HE’S more used to soccer and rugby, but Shannon Airport’s new CEO Neil Pakey has already got the hurling bug.
From Troon, on Scotland’s west coast, he has spent a lifetime following the fortunes of Scottish sides, he says that hurling has an appeal all of its own and that he can’t understand how it isn’t better known around the world.
“I was lucky enough to have gone to the quarter final between Clare and Galway and the two things that got me most were the speed of the game and banter between the fans.
“You almost need a trained eye to follow the ball, the game is that fast. Only for the umpires and their green and white flags, I really didn’t know wheter or not the players had actually scored.”
The banter among the supporters was what got to him the most. “I learned all sorts of things from the fans, including the wide variety of names to call a referee. I presume a lot of th words were in Irish,” he joked.
He contrasted the day in Thurles with the atmosphere that surrounds big games in Scottish soccer. “It was a double header, of course, and driving over to Thurles I was thinking to myself what would it be like in Hampden Park for a double header with Celtic, Rangers, Hibs and Hearts all involved. It just couldn’t happen and if it did, they certainly would not involve fans from opposing sides mingling together like the four counties were in Thurles.
“That’s a real special quality about the GAA. There’s a bit of magic about the game, about the whole experience and it is something that international visitos would love to experience as well and what I cannot believe is tht it is not better known internationally. I know a lot of people who have caught onto Australian Rules who aren’t from Australia and this is a far better game.”
He said he has heard a lot about that the night in 1995 when Clare came back from Dublin with the Liam McCarthy. “I’ve heard so much about 1995 and the madness here at Shannon when the team came back. It was the first place in Clare that they set foot in with the cup, I understand. By all accounts it was the wildest night in the airport’s history.”
Given his limited exposure to the game he said he’s not in a position to make a prediction about Sunday’s outcome, but he does feel it could be close. “At the quarter final I was very impressed with Clare’s speed and the scores they got. They were the same in the semi final from what I saw on TV. But what also struck me from the double header in Thurles was just how difficult Kilkenny were finding it to break down the Cork defence.
“In any other sport if you have a strong attack and defence meeting head on, the game is typically decided by one or two moments of magic. It could be the same with this.”