ONLY A GAME?
‘What brilliant seats!’
Your man was estatic. I have never seen him so delighted with himself. The green sward of Croke Park stretched out before us. We were in the Hogan Stand. Plumb centre. Just above the level of the pitch.
‘Any closer and we wud have to tog out’.
‘Indeed’ I said.
All around was there was noise. Happy noise. Excitement. Expectation. Colour. Whoops. Hollers. Hill 16 was a stormy sea of blue. The stadium was filling up rapidly. Hector was out cajoling and winding up the crowd.
‘An bhfuil aon daoine anseo ó Thir Conall?’ he yelled.
Tens of thousands yelled back at him.
‘Are the Leinster champions here?’ he countered.
The Dubs answered him in one huge gurrier roar.
‘This is the biggest sporting event in Europe this weekend’, Hector told us.
Then the entire stadium roared and yelled and screamed and applauded as the Donegal and Dublin teams tore on to the field to begin warming up. Your man and I yelled along with all the rest. For both teams. But mostly for Donegal. It was the All Ireland Senior Championship Football semi Final and we are from Ulster and even though we both fancied Dublin to win that didn’t matter. We are from Antrim but for today Donegal was our team.
The Artane Boys band and swarms of flag waving youngsters flooded on to the field as Hector exited. Your man grinned through it all. Then Amhrán Na Bhfiann and we were off. Or were we?
By half time the score was 4 to 2 for Donegal. The cheers and exhuberance before the throw in was replaced by groans, moans and loud booing from the 81264 spectators. The prospect of a free flowing game of flair and beauty had been replaced by a grinding defensive exhibition of slow aggressive basketball.
This had been well signposted of course but no matter. Donegal are famously renowned for their defensive play. There were no secrets about the way they would play. Or about their lack of forwards even though Colm McFadden had a very good game. But he was on his own for most of the match and the only Donegal player in Dublin’s half during the slow pondersome build ups which marked Donegals strategy. That and their blanket defence when Dublin tried to move forward.
None of this was a secret. But that didnt stop the collective frustration of both sets of fans. Particularly at the number of wides kicked by both teams. However this was always Dublins game to lose. Donegal would be hard pressed to sustain their intensity. And they needed to be further ahead or capable of better score taking to win out by such a defensive approach.
‘Dublin are going to win’ your man told me even though they hadn’t yet kicked one score from play and there was only ten minutes to go.
‘I agree’ I told him.
‘You don’t win games defensively unless you can get very far ahead and stay there’he said.
And so it turned out.
And even though they were lots of people giving out about the style of play, about ‘puke football’and ‘soccer tactics’it was still a brilliant day out.
‘The only way to spend a Sunday’ your man affirmed as we made our slow way out off Croker past the jubilant Dubs and the devastated Donegal fans.
For all the negative commentary about the style of Sundays game nothing can take away from the spectacle, the energy, pride, drama, the joy and the sheer magic of this wonderful pheonomon that is the Gaeldom.
Gaelic games – played to the highest standard by amateurs and sustained mostly on a voluntary basis – are a credit to everyone involved. There may have been a bit of a grind about the way the football was played on Sunday but I am glad was there to see it. So was your man.
Now for the Dublin Kerry Final! What a contest that will be.
But before all that the hurling!
Will Tipp prevail? Or will the Cats get their revenge?
Isn't it great to be a Gael?