God help me, I’ve had my road to Damascus revelation

Since the first All Ireland Championship Hurling quarter final against Cork, a week ago last Sunday, the term ‘heart stopping’ was bandied about to describe the final controversial minutes where Waterford equalised and then lived to fight another day. I watched that game and would have to admit it was pretty intense right up to the final whistle. However, I was not expecting the indescribable physical sensation that gripped me in the dying moments of last Sunday’s replay win. Interestingly, Waterford were further ahead this Sunday and so, logically, I should have been more relaxed, more confident, but I wasn’t. Until the final whistle blew, I sat quietly with a funny feeling somewhere between by stomach and chest and, at the sound of the whistle, I spontaneously leapt off the sofa, relief and joy flooding through me. No one is more shocked than me at how this match affected me physiologically.

I would never claim to know too much about sport or to have more than a passing interest in it. I know some names in the Premiership, usually because of how good looking they are or because of their celebrity girlfriend or wife. I always enjoy the last three or four games in the World Cup because I believe when soccer is played at this level it is fluid and is indeed a beautiful game. Hurling is probably the sport I find the easiest to watch any time and at any level because it is fast. I love the speed at which it is played and how the scores can change in an instant, but I wouldn’t dream of watching it if there wasn’t a Waterford connection; either a pending draw outcome or Waterford themselves playing.

I love to see Waterford win. I think it is amazing the commitment and drive of the team given the poor recompense they receive. I believe it is wrong that people who give so much still have to ‘fundraise’ for a holiday at the end of a gruelling season, but that’s another day’s work entirely. I think it’s awful when people say, ‘Ah sure they were useless’, ‘they didn’t play well’, etc when we have lost matches in the past. Win, lose or draw I have always enjoyed watching them play but five minutes after the final whistle I have moved on with the happy philosophy, ‘Sure, it’s only a game’. Sometimes I haven’t watched or listened to the entire match, just found out what the final score was.

I haven’t actually attended a Waterford Hurling match in many years. Not because I don’t want to support the team, but mainly because of the anxiety on the way there and the mourning that would ensue the whole way home in the very slow traffic if they lost. I refused to go again after a Waterford Clare replay in Thurles in the late nineties. I still carry the mental scars of that horror. I remember sitting behind the wire in Semple Stadium, getting soaked wet as the pouring rain washed away another hope of an All Ireland appearance. With sodden clothes we squelched our way quietly back to the car. I totally understood the disappointment in the immediate aftermath, but my cut off was about an hour.

Several hours later, still in the traffic home, the doom and gloom in the car was palpable. I couldn’t help thinking that this was more stupidity than passion. Being trapped in a tin can with the deathly silence was beginning to get to me. ‘Get over it,’ was close to the tip of my tongue but I knew that such a statement would have only served to make things worse. I too remained quiet, silently willing the road to shorten. I don’t think more than one sentence was spoken between Thurles and Waterford that day. The trouble was that it didn’t end on that Sunday. The mourning continued for at least a week and to say that it threatened my relationship is an understatement. I vowed after that never to attend a match again with my significant other, just in case of a repeat performance.

So, here we are in 2007 and suddenly I have a road to Damascus moment in my own living room. I am physically aware, for the first time ever, that it is important to win. I can actually feel it and in my mind it is no longer just a game. Personally, many things rested on Sunday’s result. The general feeling in the house was at stake, my enjoyment of the Spraoi parade that evening was in jeopardy as if they lost I knew that my significant other may not have wanted to leave the house at all and, of course, a Bank Holiday Monday could have been destroyed; lost in a cloud of misery. But it was more than that, for the first time ever, perhaps, I too would have felt that disappointment in my gut. Instead I was given the chance to experience the elation of winning. I suddenly understood, after all this time, just how important it is to win. The Spraoi parade and the fireworks, as ever, were fantastic but I have no doubt that the hurlers’ victory over Cork contributed greatly to the carnival atmosphere.

There is a problem with this new found fire and that is that although the general ‘high’ of winning is much greater, it also means that the ‘low’ of losing could be unbearable. It also means I am compelled to watch the next game. Will I actually go to the next game? Of course not. I certainly wouldn’t risk being a jinx at this late stage of play, but I am already looking forward to watching it on the television. Like any sport there are no guarantees that we will beat Limerick but the odds are very definitely in our favour. Obviously I am a late developer with this ‘passion’ thing but at least now I understand. Maybe it’s age or maturity but I now get the idea of just how important it is for Waterford to be in an All Ireland final. (Notice that I’m not even being flippant enough to say an All Ireland win!) The very best of luck to Justin McCarthy and the team for Sunday.