“Love is blindness, I don’t wanna see…” So sang Bono on the Achtung Baby track, apropos of what I’m not sure. Hardly hurling. Well, whatever about having blinkers on, reading Liam Griffin’s latest eulogy to Kilkenny I was beginning to think I’d got the National League final all wrong.
‘Analysing’ it in the Tribune, the former Wexford manager described the previous Sunday’s decider in Thurles as “terrific”, “a really superb game”, “the real deal”, “championship hurling at its best” etc, etc. Not a single mention of anything untoward that might have gone on to sully “the sheer skill allied to guile and mental strength” that saw the All-Ireland champions through their toughest test in years. (Obviously Waterford’s win in Walsh Park along the way has been discounted as an unfortunate fluke.)
Thankfully in the Sunday Independent Dermot Crowe had obviously seen a different game entirely (he must have been wearing the same cynical goggles as me); one in which the winners had at the very least overstepped a few lines to secure victory.
As has been stressed here, there and everywhere, Kilkenny are a great team, without question, but it’s not as if they can do no wrong. Griffin, who has lacerated Waterford players and management in the distant and recent past for minor-enough misdemeanours – going so far as to describe the carry-on before last September’s Croker choker as “disgusting, low-life stuff” for which the culprits should be charged with bringing the game into disrepute – chose to totally ignore every indiscretion Kilkenny (and opposing) players perpetrated, while citing “Tipp’s lack of discipline” as the main reason why “nearly never skinned a cat.”
Indeed, the closest the hotelier came to criticising anyone in Black and Amber was to suggest that Martin Comerford’s instant dismissal for wrestling with Declan Fanning would have been “disappointing” as far as the Kilkenny sub was concerned.
In contrast, Crowe (an actual journalist, possibly with more time on his hands), forensically examined the match – the good, the bad and the downright ugly – and named and shamed as appropriate. He also looked at the finer points of the Kilkenny gameplan and the trends inevitably being followed.
This year’s championship, he fears, could be the most fractious in years as teams try to ‘match’ Kilkenny (something I also expressed concerns about last autumn; foreseeing a focus on physicality over finesse across the board).
As the man who did most to lead Wexford from waste ground to their brief stay in the promised land well over a decade ago now, Griffin did wonders for hurling, tapping into the burst of cultural confidence borne by the Celtic Tiger with his “Riverdance of sport” analogy.
But it does Kilkenny and moreover the most beautiful game in the world no favours to turn a blind eye to its occasionally beastly side. I’m willing to accept hurling for what it is, warts and all. Maybe Liam is too. It’s just winners aren’t always angels, and losers aren’t simply sinners neither.