an equally brilliant Offaly one whose good fortune it was to have the mesmeric Adam Screeney in their ranks.
For whatever reason – and by the way Meath are in a very similar predicament – they don’t seem to have been able to get the players through to the senior team. Yet at least. All of that could be said to have come to a head most recently when Darragh Egan’s side suffered a calamitous capitulation against Westmeath.
Granted, copious column inches have been devoted here over the years to the huge impact momentum can have on sporting outcomes, but enough to see a 16 point lead whittled away?
Now, again, let it be said, one is absolutely not having a dig here. Just an observation. It would be disengenuos of me to do so, given that – ironically – Meath endured a similar capitulation against Wexford in football back in 2006. Even if that was aided by a certain Longford referee who had it in for Meath for years.
Wexford’s misfortune here could be viewed two ways. On one hand, a remarkable and inspiring comeback by Westmeath which shows the benefit of the round robin system and the opportunity to make incremental progress.
Viewed through a different lens however, it can lead to the exact scenario the Leinster SHC doesn’t want or need – dead rubber encounters. It must be said of course that such is only the case due to the fact that the Wexford seniors, for whatever reason, are at such a low ebb. Ditto their neighbours in Waterford as it happens.
If there ever is a clear and present danger to the current, progressive system, it will arrive via lopsided or meaningless matches. A product is only as good as how its manufactured. Leaving a situation where matches that mean nothing can still occur is one sure way of sounding the death knell for the current system.
I will admit to being unsure as to whether there actually is relegation at play in the All Ireland SHC, but, if that was the case it could set whatever county fell through the trap door years. Having said that, if such is or was the case you’d imagine that would quell the notion of meaningless matches.
No team or those involved with go out with the intention of things going wrong. But when they do, you can be sure nobody feels the disappointment as acutely as those at the coalface. And in a case like that, they are, unfortunately, the ones who get the majority of the flak.
They are the easy targets. Already, since the weekend, the managerial obituaries of Darragh Egan and Davy Fitzgerald have been at least sent to the printing press. As numerous others have before.
And did it work then? The obvious answer isn’t always the right one.