When I was young, going to a Munster Hurling Championship game was a major treat.
From the moment the tickets were bought, the preparation would begin. My jersey was washed, carefully hung up, my nails were painted in the team colours and all other topics of conversation were instantly dismissed.
The car journey to the match was filled with talk of team lineups, who else was going, where we were all sitting and, of course, the weather.
Every single game was an experience in itself, a ritual. The excitement and the butterflies were always overwhelming.
Nowadays, my pre-match routine is slightly varied. My mornings are taken up ensuring I have a suitable wardrobe to withstand the unpredictable and, more often than not, baltic conditions of a media box, and gathering my laptop, various chargers and other match day necessities before setting off.
Going to hurling matches has evolved from a childhood treat to a major aspect of my job description. And yet, that childlike excitement is still there and has been bubbling up all this week in anticipation for the beginning of the championship. Because despite my work, I am a hurling fan at heart.
I can understand how the round-robin series may have dulled the experience somewhat. In previous years, you were waiting three, maybe four weeks in between games, whereas now, it’s a seven-day turnaround. Financially, that’s a hefty burden when you consider match tickets, travel, food etc. If you have a family, you probably have to be picky over which games you go to.
However, during the week, I heard someone commenting that the reason they won’t go to see their team this weekend is that they don’t think they will win. Instead, they will wait until the following week when their team will be in a ‘do-or-die’ situation. Much more exciting than traveling to see them lose.
That attitude annoyed me, to say the least. In truth, we could all do with an injection of a child’s mentality into our cynical bodies.
When I was a child, I was never plagued with thoughts of ‘we’re going to lose’ or ‘it’s going to be a terrible match’, I just felt lucky to be able to go to a hurling match and watch my heroes play a game that I loved. Now if we lost, you wouldn’t hear a word from me for hours but that wouldn’t stop me from going the next day out.
At what stage do we lose that attitude? At what stage do we start caring more about what experts and bookies tell us than simply enjoying a sport?
It was a privilege to watch the hurling championship last year. Every game was immense and highlighted everything that is special and unique about this sport. But we have to be realistic and admit that we won’t get that every year. So we have to enjoy this era of fearless and unpredictable hurling while it’s here.
There are so many side stories that we could get distracted – their team’s decline, the disregard for the club game, fixture clashes, price hikes, poor pitch conditions etc. But for every adult that has become disillusioned with the game, there are floods of children bursting with excitement because their favourite player scored a point or signed a sliotar for them. They don’t care about the GAA as an organisation, they probably don’t even care about the final score. All that matters to them is the jersey on their back and their team on the field.
We can all be cynics at times but at the end of the day, we are privileged to love this game and witness it week in, week out. For those times that we become blinded to the magic of it, just remember that inner child who appreciates and cherishes every single moment of the experience.