John Duggan writes that attending Croke Park was strange, but also worthwhile as the GAA try to keep the show on the road...
It was driving up an empty Jones' Road on a pitch dark November night that brought it home that this is weird. No barrier at Gill's, no hope of a pint there afterwards either. No stewards. No sign of the auld Dubs with their banjos, songs and guitar pouch with a few euro on the top. No congregation outside Jury's Hotel, or inside, where someone's fun could end up on the long and winding road to God knows where. Possibly a night club. The killing of spontaneity is the worst part of this pandemic.
In a socially distanced press box, you notice things. The church like silence of this cultural cathedral. The noise of sirens blaring somewhere on the streets of Dublin. You miss the queues for refreshments, the hot dog brigade. The absence of colours, fog horns and flags in the crowd. The Artane Band are at home. Of course, Amhrán na bhFiann cannot be sung, so there is a recording played akin to the closing credits at midnight on TV. There is no crowd sound like the sound of a goal at Croke Park. It has a euphony of its own. That's clearly missing. And the weather is brutal, teeming rain that won't let up in our lives right now. It probably won't lift until a vaccine is here.
However, some things remain the same. The hurling was no less intense than normal. Great physicality. The yellow sliotar cracked as the Kilkenny and Galway players fought fiercely for possession. The shouting from all corners of Croke Park never stopped. This meant something. Joe Canning and TJ Reid were as bright as the floodlights, Canning at his natural best in a deeper role, Reid an expert marksman from placed balls.
Galway are strong and have a range of scorers. Their ability to rattle off points is impressive. Canning was having a stormer and Galway were five points clear when Kilkenny scored two goals in a minute in the second half through Reid and sub Richie Hogan. It see-sawed again, but the Cats, buoyed by those goals, showed tremendous durability to score the last four points of the game, one of them a wonderful score by Hogan, to win a close fought contest by 2-20 to 0-24.
Whether it's fitness, or the lightness of the sliotar, high scoring games are here to stay. Make of that what you will. Back in April and May, there was skepticism if there would even be a Championship. To be fair to everyone involved, people have decided not to give up. It can only be good for the players. People at home around the country have had decent Saturday night entertainment. It sure beats re-runs of James Bond.
We are going to have a good finish to both Championships. The World Cup nature of a tight schedule is a bit of a feast before Christmas. You don't need to be a hurling snob to welcome all of this. When Canning and Reid are showcasing their craft, you can't take your eyes off it.
So Kilkenny are back winning Leinster titles under Brian Cody. The Bob O'Keeffe Cup is going back to Noreside. Thank you, familiarity!