The case for the live event was made eloquently by commenters on last week's piece where they listed events they'd been to (catch it here). All of the journalists who answered me on twitter said that going to the game was way better than watching on television, and from a professional point of view I don't think there's an argument. But I still wonder if we are headed for a future where most live sports events are made-for-tv affairs and people will turn away from the Six Nations or Ireland games in soccer for good. I hope not.
To the job at hand - I should point out that picking a Top Five Sports Events Watched on Television is a much harder job than picking the Top Five Sports Events I've Been To. This may well prove that going to sports events is better than not going to them. For better or worse here we go.
#5 All Ireland Hurling Semifinal 1989: Antrim 4-15 Offaly 1-15
Here's the Final that year
For some reason we didn't go to the All Ireland hurling semi-finals in 1989. We'd made it to Dundalk for the quarterfinal where Antrim whipped Kildare. We were en route to Belfast from Athy and co-incidentally mar-dhea the All Ireland quarterfinal happened to be on in a field on the way. Growing up an Antrim hurling fan, watching them win a game was an unusual experience. Particularly weird was the fact that they were beating the team which was really my home county and being delighted nonetheless. The 12-year-old sports fan is a mass of contradictions but always certain in their loyalty.
The Antrim hurlers were my team. You take a lot of shit for having the Antrim hurlers as your team. Have you seen Niall Patterson? (A google image search pulled up a picture of SuBo). Anyway they whupped Kildare and ended up facing Offaly in a double header on the same day Galway and Tipperary had the most murderous of their encounters in that bitter, manly 1980's rivalry. As Michael Lyster put it that night signing off on The Sunday Game, it's the day the Hopper McGrath hopped too high. Tipperary won and guaranteed an All Ireland victory because Antrim had shocked Offaly in the game before.
I remember the goals: Olcan McFettridge on his knees banging one in from a few yards out, Aidan McCarry scoring a screamer from distance without breaking stride. At the end it was a deluge, there was no hanging on for a scrappy single point win. A nine point margin was a smackdown. And I remember what it meant to my folks. Maybe because Antrim have never won since and really never looked like winning since this has grown in importance, but perhaps it's the glorious improbability that makes it stand out, the primary colours, a flash of saffron and the childish sense of possibility.
#4: Ireland v England, 2011 Cricket World Cup, Group Stage: England 327-8, Ireland 329-7
Extended Highlights here
There are two times I can remember people huddling around the television for longer than a few seconds at work. One was the royal wedding (and it wasn't just the girls). The other time was the Cricket World Cup as Kevin O'Brien battered England. It was a little team, not quite unheralded but not yet mainstream up against the side who would steal their best players if they got good enough. England put up a massive score (327-8), an almost unreachable tally that would take record-breaking achievements to beat. We beat it and the office watched in awe. It was precisely the type of event that people should watch together: the beginning of a new team and a new world and some real potential. Sometimes it's definitely better to watch on television.
#3 2011 All-Ireland Football Quarterfinal: Donegal 1-12 Kildare 0-14
Last five minutes here
We were down in Killarney for the Irish Open and watched this in a hotel bar. It was rough. The first half was ridiculously tense as both sides realised what was at stake. Defeat in the quarter-final is a bad season, defeat in a semi-final is just about sufferable. The halftime analysis was a joke about bad football, disgrace, blah blah blah. We ignored the naysayers for the rest of the match. The second half of the game and the first half of extra time were some of the best displays of defence we've seen in the sport, ever. Then the performance of Donegal in the second half of extra time was super-human. Wrestling back a three point deficit and somehow bursting forward looking for a winner as the time slips past, Kevin Cassidy risked the wrath of his teammates and county by twice looking for the final score. The first time he missed. Second time - bang on. An amazing finish to a game which will be pointed to as a key moment in the evolution of the sport. We lost. An awful squareball decision cost us the game, and also spelled the end of the squareball rule in that incarnation. We get a special prize for that, or something.
#2 -2010 All-Ireland Hurling Final: Tipp 4-17 Kilkenny 1-18, First Sunday in September 2010
Final ten minutes here
I wasn't at this game and for me it's possibly the best hurling match, or the most important, played since I was born. The best team of all time, looking for a record five in a row against a bitter rival nursing grudges from the previous twelve months. Proper heavyweight material, except with the speed and balance of middleweights. I think this game grows in stature too because of Kilkenny's revival the following year – it wasn't that the team was past it or were caught out. Granted the caveat of Shefflin's injury diminishes the game a bit – it's unfortunate that the Liam Sheedy version of Tipperary didn't reappear in the 2011 final when Shefflin was back. Still, awesome game, awesome goals and a high watermark for watching sport.
#1 Ireland 1-0 Italy, World Cup USA '94
Short highlights here
Giants Stadium, Paul McGrath. I watched this game on my own at home in Athy. I'm glad I wasn't with worriers or talkers or "who's he" people. Instead I got to savour Paul McGrath's performance. I'd been a Villa fan since seeing Paul McGrath destroy Gary Lineker at Villa Park in a Spurs-Villa game in the late '80's. Not always an easy burden in life being a Villa fan in secondary school, but McGrath was an argument winner because everyone loved him instinctively. This was his masterpiece. Sure Jack picked a weird team and perhaps we could have gone further yet again in a major tournament. We'd got off to an amazing start and the country went justifiably crazy. I watched the Mexico game in a pub in Galway and puked on my sister's floor afterwards and thought watching games at home, alone, would be the way forward.