Forget about your big rugby and soccer internationals. If you really want to see sport at its rawest and most intense, you can’t beat an under 5’s hurling match.
The ball gets hit out, and immediately 20 pairs of legs are chasing it around like a swarm of bees attacking a mischevious teddy bear. There’s always one though, idling in the centre of the pitch, completely oblivious to the game, imagining that he is a dinosaur: arms outstretched, a big T Rex lollop as he strides through his jungle. Another group in the corner are pretending they are pop stars, holding their hurleys in a way that would have made Rory Gallagher proud. It’s a goal, and suddenly a budding David Beckham travels the entire length of the pitch, completing his victory run with an authentic knee slide on the timber surface.
The game continues. Rarely does the ball come to rest, as it is harried by a score of hurleys, hitting at it from all directions. It’s a kind of social Brownian Motion, as the red team hit the ball towards the blue team and the blue team counter by scoring a masterfully planned own goal. One player rushes over to me with an important message: “Can I have an ice cream afterwards?”.
It’s getting ugly out there. A kid is knocked down, not by one opponent, but by ten of them simultaneously. Now the ball is stuck in a corner of the hall. Light itself is finding it difficult to escape from the huddle. I pity the coaches as they attempt to disentangle players from the melée.
It’s all over and my boys line up against the wall. Inexplicably, they are unbloodied and unbruised. They have only one thing on their minds: the ice creams they believed I had promised them earlier.
Make no mistake, Ireland’s future hurlers are a formidable lot.