|Galway's Joe Canning celebrating after his early goal in last|
Sunday's All Ireland Hurling Final
Last Sunday Kilkenny and Galway played in the All Ireland Hurling Final and the game ended in a tie. A draw. A dead heat. No overtime or extra time or penalty shoot-out or anything. The final whistle sounded and the game ended with the teams even at 19 points. The result means the same two teams will meet again in a 'replay' on September 30 to decide the championship.
When I think about that it's incredible to me. A championship decider ending in a tie. Can you imagine the Super Bowl ending in a tie? No, of course not. Football fans wouldn't stand for it. The Super Bowl is the championship game and there must be a winner.
Of course, ties are almost non-existent in American sports now. When I was a kid baseball and basketball didn't allow for ties; games kept going until there was a winner. Football and hockey had ties, but gradually those too have been phased out. The legendary 10-10 tie between Notre Dame and Michigan State
in 1966 could not happen today thanks to college football's (frankly strange) overtime system.
Europeans are more comfortable with ties. Anyone who regularly watches the English Premier League has seen plenty of games that ended with both teams even. However, even European soccer championship games are played to a conclusion these days with 'extra time' and, if necessary, the dreaded penalty shoot-out. I can't remember the last time an FA Cup Final finished in a tie and the two teams met again in a replay.
The Gaelic Athletic Association, which runs both hurling and Gaelic Football, hasn't allowed itself to be dragged along with the anti-tie philosophy sweeping other sports. Games regularly end in a tie, particularly Gaelic Football.
Ties in hurling are much rarer generally because there is more scoring. The last time the hurling final finished in a tie was 1959.
I have to admit that when I was a kid ties always felt unsatisfactory, a let down. Yet, somehow, Sunday's result didn't feel that way to me. Maybe it's a sign of age, but I was happy enough for the game to end with a tie. It's also possible that I just didn't want to see Galway fall one point short when they've waited so long for a title. They earned the tie with a last second point, which allowed them to live to fight another day.
I haven't heard much griping from fans about the final ending in a tie. Again, maybe it's just that I haven't spoken to teenage fans, but mostly I've heard "a draw was a fair result" or "It was the best result, really."
Seeing as the fans aren't complaining about the game ending in a tie there's no mystery as to why the GAA is happy enough to keep the replay system in place. The replay in three weeks means another 82,000 fan sell-out of Croke Park and a large television audience. An extra, unexpected, huge pay day for the GAA.
However, the pay day will not be as huge as it could have been. And this is another reason why the GAA engenders such devotion among Irish fans: the GAA has cut the ticket prices
for the replay by 40%. Why? Because, according to GAA executive Feargal McGill, "We’ve had a tremendous year, with tremendous loyalty from all our supporters, across the country, and this was the chance, the gilded opportunity, to say thanks. The very scale of the reduction, we hope, shows people just how much we do genuinely appreciate their ongoing support, in ongoing difficult times."
Could you imagine any American sports organization doing the same? Certainly none of the professional franchises would forego 40% of the gate in order to say "thanks" to their fans. I can't even imagine the NCAA doing it. Same goes for any of the European professional soccer or rugby leagues. I don't know if the GAA is unique, but it has to be pretty close to it.
The GAA is an amateur organization, but it's more than that. The GAA is at the very heart of life in Irish cities, towns and villages. The people who play at the highest level live among the people who cheer them on Sunday.
There are no great distances between the star players and the volunteers who keep the local clubs going and go to stand along the sidelines to watch a small contest on a dark, damp February afternoon or who filled Croke Park to capacity on Sunday for the All Ireland Final. Same goes for the GAA executives. They understand what life is like for the average Irish sports fan these days because they are the average Irish sports fan. Hence the ticket price reduction.
So all the fans will be at Croke Park again on the 30th to enjoy another great day, hopefully see another great game and all at a reduced cost. Awesome. It's the best result, really.