Rebel Hopes From A County Final Storm

They started to think they wouldn’t make it. The storm’s vicious winds swirled around them, furiously snarling and snipping at their willpower to drive on. Vicious gusts tried their best to knock them over as they trudged onwards into the eye of the storm. Unmerciful clouds already heaping biblical rain down on those who had undertaken the pilgrimage, would suddenly and unpredictably turn up their intensity as a billion heavy droplets pounded the paths and roadways that were quickly being subsumed by rising water.

Mountain boots and wellies that seemed tough and reliable back at home were breached as two and three feet deep lakes suddenly appeared and obstructed the way forward. Parents, hoisted nervous young children on their backs – their socks now squelching out a soggy beat as they slogged forward towards the bright lights up ahead. Some parents squabbled above the noise of the storm.

We should turn back.
But sure, we’re nearly there.

It's only getting worse.
Nah, it's easing off. Be grand.

It definitely isn’t. They’ll surely cancel it.
S'only a drop of rain, like.
This is stupid. We should turn back.
Look, you can see the stadium now, nearly there!

Who would have thought that getting to a county final would involve a journey that made an episode of Ultimate Hell Week feel like a sun-soaked saunter around Pana?

Many of those arriving into the sanctity of Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the county finals last Sunday looked more like a group of badly traumatised survivors plucked out of the wild Atlantic in a hurricane rather than a set of wide-eyed fans full of excitement about the county’s hurling showpieces.

Miserable, sodden, sniffling children wondering why they had to leave the warm and dry confines of their home to be dragged through a typhon to see a match they could have watched online – their shivering rain-soaked guilt-ridden out-of-breath parents trying their best to be upbeat and offering bribes of chocolate bars and cartons of chips as compensation for their collective traumas.

As Wet Éireann unveiled the forecast for the match last Saturday, local talk suggested there’d be no more than 5,000 souls brave (or thick!) enough to face the elements. Amazingly three times that turned up. Had the weather not acted the langer who knows how many would have turned up? Millions surely.

Once wet and weary pilgrims had gathered themselves inside the Páirc, they turned their thoughts towards finding a seat in the drenched cauldron outside. Walking out into the bright, spanking new surrounds of Páirc Uí Chaoimh lifted everyone’s spirits. Firstly, the size of the crowd caught everyone off guard.

Secondly, whatever about playing sport in the rain, there’s something about a brass band playing music outdoors in atrocious weather that’s incredibly defiant. The legendary Barrack Street Band blasted out their tunes in front of the main stand undeterred by the incessant rain and wild wind whipping around them. Now weary, half-drowned, cranky fans were starting to tap their flags, programmes and cups of tea along to the band.

The pre-match parade for the main event was the next rebuke to the elements. Appearing entirely oblivious to the weather it seemed almost cocky in its defiance: tradition refusing to give way to any rain-related pragmatism as the Barracka led the teams in a full and complete lap around the field. Just like the task facing the Rockies and the Barrs – there would be no short cuts on a day as big as this.   

Best of all, the defiance of both teams in refusing to give in to the weather was eye opening. Such were the conditions that effectively, the teams were asked to play a game inside the drum of a whirring washing machine during the full spin part of a cold rinse. Yet somehow, despite being required to control a ball that was smaller than some of the rain drops being pelted down upon them, both teams managed to display mesmerising skill levels - still managing to hit accurate passes, scintillating scores and heroic blocks.  

And finally, especially for the neutrals, with their hugely impressive victory, there are clear signs that there’s something brewing in The Barrs after bridging a 29-year drought - young guns like Conor Cahalane, Ethan Twomey and ‘The Two Bens’ must surely have Cork coach Pat Ryan rubbing his hands with glee. If they can perform like that in such brutal conditions, these are surely not the type of heads to will wilt in the face of a JP McManus sponsored hurling storm in Croke Park in July.

With the wind at our backs on the way back into town and with a reminder of the healthy teak-tough state of Cork hurling freshly imprinted in our minds, both the challenge of the two-foot deep floodwaters all the way up Monaghan Road and the challenge of bridging the long gap since Cork last won the All-Ireland suddenly seemed far less daunting.

H’on the Rebels!