This All Ireland Sunday, for a historic seven times in-a-row, Kilkenny will contest an All Ireland Hurling Final in Croke Park and for a historic first time, our hurlers have arrived there via ‘the backdoor’.
Now Kilkenny hurlers are not familiar with ‘the backdoor’ but this Kilkenny man, and ardent Kilkenny supporter, has been using the backdoor all his life and comes from a long tradition of backdoor users. That tradition started in my childhood home. A family of seven, we all, parents, children, cats, dogs, neighbours, friends and relations came and went through our backdoor. The front door was for formal visits only from the rent-man, gasman, postman and the occasional guard checking to see if we had a dog license. We hadn’t. We hadn’t a dog either – at least not on those official visits. The key to that front door, and I only ever remember there being one, hung inside the letterbox on the proverbial piece of string.
And it was through that same backdoor that I, as a youngster, trooped in and out, day after day with a hurley in one hand and a rubber ball or bald tennis ball in the other. Never a sliothar; a sliothar was a rare and treasured possession used only in school matches or parish leagues. As for wearing a Kilkenny jersey – unheard of; a Kilkenny jersey was as unattainable and venerable as the Turin Shroud.
That tradition of coming and going through the backdoor has continued on in my home. Not one of our family of six ever enters our house through the front door, not because we don’t have a key (we have several) but because the backdoor is always open, except, of course, at night. Even in this day and age we seldom lock our back door – an act of foolishness perhaps or an act of faith in our fellow man, or maybe neither as there is almost always someone present in the house.
Inside that backdoor of ours is a large basket, full of household paraphernalia: crumpled shopping bags, old shoes, umbrellas and a couple of weather-beaten hurleys; and buried somewhere at the bottom, a worn-out sliothar. Those hurleys lie idle for most of the year until my son returns home from abroad, at All Ireland time, for what has almost become an annual pilgrimage to Croke Park.
That’s when we haul out those old ash-plants, slip out the backdoor and have a few pucks in our back garden, a garden that, when we were both much younger, was our ‘Croke Park’ where we tussled and jostled and lifted and struck until someone sent the ball soaring over the hedge into our neighbours back garden. And then the REAL tussle began. “You get it”. “But you hit it over”. “I’m your rather, do what you’re told”
It’s in many a back garden that many a father looked at his son swing a hurley and wondered if he would swing one in Croke Park. And it’s in many a back garden that many a son dreamed of lifting and striking and scoring in front of Hill 16. I would hazard a guess that most, if not all, of the Kilkenny and Galway hurlers playing in Croke Park this All Ireland Sunday got there via the backdoor – the backdoor of their respective homes, the backdoor that they frequently slipped out for a few pucks ‘out the back’ as we always referred to it.
And on this historic first ‘backdoor final’ for Kilkenny, we ‘cats’ need no reminding that Kilkenny were the first team to be beaten under the ‘backdoor rule’ by Offaly who Kilkenny had beaten in the Leinster Final. How appropriate then if fortunes were reversed this Sunday, if Kilkenny in their first ever ‘backdoor final’ beat Galway, the team that defeated them in the Leinster final.
Poetic justice perhaps, but there’s little room for such niceties as ‘poetic justice’ in hurling. There’s room only for passion and pride and the poetry of hurling - attributes that are not lacking in a Kilkenny team that has been making history for the last decade under the stewardship of Brian Cody and that will, hopefully, make more hurling history by winning their first All Ireland through what I fondly consider: the honourable backdoor.
I was amused by American commentator David Feherty’s recent descriptions of hurling and football. David was broadcasting from the Aviva stadium at the Notre Dame versus Navy American football match: “…. .hurling….it looks like a mixture of lacrosse and second degree manslaughter…..Gaelic football looks like there’s a riot on the pitch and someone threw in a soccer ball”. And then there’s my own description of American football: a shower of guys, with shoulder pads, sticking their butts in the air every three minutes, then falling in a hape on each other.