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After a weekend like no other for Irish sport, it’s time to bask in the sunshine of immortal joy

It was a weekend that gifted us the kind of thrills that make it entirely natural to embrace complete strangers.

It was a wonderful weekend of sport

Roy CurtisSunday World

From Croke Park to Wellington, a heatwave of high achievement, the incandescence of Gearóid Hegarty and Tadhg Beirne bronzing so many in vivid shades of rapture.

Limerick and Ireland offered a thrilling vision of cloudless midsummer skies, of sport’s capacity to carry its audience to euphoric fever-dreams, to transport a nation beyond troubled times to something approaching a state of grace.

These contests raise the thermometer of the national mood to a point where the mercury dances in an ecstatic sizzle.

Saturday and Sunday were theatres for dreamers, occasions of blinding light that brought a glow to the everyday.

Most of all a jolting reminder of the redemptive and unifying power of landmark sporting days.

Ireland loosening the shackles of history, Limerick advancing into rarely visited terrain, intoxicating statements permitting jubilation and togetherness to spread in a lovely, unstoppable contagion.

It was a weekend that gifted us the kind of thrills that make it entirely natural to embrace complete strangers.

Hurling and rugby were like guardian angels, steering us away from the perils of inflation, a cost-of-living crisis and the darkening mood besieging Europe.

Through towering athletic deeds these pathfinders were announcing that this can still be a wonderful life.

Leave aside the debates – entertaining, though ultimately meaningless – about where precisely these victories reside in the pantheon of the divine.

Greatest? Top Five? A day like no other?

Who cares?

It is enough – more than enough - to bask in the sunshine of immortal joy, of days and memories without end.

Sport touches us at the heart, a mind-bending narcotic that stimulates us in places others struggle to reach.

Who did not feel a rare stirring of the blood as that unbending gladiator Peter O’Mahony, a wall of green defiance, submitted to tears in the New Zealand murk?

Or to decode the bone-deep satisfaction in Johnny Sexton’s words at what was a moment of long-pursued emancipation in his sporting life.

Likewise, there was something primal about that sequence ending with Declan Hannon’s lasered score into the Davin End, the foundation-shaking noise that engulfed the old coliseum announcing an authentically seismic event.

For minutes after Sunday’s final whistle, there was magic in the air as the clans of Limerick shook their heads and held each other and sobbed in wonder at the days of thunder that, after decades of nothing, have visited their county.

Only a creature without a soul could resort to cynicism at such a moment.

John Kiely and Andy Farrell delivered gems of the senses that are so much more than fleeting treasures.

Rather they amount to postcards from the best of days, a few lines of enduring sunshine in which to bathe on colder nights.

Cultural milestones, the very best of what it is to be Irish.

How else can we describe the visceral masterclasses Hegarty and Beirne unveiled?

Hegarty, an amalgam of sledgehammer power and surgical instrument poise, detonated a hurling Big Bang from which a new universe of brilliance was born.

Enlarged by the occasion, he grew beyond his already mammoth 6’4” frame, until, it seemed, he was looking down on his fellow gladiators, on the Poolbeg stacks, on O’Connell Street’s Spire, the highest point on Dublin’s skyline.

To have a ringside seat felt as he composed his lyrical July sonnet felt like nothing so much as an enormous privilege.

Hegarty pursues the jugular like a creature of Bram Stoker's imagination.

That Transylvanian pursuit thirst yielded a goal; long before his final soaring, long-range point, the big man held the title deeds to Croke Park in his paw.

What do you think of that, Garth Brooks?

Limerick’s lion of summer, even as he inflicts magnificent carnage, even as he bounces off other huge men as if they are no more than pebbles, never seems hurried or stressed.

Rather, he moves in Gearóid-time, appearing to casually lope over the ground, like a flip-flopped Mediterranean holiday maker on his way for a morning dip in the hotel pool.

A beautiful freak of nature.

Limerick’s duel in the sun with Kilkenny – and how great were the stripey men in squeezing out every last blob of potential to make this an All-Ireland final for the ages – capped two days of heartsoar.

The All Blacks class of 2022 clearly reside many rungs of the ladder below some of their storied predecessors, but winning a test series on New Zealand soil remains a gold standard by which the rest of the rugby world measures its worth.

Perspective is often machine-gunned down like a Mafia snitch in 1930s Little Italy in the hail of hyperbole that follows oval-ball glory, but Saturday morning was a true masterclass, at once visceral and refined.

Ireland’s first half performance, a study in clinical efficiency in attack, unyielding in defence, set the bar at a new mark.

It was led by the defining hour in the career of Ireland's number four.

During the half time break, I put the breakfast on the plate, reached for the knife and fork, only for Beirne to jackal out from beneath the table and steal my fry.

It was a performance from another planet.

Yes, Ireland’s record in World Cups is abject and what unspooled on Saturday is no guarantee of deliverance in France next year.

Worry about that when the time comes. For now, forget future consequence and surrender to these thrilling moments.

Why self-flagellate on those days when the sun is at its highest point in the sky, and when David Clifford and Damien Comer are poised to accept the baton carried so unforgettably by Hegarty and Beirne?


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