YOU know that saying that ‘the hurling snob’ grabs onto and dusts down every once in a while.
The one when he clears his throat and asks how on earth people could sit down to watch a football match after witnessing a good game of hurling?
Well, you know, on Saturday he was right.
“Big man put up his hand, and I said, ‘Nae chance’!”
It was a lovely piece of television work. On Saturday, Mark Sidebottom’s knockabout style was perfectly suited for the bonhomie of the Loughgiel dressing room.
Sidebottom is a man who is comfortable in hurling country and among hurling people, and was able to coax the one-liners out of the only man to score three goals in an All-Ireland club final – not Lar Corbett, not Joe Canning or Henry Shefflin – but Liam Watson.
He was asked about that free, the one that he stood over and most of the country thought he was going to stroke over the bar, keep the score board ticking over, and run back into position. But then Watson does this kind of thing all the time. He did it against Cushendall in the Championship not so long ago and broke their will.
“He knew to go for a goal,” explains manager PJ O’Mullan. “I wear armbands on my right wrist, and when I put my right hand up with the bands he knows to go for goal. It was pre-planned.”
All it took was a glance. There were five men on the line, but all of them had their hurls in their right hand. He said later that there were three, but it’s only players of rare genius that take that kind of detail in.
If he hit the ball across the face of the goal, they would all have to pivot and put their hurls across their bodies. He gambled and thought that by the time they would do that, it would be in the net. And so it was.
Nine days before the final, and all of Loughgiel are down at the club house getting hurls, sliotars and jerseys autographed. The media are there as the evening is doubling up as press night too. Once the business was all over, coach Joe McGurk made a diplomatic request.
“Joe McGurk appealed to the parish to back off, to let the players have their space, not to annoy them or go talking to them about hurling anymore,” recalls team statistician Justin McCormick. “Only Joe could get away with that, by saying it in such a nice way, and he got a round of applause for saying it. They all saw the merit in it.”
A hotel had to be reserved after the semi-final, and McGurk had strong ideas on it.
“I had booked the hotel, myself and the Treasurer, and we didn’t tell anyone. That was a pact we had. Nobody actually knew where we were going. It was booked under a code name at the CityNorth. Only one person at the hotel knew we were staying there and it wasn’t recorded in the book.
“I had stayed in The Regency three years before. I go to the All-Ireland finals every year, but when I was at The Regency we didn’t get a wink of sleep all night. There was all sorts of people there on holidays from Europe and wherever with their red hair and fake beards.
“Immediately after the semi I knew there was little chance of getting an inner-city hotel that we could get peace the night before the match. Loughgiel people wouldn’t have been coming down to annoy you, but with the best will in the world we didn’t need any distractions.”
Tucked up in their beds on the sixth floor, nothing was going to detract from their focus.
Read the full story in the current issue of Gaelic Life, published March 22. Buy your copy in your local newsagent or online by clicking the subscribe button