Having played competitive sport since I was seven years old, I sometimes reflect on nearly three decades of participation and the thousands of hours spent playing. I'm lucky enough to have accumulated some medals over the years which now mostly gather dust on a mantelpiece at home. Very occasionally, I might turn one over to see what year the medal was won. More often than not, they are anonymous.
Far more frequently, I reminisce about finals won (and lost) and think about how I felt at the time. I'm not sure if others feel this way, but the defeats tend to stick out (and hurt) more than the elation of success. That said, the winning feel still remains and can be recalled quite easily. The medals at home don't come close to this. It's not that they don't matter, but the feeling I had when successful is just much more satisfying. Economists attempt to capture this using the concept of utility. Put simply, the utility I got from the winning feeling is far great than the medal.
Why does this matter? Well, primarily because while medals can be striped, the feeling (or memory) of elation when winning can't be.
Last week's Christy Ring Cup final at Croke Park provides a nice example. For this unfamiliar with the competition, the Christy Ring Cup is the senior championship in hurling for teams that fail to qualify for the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship. It is effectively a 'B' Championship.
Last Saturday Antrim (AON) and Meath (MHÍ) took to the field in the final.The game progressed as normal until the 60th minute (matches last a total of 70 minutes). Just after 61 minutes of play the free-to-air broadcaster screening the game, TG4, reported the correct score of AON 1-18 1-14 MHÍ (a difference of four points).
Following another score by Antrim the scoreboard in the stadium incorrectly awarded the point to Meath, and read AON 1-18 1-15 MHÍ (difference of three points), instead of reading AON 1-19 1-14 MHÍ (difference of five points).
With minutes remaining, TG4 continued to report the correct score, now AON 1-20 1-15 MHÍ, while the stadium scoreboard read AON 1-19 1-16 MHÍ. However, the TV channel then decided to change their CORRECT score to match the INCORRECT stadium scoreboard.
To make matters even more confusing, just before the 69th minute TG4 changed their score again, moving AON back to a correct score of 1-20, but failed to remove the point from MHÍ, whose score continued to read 1-16 instead of 1-15. In the remaining minutes of play MHÍ scored a goal and two points, moving their score on display to 2-18, with AON still on 1-20.
At full-time the scoreboard read An MHI 2-18 AON 1-20 (a one point win for MHI) when in fact it should have read An MHI 2-17 AON 1-20 (a draw).
As one might expect, jubilant celebrations ensued amongst the Meath players, coaches and supporters, followed minutes later by the lifting of the Christy Ring Cup. This feeling can't be taken away now. Since Saturday, the GAA's Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) has accepted there was an error in scoring and has ordered a replay. Meath, to their credit, have agreed to this.