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"There are a dozen of us. Men who grew up together, or met in college or in work, or just played together. And every year we have a ritual. It begins with the smell of rashers frying and the easy laughter of familiar jibes in a north Dublin kitchen. The room fills as the morning goes on and people wander in from across the city, and from down the country, and from whatever country life has now mapped.
It’s the Sunday of the All-Ireland hurling final and we’ve being doing this together for the guts of two decades. It is the only day in every year that we come together like this. It doesn’t matter who is playing and it doesn’t matter who wins – it’s the best day of the year.
And at the heart of the day sits the game. Michael Cusack once wrote that a brilliant hurling match was like a city on fire, where the crackling of burning timber and the hissing of flames swelled into a roar of conflagration. Tolstoy, he wrote, was no more refreshed by his first sight of mountains after his journey across the vast plains of Russia than a true-born hurler at the sound of breaking ash.
So this is a ritual and it is a game and it is a day out. In the long, lovely hours after the match, the pubs are still spilled out onto the streets. Bermingham’s and Joxer’s and Kavanagh’s and The Big Tree. People drinking in the evening. Nobody talking about anything except hurling.
Another in a continuum that runs from Sunday, 1 April 1888 – the day the first All-Ireland hurling final was played – and stretches out across the future. The packaging changes, but the truth of the day stays the same."
In 1882, a letter was published in the Irish Times , lamenting the decline of hurling. The game was now played only in a few isolated rural pockets, and according to no fixed set of rules. It would have been absurd to imagine that, within five years, an all-Ireland hurling championship would be underway, under the auspices of a powerful national organization. The Hurlers is a superbly readable account of that dramatic turn of events, of the colourful men who made it happen, and of the political intrigues and violent rows that marked the early years of the GAA. From the very start, republican and ecclesiastical interests jockeyed for control, along with a small core of enthusiasts who were just in it for the sport. In this authoritative and seriously entertaining book, Paul Rouse shows how sport, culture and politics swirled together in a heady, often chaotic mix.