The Sunday of the first weekend in September. If they make calendars in Kilkenny, it wouldn’t be too difficult to believe that they have this day simply labelled “Day out in Croke Park”. For years now the Cats have cornered the market in All Ireland appearances, and what’s more they had cornered the market in winning Liam McCarthy too. Until last year.
Lar Corbett’s hat-trick as fresh in your mind as it was when the final whistle blew on September 5th last, you set off with a smile on your face towards Dublin. Your car could nearly drive itself up the M7 now, so often does it make the pilgrimage for Liam McCarthy glory. You turn on the radio to hear what the country is saying about today’s game. The airwaves are buzzing with the anticipation of another Premier versus Cats showdown. When Manchester United or Chelsea win the Premier League year after year, people rightly complain about the monopoly the big teams have, and how monotonous it makes the lives of supporters, particularly of the smaller clubs. However no one who follows hurling could begrudge another Tipperary Kilkenny decider. The last two years have thrown up two of the finest, most dramatic finals in the history of the sport. Hat-tricks scored and red cards flashed, cruciates crumpling and record attempts falling at the final hurdle.
While you cruise along the motorway, you remember an anecdote you heard a few years ago. Roy Keane back in 2004 gave a motivational talk to the Cork Senior Hurling team, just after they had won an All Ireland. He told them not to think about two in a row, but rather to set their sights on five consecutive All Ireland victories. Brian Cody must have been hidden somewhere listening to the Manchester United man because it was his Kilkenny side who came within a game of doing the never before achieved.
Since Tipperary’s superhuman effort which halted the drive for five last year, people have been all too quick to write off Kilkenny and their chances for this year. You however have come to the conclusion that people who dismiss this Kilkenny team clearly don’t know their hurling. The winning mentality that Cody has instilled means that the Cats won’t take too kindly to starting today’s decider as underdogs. A slight shiver of fear runs through you as you think of how dangerous these wounded Cats could potentially be. And as soon as you feel it, its gone again, as you focus on the positives. The free-scoring form of the forwards up to the Dublin semi-final. The semi-final itself, which was as good a work out as the Tipperary team could hope for. Lost in your thoughts, you find you’ve already reached the outskirts of Dublin, traffic mounting as you approach Newlands Cross.
In times of recession, sport and other forms of entertainment suffer as people tighten their belts and prioritise how they spend what little cash they have. As you make your way to the city centre however, you can see that the allure of Croke Park on All Ireland Sunday is too much for people to resist. Throngs of people are gathered along O’Connell street, bedecked in blue and gold and black and amber. You glance in the window of the Kylemore Cafe, see those inside nursing a hangover from Coppers the night before, indulging in a fry in the hope of feeling revived in time for the match. You carry on down past the Gresham, your heart beat quickening with every step in the direction of GAA headquarters. “Hats, flags and headbands” is the cry which greets you when you first lay your eyes on the stadium which suddenly appears, looming above the mass of supporters. You pat your pocket to reassure yourself that your ticket is still there. Time to make your way through the turnstiles.
Once inside the depths of Croke Park, you make your way up towards your precious seat. You count the steps up to it, and as you do more numbers come into your head. 1950/51, 1961/62, 1964/65. The years that Tipperary have won consecutive All Irelands. Many of those here today won’t remember even the most recent of these achievements. Its time for fresh memories to be made. Another hat-trick today and Lar will have a statue erected in his honour outside Semple Stadium. Roy Keane might have had the right idea, but to get to five in a row you need to start with two. Today’s the day. Up Tipp.