New en­trants to fa­bled an­nals of Kikenny hurling wel­comed with open arms

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - GAELIC GAMES - TOMMY CON­LON

THE two ould codgers were in the cor­ner shop on Thurs­day morn­ing, look­ing at the ar­ray of news­pa­pers spread out be­fore them.

“Jazes, is this what the GAA is com­ing to?!” said one of them jaun­tily, as the front page of The Ir­ish Sun hit him square be­tween the eyes. Sud­denly both were chuck­ling heartily as they di­gested the story, hot from Bal­lyragget.

In fair­ness, all the tabloids had done a bang-up job. The pic­tures on so­cial me­dia had gone vi­ral over the pre­vi­ous 24 hours. And now the red tops were steam­ing in, all puns blaz­ing. (‘STRIP STRIP HOORAY’, ‘GAA STORM IN A D CUP!’, ‘X-RATED GAA SCAN­DAL’). Nat­u­rally, in the in­ter­ests of good taste, slio­tars had been strate­gi­cally added to the pho­tos in all the per­ti­nent lo­ca­tions.

The pair of gen­tle­men shuf­fled off, still gig­gling like school­boys.

Some of the Bal­lyragget boys were pre­sum­ably morto last week, and might still be feel­ing a fris­son of dis­com­fort. They needn’t; they have added greatly to the gai­ety of the na­tion. Rep­re­sent­ing their club St Patrick’s, they had won the Kilkenny in­ter­me­di­ate hurling cham­pi­onship the pre­vi­ous Sun­day, no small achieve­ment in a county where the com­pet­i­tive stan­dard is fa­mously de­mand­ing.

The cel­e­bra­tions had car­ried on from Sun­day into Mon­day and then into Tues­day. Vet­er­ans of these time-hon­oured rit­u­als in ev­ery county will tes­tify that the Tues­day is of­ten the best day. They’ve come down from the high of Sun­day/Mon­day and are now in a mel­low state, at peace with them­selves, at one with the world, given to philo­soph­i­cal re­flec­tions on the long road that has taken them to this bliss­ful bower.

They will gaze lov­ingly at the sil­ver cup sit­ting on the ta­ble in front of them, ma­rooned in a flotilla of empty glasses. They will even speak lov­ingly to each other as the pub­li­can ar­rives with the 74th round of pint bot­tles, pos­si­bly Bul­mers — the old Clon­mel chardon­nay it­self. “Ah you were great on Sun­day, wouldn’ta won it with­out ya.” “Ah no, you were great.” “No, I’m telling you now, and I don’t say this too of­ten, you were great.” “Aye. That ball you caught there, down in the cor­ner.” “Ah.” “Do yiz want a few bags of crisps, lads?”

And so it goes in a dark, small town bar while the rest of the world is work­ing: heart to heart, man to man, love in the af­ter­noon.

Ob­vi­ously we’re not privy to the ex­act cir­cum­stances of the rag in Bal­lyragget. Maybe one of the lads sim­ply or­dered a few piz­zas on his mo­bile phone or some­thing. And in­stead of piz­zas, Fifi and Cristal showed up. It can hap­pen. And sure, they couldn’t turn them away with­out of­fer­ing them a drink or two. Next thing the girls were tog­ging out to prac­tise a few drills. At least one chap, in a mov­ing demon­stra­tion of sol­i­dar­ity, also togged out. For some rea­son, he for­got to put on his club jersey. Come to think of it, he for­got to put on his shorts and socks too.

Help­fully de­scribed in the afore­men­tioned re­ports as a “curvy Ital­ian lass”, Fifi con­fessed she didn’t know a great deal about the sport. But if she, and in­deed Cristal, know a bit more now, then the lads can jus­ti­fi­ably claim to have done their bit to help the GAA’s European project. Croke Park has been spread­ing the gospel of Gaelic games on the con­ti­nent in re­cent years. “I am a fan of course,” added Fifi, who has re­cently taken up res­i­dence in the Mar­ble City. Such is the evan­gel­i­cal power of hurling.

Any­way, in all the ex­cite­ment, no­body ap­par­ently re­mem­bered to stip­u­late that this European sum­mit would

In­stead of piz­zas, Fifi and Cristal showed up

be held un­der Chatham House Rules. And in this per­ilous era for pri­vacy, some mo­bile phone video ended up on­line. “Lads, take it down to f***,” some­one on What­sApp or Face­book im­plored, alas too late.

Thank­fully, Ned Quinn is on the case. The ven­er­a­ble chair­man of the Kilkenny county board is, one feels, the right man for the job. Even then, it will take all his for­mi­da­ble ad­min­is­tra­tive skills to nav­i­gate this del­i­cate in­quiry. He has al­ready gone into con­clave on the mat­ter. He has spo­ken to of­fi­cers from St Patrick’s. He has no doubt con­sulted the Of­fi­cial Guide, the GAA’s Tal­mud, for wis­dom and in­struc­tion on the vexed ques­tion of Gaels and show­girls.

It can only be a mat­ter of time be­fore both women are sum­moned to Nowlan Park for cross-ex­am­i­na­tion. Ned will pre­sum­ably in­sist that they re­main fully-clothed on this oc­ca­sion.

The na­tional folk­lore col­lec­tion at UCD tells us, from tes­ti­mony sup­plied by a lo­cal teacher in 1937-38, that the north Kilkenny town has en­joyed a tran­quil ex­is­tence for cen­turies. (Al­beit, he notes, that “the habit of stand­ing at street cor­ners” is a pop­u­lar pas­time.) “With the ex­cep­tion of the siege of Bal­lyragget, 1775,” writes our sage, “tur­moil of any kind has not dis­turbed the peace­ful­ness of the vil­lage since that date.”

That’s a long time to be suf­fer­ing in si­lence — 222 years, to be pre­cise. No news isn’t good news all the time. In one brief visit there­fore, our two hero­ines have made an his­toric con­tri­bu­tion to the hu­mours of Bal­lyragget. They will never be for­got­ten.

Move over, then, Lory Meagher and Sim Wal­ton and ‘Drug’ Walsh and all ye mighty men of black and am­ber. Step for­ward, Fifi and Cristal, you have taken your place in the fa­bled an­nals of Kilkenny hurling.

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