Four sec­onds of eter­nity be­fore the birth of a beau­ti­ful new be­gin­ning

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - GAELIC GAMES - TOMMY CON­LON THECOUCH@IN­DE­PEN­DENT.IE

IT doesn’t re­ally bear think­ing about, but of all the glo­ri­ous im­ages avail­able from last Sun­day’s cin­e­matic panorama, the one that was seared in the mind came from a darker sce­nario.

It re­curred all week in one’s mem­ory, per­haps be­cause fear goes deeper than joy, be­cause ter­ror is a more vis­ceral emo­tion than hap­pi­ness. The abid­ing im­age is that of the ball drop­ping short, onto the edge of the small par­al­lel­o­gram, as Lim­er­ick are cling­ing fran­ti­cally to the dream of a life­time.

The All-Ire­land fi­nal is in its 80th minute. Joe Can­ning is pre­par­ing him­self for the mon­strous free that will save Gal­way if he lands it. “It’s up to Joe,” de­clares Marty Mor­ris­sey as the great man eyes the tar­get, reg­u­lates his breath­ing and slows his heart rate. Then, as Michael O’Hehir used to say for dra­matic ef­fect: he bends, he lifts, he strikes.

We put the stop­watch on it af­ter­wards: the ball is air­borne for over four sec­onds. It is more than enough time to be as­sailed by a flood of thoughts and fears. Im­me­di­ately it be­comes ap­par­ent that the ball is not go­ing to make it over the bar. So Gal­way can­not get the draw. But a vista far worse is ris­ing in the mind as the white dot falls: this could end up in the net. Jonathan Glynn is in there, all 6 foot 5 of him, among a few oth­ers in ma­roon and white. And sure enough, arms and hur­leys are bran­dished sky­wards, like the sword Ex­cal­ibur shoot­ing up from the wa­ters of the lake.

This viewer, for one, was wait­ing for the net to rip­ple. For those of us with Lim­er­ick loy­al­ties, it was a ter­ri­fy­ing mo­ment. A de­flec­tion, a ric­o­chet, and the net was bil­low­ing and . . . the hor­ror, the hor­ror, the hor­ror. No, it doesn’t bear think­ing about but suf­fice to say, if Lim­er­ick had lost that one, the im­pli­ca­tions would have been too pro­found, too painful to con­tem­plate.

Those young guns who’d lit up the sum­mer with their blithe au­dac­ity would have suf­fered a loss of in­no­cence so calami­tous, a trauma so wound­ing that they might never have re­cov­ered from it for the rest of their ca­reers. Hav­ing led by eight points go­ing into in­jury-time, and hav­ing seen that lead lopped down to one, the con­se­quences of de­feat would have been much deeper than the con­se­quences of the vic­tory they ul­ti­mately achieved. All of a sud­den, the fu­ture of Lim­er­ick hurl­ing for at least a gen­er­a­tion was rid­ing on their abil­ity to see it out, to sur­vive the on­slaught, to sim­ply get over the line.

One won­ders if any of them have wo­ken up in a cold sweat since, vis­ited by flash­backs to that scar­i­fy­ing mo­ment.

On Sun­day night we were in Nancy Blake’s, the famed Lim­er­ick city hotspot, and swear to God, as the mul­ti­ple TV screens which were re­play­ing the game showed it again, some sup­port­ers were still squeal­ing with panic as the Gal­way sticks went up. And this was a good eight hours af­ter the match had ended.

But all was well. The joint was heav­ing, the city was pul­sat­ing with eu­pho­ria. And on Mon­day evening, the boys were back in town. It may be note­wor­thy that while they were merry, it was a mer­ri­ness born out of the purest joy rather than the purest liquor. Pre­sum­ably those among them who take a drink had supped well at the ban­quet on Sun­day night. But for as long as they were on the open-top bus that pa­raded them through the city, not a bot­tle or a can was to be seen among them.

They are or­di­nary lads, one wouldn’t wish to build them into plas­ter saints, or to de­mand they con­form to the stilted stan­dards of pub­lic role mod­els; but their con­duct in gen­eral has been im­pres­sively in­tel­li­gent and sound. If they’ve gone on the lash, and most as­suredly at least some of them have, it’s been dis­creetly done whilst oblig­ing all com­ers with self­ies and au­to­graphs and a cou­ple of words. We’ve heard one sen­ti­ment re­peated reg­u­larly the last few days: “You’d be proud of them.”

One could see the guid­ing in­flu­ence of John Kiely in their pub­lic deco­rum. The Lim­er­ick man­ager has de­manded a thought­ful stan­dard of be­hav­iour off the field too. “Th­ese lads have to be as good in their abil­ity to be post-suc­cess­ful as they were in their quest to be suc­cess­ful, if that makes sense,” he said in the af­ter-match press con­fer­ence. “They need to carry them­selves well as All-Ire­land cham­pi­ons. That is very, very im­por­tant.”

Kiely does not project the sort of charisma that some man­agers can call on to in­spire a group of play­ers. He gen­er­ates much of his au­thor­ity through what he says and how he says it, through what he does and how he does it. Of course he preaches the gospel of hard work. But there is clar­ity, steel and com­mon sense in his method­ol­ogy. He has ev­i­dently sur­rounded him­self with good peo­ple. He has in­sisted on best prac­tice in all as­pects of the coach­ing, prepa­ra­tion and lo­gis­tics. Lim­er­ick GAA’s long-en­trenched cul­ture of medi­ocrity has been qui­etly quar­an­tined on his watch, the play­ers and back­room staff ringfenced from any­thing that might com­pro­mise the stan­dard he knew was needed.

On the home­com­ing stage at the Gaelic Grounds on Mon­day night, he was asked what fac­tors had made the dif­fer­ence this year. “When you’ve got peo­ple who are re­ally, re­ally com­mit­ted and will­ing to do ev­ery­thing in their power to get ev­ery­thing right,” he replied. “And that was one thing that we set out at the start of the year, (it) was just to do ev­ery­thing right.”

And still it could have gone hor­ri­bly wrong among those flail­ing hur­leys at the death. But it didn’t. Those four sec­onds of ag­o­nis­ing eter­nity were in fact the death rat­tle of an era that had lasted 45 years — and the birth cry of a beau­ti­ful new be­gin­ning.

‘We set out at the start to do ev­ery­thing right’

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