By Ciarán Galagher - Irish Daily Mail Feature 5th August 2013
Gareth Bale is 24. A simple Google search suggests his wage for 2012 was £3.9 million and there has been enough newsprint, in this paper and others, on his current transfer saga to wallpaper the Taj Mahal.
Brendan Cummins is 38. He works in a bank and has nine All-Ireland medals. The ninth, won over this past weekend, has earned coverage that might fit on a postage stamp.
The Tipperary goalkeeper increased his haul of prestigious medals by hitting just 51 pucks across the Annaverna Mountains in Cooley, Co Louth to retain the All-Ireland Poc Fada title. To him, his achievement ranks equally alongside his Celtic Crosses won with his Tipperary team-mates. “It's massive, there's an All-Ireland medal involved,” says Cummins. “When I bring the All-Ireland medal home now and put it beside the one I won in '01 and 2010, there's no difference. There's two things you can win [as a hurler] in the GAA and this is one of them”.
On a windswept hillside - with hurl in hand, heather and rushes around your knees, and ravines and valleys to negotiate with your sliotar there is no talk of Bale. For those of us sick of listening to the never-ending tale of whether a young athlete moves for a disgusting amount of money to a wage even an admirable job (such as nursing) would struggle to justify, the Annaverna Mountains provided a strong wind to blow your cares away. Forget your Bales, if you want the integrity of sport to be reaffirmed look to Cummins. Winning his seventh Poc Fada title - equalling the record of Cork's Ger Cunningham - Cummins showed the skill and fitness required to win a very underappreciated trophy.
The competition itself is easily dismissed as a game which simply involves hitting a ball as far as you can with your hurley. To witness the reality is quite different. On his fourth puck, coming up “The Slip of the Giant” section, Cummins had to clear rushes out of his standing point before hitting the sliotar. Beforehand, he sprinted about 20 metres up a steep incline to get a view of the position he wanted to hit his ball to. A comparable act would be to see a golfer sprint halfway up a par four hole to see where he should hit his ball - if the hole was on a hill...with no fairway.
“It's a bit like following Tiger Woods... but with better scenery”, fittingly joked one of the hundreds of hill-climbing followers who attended last Saturday's event. It takes skill, guile and a seriously underestimated amount of fitness to play a 5km course over rough terrain. The competitors are athletes to match the likes of Woods.
Those competing in the Poc Fada are there for the competition, the interaction with fans of their sport and maybe to play in a sport which is uniquely Irish, but nothing else, however. There is no one moving here, to a young Cu Chulainn's sporting venue, for £100 million or whoring themselves for Nike swooshes.
“That's better, I wasn't getting the benefit of the wind down there”, said Cummins on his seventh puck. It was an ironic comment as the Tipp man struggled in a fierce breeze from his 11th hit up until the second “turning point” at Carn an Mhadaidh. In the meantime, the likes of an esteemed hurler in Cork stalwart Donal Óg Cusack resembled a kite in a hurricane while attempting to negotiate the breeze. The Rebel was, in a good-natured sense, bemused to hear of last year's Under 16 champion Cillian Kiely of Offaly leading at the first turn such was the difficulty of the conditions.
Galway’s James Skehill had the early lead on 32 pucks but finished third on 57 with former champ Graham Clarke of Down second (55). “The wind was obviously a factor in it but it's the same for all the competitors and that's the challenge”, said Cummins afterwards. “Thankfully, the rain held away as we turned across the top it was very blustery as usual. But looking over on to the Lough, it's fantastic, you couldn't complain”. Make no mistake, for all the intensity of competition, it is impossible to ignore the magnificent scenery.
So, if you see any Yanks swarming into Carrolls for Leprechaun hats or attending a Temple Bar attempt at Irish dancing, tell them their money would be better spent on a journey to the Cooley Mountains if they want to sample some real culture.
On the daunting ravine, players must choose to “lay up” before or take it on with one puck. The likes of Clare's Andrew Fahey cleared the mini-canyon with an awesome hit, but others struggled. Cummins resembled a model of consistency.
“You can see from the Uachtaráin, Liam O'Neill, being here and with the fantastic sponsorship of Martin Donnelly that this is a competition that is going places”, said Cummins. He might be right, he might be wrong. After a restructure of qualifying with great opportunities for GAA fans to watch their favourite hurlers [& Camogs] at scenic locations in each county - there is a model there which deserves to succeed. But it needs support.
Does comparing Cummins to the like of a young Cú Chulainn/Setanta seem twee? Over-playing the Irishness and diddly-di of the argument are we? Then, so be it.
Keep your Bales, keep your royal babies and paint your post-boxes green.