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How The Tipperary Footballers Reignited The Championship Summer

How The Tipperary Footballers Reignited The Championship Summer
By Conall Cahill

Often, when it comes to things we love, it takes an event outside of our own reckoning to awaken us to their true splendour. On Sunday, the Tipperary footballers doused us in smelling salts and reminded us of the beauty of gaelic games.

It would be easy to dismiss this as sentimental hyperbole, the kind often engaged in after remarkable sporting results and games that are still fresh in the emotional memory. We who attempt to express our love for sport in written word are more guilty of this than most. And yet, Tipperary's win against Galway was absolutely vital at this stage of a championship that has been shrouded in unparalleled negativity from pundits and supporters alike.

Admittedly, it is very much a trait common to these shores. We Irish are rarely capable of unqualified enjoyment of anything, a characteristic perhaps stemming from the Roman Catholic tradition that still binds a certain generation of the population. There lingers within our psyche a reluctance to engage in overt ecstasy or pleasure. And nowhere is this more common than in our approach to our national games.

The GAA and its flagship events, the All-Ireland Senior Hurling and Football Championships, are undoubtedly flawed. The inter-county season is too long in duration and needs a structure change, there is a growing gap between club and county and, at the top level, being treated to a flowing, entertaining and attacking seventy minutes of action in either code is an increasingly rare pleasure.

But, in discussing these flaws, we have a habit of losing focus on what is just as important: the unique and beautiful nature of Gaelic games. The actual presence and gift of national sports that we are-and should be-proud of; a sense of perspective on the skill and effort of the game's most gifted exponents. And while column inches, forum posts and radio speculation concerning the deterioration of the games all originate from a place of love, passion and concern within the person proffering those views, the accumulation of such negativity can cloud the joy we take from our national games.

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Last month, for example, the excellent 'Saturday panel' show on Newstalk featured former inter-county footballers Anthony Moyles (host of the Balls.ie GAA podcast), David Brady and Danny Hughes discussing the current state of Gaelic football with Ger Gilroy. And while the panel made enlightening and informative observations, the tone was at times almost funereal.

Moyles: As soon as you fail as an inter-county team, for whatever reason, you're just absolutely slated. You're thrown out.

Gilroy: Well, it can't be any fun being a Meath footballer this week. It can't be any fun being a Down footballer this last year. It's certainly no fun being a Kildare footballer at the minute.

Brady: It ain't too pretty down in Mayo either...I know some of the Mayo players that have hidden! Because they feel embarrassed...

It is hard to devote an hour to praise and exaltation, and Gilroy, Brady and Moyles were merely echoing views expressed across the country on the subject. Nonetheless, the current reflections on Tipperary's triumph across the spectrum of Irish media provide a welcome break from the usual post-weekend mourning of some lost attribute or diabolical development relating to Gaelic games. The unbridled joy on the faces of Tipp footballers and supporters serve as a reminder of the bug that bit us all at one point in our lives and which continues to draw us back in, year after year, fascinated and entranced by a spell that we find impossible to resist.

The adventure and wonder Tipp brought to the occasion and the scenes of celebration after the game was a harkening back to the thrill we all felt the first time we kicked a ball over a bar, laced up a pair of boots or set foot inside Croke Park. A thrill we need to remember, appreciate and preserve. A thrill that keeps players playing and pushing themselves through the winter, powered by their intense love of the game. In recent times I have separately asked Colm O'Neill, Jack McCaffrey and Neil Collins about the amount of time they spend playing football, and have been met with the same response: that their enjoyment of Gaelic football and gratitude for being able to spend so much time playing it overrides any feelings of servitude they may possess. That we spend so much time talking about the negative aspects of the game when those who play it at the highest level often seem the ones least preoccupied with such aspects is ironic and, perhaps, unfortunate.

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Thank goodness, then, for days like Sunday. In a fine piece written ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio, The Irish Times' Ian O'Riordan writes of a preoccupation he shared with one of his mentors, the great Irish sportswriter, Con Houlihan:

We did share some sort of fascination with the Olympics . . . the inherent beauty of it all, the equal celebration of both men and women in the sporting arena. The last thing he said to me, before London, was to never lose sight of at least some of that.

For those of us fortunate enough to call ourselves fans of the GAA, it is important that we, too, never lose sight of at least some of the inherent beauty in our own games. Though as transient and fleeting in our own lives as we are ourselves in history, moments of such beauty should be appreciated and savoured; for such moments are what make life itself worth all the effort.

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