DUBLIN — On the final day of our annual summer visit to Medford last month, Dublin was playing Cork in a vital hurling semifinal game in Croke Park. The winner would earn a spot in the All-Ireland Championship contest this Sunday.
My preference was to listen to the 10:30 a.m. match (3:30 p.m. Irish time) courtesy of a radio feed on my laptop in the air-conditioned comfort of my family home on Corey Street.
My 15-year-old son — a diehard Dublin supporter for whom hurling (something like lacrosse: players use a wooden stick called a hurley to hit a small ball between the opponents’ goalposts either over the crossbar for one point, or under the crossbar into a net guarded by a goalkeeper for three points) is pretty much a religion these days — had other plans. He insisted that I scout out an Irish pub in the locality that was showing the clash live. Four players from his own club were on the Dublin county team and he wasn’t about to miss such an important game — even if he was 3,000 miles away from the Gaelic Athletic Association’s marquee arena on the northside of the Irish capital.
After phoning half a dozen establishments in the Cambridge/Somerville area, I finally hit paydirt. (Curiously, most of the folks I spoke with at these so-called Irish pubs had never heard of hurling and thought I was inquiring about the availability of English Premier League soccer, since Manchester United also was playing the same weekend.)
All I can say is thank you, P.J. Ryan’s in Teele Square, Somerville. Not only are you just over the hill from my boyhood home, but the game was as pulsating and dramatic as any professional sporting event anywhere on the planet — yes, folks, the county players serving up world-class displays of hurling and Gaelic football each summer remain genuinely amateur — so filial forgiveness would have been a long time coming if we’d missed it.
Anyway, this minor predicament got me to thinking about how we used to handle similar sporting dilemmas when we were young. As I say, I would have been happy to listen to the Dublin-Cork match on the radio. I realize this is an outdated approach, given the dizzying array of media options these days, but I’m sure plenty of guys my age will understand where I’m coming from.
Back in our day — which, for the sake of argument, I consider the late 1960s, before network TV dictated scheduling — listening to a game on the radio was nearly as good as being there. Like today, Boston was then blessed with great announcers: Ken Coleman and Ned Martin covering the Red Sox, Bob Wilson relaying the on-ice antics of the Big, Bad Bruins, and the inimitable Johnny Most losing his cool at times during his breathless reporting of Celtics games.
One particular memory from that era jumps out. I recall retreating from the television on the last Sunday of the 1967 Red Sox regular season. Even at age 8 I was fully aware, like the rest of New England, of the game’s implications — Yaz and the Sox needed to beat the Twins, plain and simple. I preferred to supply my own late-inning visuals, taking my trusted transistor radio outside to our front steps. (The experience also taught me the value of having a good dictionary in the house. I needed one to look up the meaning of “pandemonium,” the word Ned Martin used to describe the scene at Fenway Park after Rico Petrocelli drifted into short left to record the final out that sent the Sox into the World Series for the first time since 1946.)
Three days later I was allowed to take my radio to school to listen to the first game of the Red Sox-Cardinals World Series, a midweek afternoon match-up that TV network bosses would never authorize today.
So you can see why I was perfectly content to listen to last month’s do-or-die Dublin-Cork hurling match on my laptop.
Despite what you’ve heard over the years, words are sometimes worth more than pictures – especially when your hometown team is involved and there’s a legendary voice behind the mike.