Clare captain Patrick Donnellan lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup at Croke Park on Saturday. 

The decision to travel was made last November, not long after the All-Ireland hurling final replay win for Kilkenny over Galway had been consigned to the memory banks.

At the time it seemed highly unlikely that either of the All-Ireland finals, in hurling or football, could go to a replay for the second time in a year.

So the option to hop over to Portugal for a few days of golf on the final weekend in September seemed fool proof for someone who normally spends hurling final day handcuffed to a desk and a computer screen.
Or so I thought as we booked the flights and the hotel and, most importantly, the three rounds of golf around the wonderful capital city of Lisbon.

What could possibly go wrong? Surely Kilkenny would have the MacCarthy Cup wrapped up by the second Sunday in September, and Donegal or Dublin would win the Sam Maguire two weeks later.
Ah, the foolishness of it all.

Nobody, not within our golfing group or those who actually know something about hurling, could have foreseen the summer of drama that finally came to an end this past weekend.

Nobody in their right mind could have predicted that Kilkenny and Galway and Tipperary would fall from their mantle, and the likes of Clare and Dublin and Cork replace them as the powerhouses of the 2013 hurling championship.

That’s why I didn’t feel too bad when I loaded the golf clubs onto the oversized luggage belt at Dublin Airport last Friday morning, happy in the knowledge that the second All-Ireland hurling final to go to a replay in the space of 12 months was a fluke of nature.

I was also happy that those left behind at the Irish Sun were more than capable of looking after the big match without me. They’ve done it for years before I arrived and they’ll do it for years to come in the future when the computer is finally put into retirement.

The only issue travelling out of Ireland on Friday was where to watch the match live.

Cascais, our haven for the past few days, has two Irish bars, but closer inspection revealed that one of them is an Irish bar in name only.

O’Neill’s, down near the harbor, is more an English bar than an Irish one, so much so that Arsenal were playing on the telly when we landed in on Saturday afternoon and the girls behind the bar didn’t even know what the hurling final was or how to get it on their many television screens.

That’s why we huddled around an iPhone, listening to Clare man Marty Morrissey go close to a heart attack with his commentary on the RTE radio ap for the first half of a quite sensational game.

By the second half of a game that didn’t seem to want to end, we were safely ensconced in O’Luans, a real Irish pub in Cascais complete with RTE television pictures and Guinness worthy of the name.

What followed was an epic match beyond all our wildest expectations as Cork came back from an eight point deficit to pull level before finally losing by two goals, or six points in GAA speak.

It was a cracking game to watch many miles from home, and I can only imagine what it was like to be in Croke Park and witness the eight goal thriller at first hand.

It was also proof, as we explained to a native beside us, that good hurling is the greatest game in the world.
It’s better even than golf, and that’s not something I say lightly.

I’ll also guarantee you that any golf trip next autumn will take place in October. I’m not taking a chance on an All-Ireland final replay again.

And next time the country’s best hurlers do battle I want to be there, not stuck behind a desk or a TV screen.

Despite what Bono sings, nothing is even better than the real thing, and the Lisbon experience proved it.

(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)

Sideline Views
GOLF: Rory McIlroy’s management problems are now public knowledge and they are going to get nasty as Dublin-based Horizon Sports chase him through the courts for lost earnings after he walked away from their agreement. Some reports have suggested that Horizon want $25 million off Rory and will fight to get it. Not the sort of distraction he needs at a time when his golf game is crying out for some help . . .
HURLING: Henry Shefflin suggested last week that he will leave any decision about his future until the start of next year as he waits for injuries to settle down. If I was Henry I’d bow out now and be remembered as the greatest hurler of the modern age. If he comes back and Kilkenny struggle again next year, as well they might, his reputation may be tarnished forever . . .
SOCCER: Robbie Keane is a viral hit on Facebook according to media reports on Tuesday morning. His official Facebook page is attracting huge interest from all over the globe for a video of Robbie performing tricks with a football. He’s been doing for years by the way, long before Facebook was ever heard of, but it’s still worth checking the video out . . .
GAA: Great to see Jack O’Connor back in football as manager of the Kerry minor team. The man knows how win senior All-Ireland titles, and there is nothing to suggest he won’t do the same for a county in desperate need of some young talent to come through.

IT is hard to believe that Clare hat-trick hero Stephen O’Donnell is only 19, harder still to understand how someone so young could score three goals in an All-Ireland hurling final without as much as a nervous look about him. O’Donnell only found out late in the day that he was starting Sunday’s game, another masterstroke by the Clare management team.

THE Manchester United owners have announced that they will finally give new manager David Moyes some real money to spend in the January transfer window, but it might be too late by then. Judging by last weekend’s home defeat to West Brom, United needed to spend big in the summer. January may be a little late to preserve their reign as champions of England.