| 8.2°C Dublin

Croke Park: The big old Colosseum sits hushed, padlocked and ghostly

All-Ireland final's beauty is lost to ravages of virus

Close

Cobwebs covered in rain on empty seats in Croke Park Stadium on the original scheduled date of the 2020 GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final.  Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Cobwebs covered in rain on empty seats in Croke Park Stadium on the original scheduled date of the 2020 GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Cobwebs covered in rain on empty seats in Croke Park Stadium on the original scheduled date of the 2020 GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

LIKE a forlorn refugee from Oliver Goldsmith’s deserted village, Croke Park this morning squats, silent and disconsolate, beneath a smog of melancholy.

On what should be hurling’s day in the sun, a riotous celebration of the Celtic tribe, a symphony of joy, the old Colosseum sits hushed, padlocked and ghostly.

All-Ireland final Sunday, full-flavoured main course in Hunter S Thompson’s “meal of life”, the latest victim of this cruel, cratered, annulled summer.

A national feast day torn from the calendar; a wrecking ball taken to another familiar listed building.

In these dystopian times, it is as if some humourless censor has come to power and has made it his life’s mission to toss every last syllable of erudition onto a book-burning pyre.

Covid’s vandalising of all that is good, its pitiless sacking of the soul, claims one more victim.

No caravan of hope will roll into the city from the hurling heartlands, no ancient warriors will revel in their annual reliving of old battles; Copper Face Jacks sits mute, an abandoned ship, a great gash gouged in its hull of mischief.

Sambo McNaughton, hurling totem of the Antrim Glens, will not hold court by the bar in McDaid’s of Harry Street. Ryan’s on Camden Street, Chaplin’s, The Oval and The Palace Bar, second homes for the descending clans, sit mute.

masterpiece

Where last year, bunting hung from every Tipp and Kilkenny village, colour stretching toward the horizon, now there is but the greyness of sunken hope.

The masterpiece that might have been summoned from the imaginings of one of the game’s artists – Joe Canning, Lee Chin, Austin Gleeson, Patrick Horgan, Tony Kelly, Seamie Callanan, Cian Lynch or TJ Reid – will go unpainted.

Where there should be beauty, there is only a blank canvass.

Saturday passed without the giddy, twee, magnificently mortifying antics of Up For The Match.

There will be no mid-afternoon Sunday Game chorus calling the nation to attention. A summer without birdsong.

Just like that, another vital thread in the connective tissue between the land and its people severed. Exactly 250 years after Goldsmith penned his epic lamentation, we can but relate to the line where he, with “heavy heart deplores that luckless hour”.

The patterns and motifs of All-Ireland hurling final weekend are stitched deeply into the national tapestry. A carnival of the wondrous, the unforgettable and the absurd.

In an increasingly monochrome world, here is something splashed with a uniquely Celtic riot of colour.

Today, Ger Loughnane’s upstart class of 1995, those Banner giants who ended Clare’s 81-year wait for deliverance, should have been the 25-year anniversary team introduced to the crowd at half-time. Remember them?

Seanie McMahon, unhurried and majestic; Brian Lohan, pale-skinned and carved from granite; Davy Fitz, hyperactive, defiant,

uncontainable. Just the sight of them would have cracked the safe where resides our lost youth.

One of the joys of a hurling weekend is its democracy, billionaire and artisan shoulder to shoulder.

Our post-match ritual in recent years was to find a seat in The Piper’s Corner, a bar cheek by jowl with the Pro Cathedral, a mere puck of the ball from Anna Livia.

Among the clientele we encountered were Nicky English, Gordon Elliott, Niall Quinn, Shane Lowry and JP McManus. Supping pints, lost in the reverie and heartsoar of a day like no other.

Because All-Ireland weekend is a social festival, a catching-up, a celebration of friendship and life and identity. A photo album of imperishable snapshots.

Canning in 2017, his joy as dazzling as a shooting star, his helmeted face a portrait of rapture as he makes real the winning score he imagined all the days of his youth. Liam Griffin, Wexford’s evangelist, summoning poetic wonder from his colourful mind to herald and frame that immortal 1996 September Sunday.

Delirium

Brian Cody, apple-cheeked and timeless beneath his black and amber baseball cap, the ancient game’s immovable Methuselah.

Recall the Vesuvius of delirium that erupted two years ago, the Hogan Stand trembling beneath the weight of history, as Limerick, after 45 years at sea, sailed into Paradise Bay.

One of the most beautiful snapshots occurred in The Palace Bar on the Monday lunchtime in 2016.

Some 70 years after his father had come to Dublin from the townland of Rear Cross, eventually buying the beautiful Victorian watering hole, Liam Aherne walked into the bar packed with his fellow sons of Tipp.

He raised the trophy cradled in his arm – for it was the Liam McCarthy Cup – to the heavens, distilling the magic of the weekend to its essence: “She’s home, lads, she’s home.”

And, I could have sworn, a solitary tear rolled from this gentlest of creature’s glinting eye.