This blog loves All Ireland Sunday. The Camogie Final was great. Being at the Hurling Final earlier this month was an other world experience. And a great privilege. Hurling as an art form delivered by wizards and warriors on the hallowed turf of Croke Park. I first came to Croke Park for the football. In 1960 when the great history making Down team brought Sam across the border for the first time ever. I was twelve.
Now fifty years later here I am in the back of the car rattling away on the laptop on my way to another Down bid for the All Ireland. My uncle Paddy, a good and decent man brought me to that epic game five decades ago in a hired car. Going to Dublin in those days was a great event, an exciting excursion. It is now a more mundane occupational hazard for this blog. But the thrill of Croke Park has remained.
We were on Hill 16 that day. Me, a gasson, Uncle Paddy and two of his friends. Once a high ball dropped in our direction and all of us and most of the terraces leapt skywards in a futile effort to capture it. Whether the ball was kicked back or not, I can’t recall. It was one of those magic days. And the biggest attendance ever at Croke. Ninety thousand people, someone told me, with about twenty thousand bunking their way in.
They sang and honked car horns in a long cavalcade all the way home. Our wee group were fortified by a few pints, and red lemonade for me, in the Viscount Bar out at Whitehall. According to my Uncle Paddy the singing in our car was needed to keep the driver awake. Paddy who loved singing but never mastered the ability to hold a tune persisted in chorusing, ‘The Cups come over the border, the border, the border’.
I recall when we eventually crossed the border on that special day Uncle Paddy requested a stop at the Half Way House, a pub appropriately enough which is halfway between somewhere and somewhere else on the main Belfast Road and in the heart methinks of county Down. Or maybe on the fringe of County Armagh.
Decades later the UDR used to set up a road block regularly on that stretch of the road. It could be avoided by slipping along the side road past the Half Way House. I suppose that’s where Slip Road comes from? This blog has often meant to drop in there in these more enlightened times. In memory of Uncle Paddy. Maybe some day in the perpetual coming and going up and down the Dublin Road, now a much shorter journey, I will do just that.
Some of that great Down team were working in the building trade and were employed in Riverdale in Andytown, where my granny lived at that time. It was a great thrill for us young Belfast gaels to get even a glimpse of our heroes. I get the same buzz nowadays when I am close to the heroes and heroines of our Gaelic games.
Who is going to win today? This blog doesn’t know. Nobody does. That’s the wonder of it all. Anything can happen. And when all the talking and spoofing and slagging is done its over to fifteen versus fifteen to do the deed.
This blog will be rooting for Tír Éoghan in the Minors and An Dún in the Seniors. Tír Éoghan should do it! An Dún? They will have a lot to do. Corcaigh have something bigger than themselves to prove and they have been a long time waiting. But here’s hoping. By five o clock today we will all know.
And by five o clock Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh will have commented on his last All Ireland Final. At eighty years of age he is bowing out at the top of his game after broadcasting since 1947. This blog is a huge fan of Micheál’s. For me he is the voice of Gaelic games. A worthy successor to the great Micheál O Hehir. I have always loved his singsong Kerry accent bringing the radio commentary alive with his passion, eye for detail, humour and verbal solo runs in both Irish and English. These are now part of the tradition. As part of our little tribute to Micheál and in thanks for his work we reproduce some of these below. Maith thú Micheál. Go raibh mile maith agat.
‘He grabs the sliothar. He’s on the 50! He’s on the 40! He’s on the 30! He’s on the ground!’
‘Seán Óg Ó hAilpín …. His father’s from Fermanagh. His mother’s from Fiji. Neither a hurling stronghold.’
‘The stopwatch has stopped. It’s up to God and the referee now. The referee is Pat Horan. God is God.’
‘Teddy looks at the ball. The ball looks at Teddy.’
‘(The streaker) has gone past the centre of the field. Níl fhios agam cad as thánaigh sé. B’féidir piobaire sidh slí Gleann Molúra é. He’s dodging his way now, trying to get away from the maor. He has made a good run. He’s on the 50 yard line now on the other side of the field. He’s brought to the ground…tá an streaker ag imacht an páirc’.
‘Pat Fox out to the forty and grabs the sliothar. I bought a dog from his father last week. Fox turns and runs for goal. The dog ran a great race in Limerick last week. …Fox to the 21, fires a shot – it goes to the left and wide…and the dog lost as well.’
So did Down. By one point.