Tag Archives: Donegal

Here it comes, ready or not!

One of my enduring benign memories of Croke Park, benign because most of the memories from Jones’s Road are anything but, was of going to see Ireland play Australia in what I still think of as the Compromise Rules series in 2000. While Australia won handily enough it was an enjoyable day out, and a real treat to be in a crowd of 57,289 (says Wikipedia) who were all rooting for the same team. Before the game we had the equivalent fixture between Ireland and Scotland in hurling/shinty and when that finished the Jocks, replete with names like Fraser Colqouhoun and Alastair Campbell-McDonald that would have flagged what school they went to, took a lap of honour around the embryonic cathedral. It was impossible not to have a wry chuckle at the contrast with what the equivalent venue in Scotland must be like. You’re not in Kansas anymore.

Impossible, but how wrong-headed was such smugness. Quite apart from being a little bit rude, this weekend we’ll see what has built Croke Park and it has very little to do with hurling. Ian O’Riordan wrote an article in the 2009 Munster hurling final programme on the occasion of the 125th edition of the match where he noted that the GAA had two objectives when it was established: to revive 1) the Irish language, and 2) the ancient game of hurling. In those terms, the GAA has been a failure as both the teanga and the iománaíocht languish in ghettos. So it’s just as well that a lesser objective, that of tearing people away from the pernicious British sports of association football and rugby football that were beginning to put down roots, was so successful.

While researching the results archive, it struck me how the GAA once scrupulously maintained its calendar at inter-county level in such a way as to give everyone the chance to play both sports. Football and hurling never clashed during the League season. That’s no longer the case, and in truth it probably wasn’t ever that big a deal in a practical sense as proper dual stars were a rare beast. Still, the principle was there and an outsider might wonder why such respect was being accorded by the majority sport to that of the minority pursuit. This is especially true considering the scoffing that hurling supporters frequently come out with about the self-evident superiority of hurling in every sense – skill, excitement, drama, history, even skills with foot to ball after Nicky English’s goal in the drawn 1987 Munster final. Much as with the Irish language, it’s probably a reflection of the reluctance to abandon those early aspirations of the GAA that the football 80% (approx) of the association hasn’t told hurling to paddle yer own bloody canoe, you’ve got the equipment with which to do it.

We’ll see it large this weekend. The tsunami that is going to sweep out of the west upon Dublin is going to be epic. You might argue that mere numbers don’t matter, that the excitement will be a question of never mind the quality, feel the width. But this is going to be a truly national experience. Only the most arch of anti-GAA bigots could fail to be intrigued by what is going on, two teams who have cleared multiple difficult hurdles to find themselves 70 minutes away from fulfilling the dreams of generations of their fellow county men and women – or alternately crushing them once again. It’s going to be great, and despite being a hurling man first and foremost, it’s a pleasure to be a part of it.

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Also sprach Zarathustra

There are two me’s when it comes to the GAA. The online me, the one that fancies himself as the descendant of Déiseach and who has been carrying the online Waterford GAA flame since 1999. At the very least I’d like to think of this blog as being part of an embryonic 32-county community of Gaeldom with me ploughing a lonely furrow for Waterford now that Up the Déise is a shadow of its former glory. And there’s no doubt who owns the house that is known by the trees in this notional community – ‘Willie Joe’ (not his real name) of the Mayo GAA Blog. It’s a smashing resource for supporters of Mayo football, and it almost made me weep to see a recent post on Twitter where he said he’d had over 6,000 hits in one day. Speaking of weeping, it’s been a tough ride over the years for Mayo supporters – their loss to Meath in the curtain-raiser to our match against Kilkenny in 2009 is still fresh in my mind – so it would be marvellous for them in general and Willie Joe in particular were Mayo to finally land the Big One 61 years after they last won it. Hey, that’s how long Ireland went without the Grand Slam! It’s meant to be, isn’t it?

Well, no. For facing them in the opposite corner is the featherweight that has beefed itself up into a heavyweight. Watching Donegal sweep Cork aside in the All-Ireland semi-final was a gobsmacking experience. Jim McGuinness got a lot of stick last year for the destructive manner of their style of play, but that was just a prelude to the well-oiled machine that Donegal have become. While they’re clearly a fit team – I enjoyed the comment of one wag on the GAA Discussion Board that “Chuck Norris was first to puke when he trained with Donegal” – that alone does not explain the bewildering array of angles that each of the Donegal players takes when not on the ball. Any time a Donegal player was in possession he could be confident that there would be two or three team-mates in the vicinity, usually making a beeline for the opposition goal. All the talk on the Mayo GAA Blog and on Twitter about how Donegal are over-confident does not mean that Donegal have nothing to be over-confident about. Everything has to go right for Mayo for them to end that 61-year wait, and luck is not something you associate with Mayo.

Not that feeling Donegal are going to take some stopping is a reason to hope they win. No, it is because of the other me that a victory for Dún na nGall would be a great thing. Note that it is ‘Dún na nGall’, not ‘Tír Chonaill’, because Tír Chonaill does not include the Inishowen peninsula. I know this because it was explained to me by my best friend Pól, the best man at my wedding. Were Donegal to win the All-Ireland it would mean so much to him and it probably mean even more to his father, a man whose wool is so GAA-dyed that he saw fit to invite me to see the Donegal Minor footballers take on Derry in a friendly match in Celtic Park on the one occasion I was at the family homestead in Letterkenny – a vote of confidence in me if ever there was one. I know (of) many Mayo people online thanks to Willie Joe. I know one Donegal family in real life thanks to Pól. Will I be rooting for the needs of the virtual many or the substantive few? I’ll find out on September 22nd.

What was that? Who will I be cheering for this Sunday? Don’t be daft. Come on the Tribesmen.

And then there were six

When Waterford reached the All-Ireland final, the search for tickets naturally began in earnest. Seven of us expressed an interest in going so calls went out as far afield as Laois and Donegal, and the web erupted in a welter of recrimination as people like us (go to lots of matches but are not members of clubs) lashed out at the unfairness of the ticket distribution system.

I wasn’t joining in the fun though, for two reasons. No system of ticket allocation is going to be entirely fair, and the notion that introducing a voucher scheme to reward those who went to earlier rounds of hte Championship seemed fanciful – getting people into Walsh Park is like herding cats at the best of times; can you imagine the uproar had everyone been told that you had to buy a ticket rather than simply pay at the turnstile so as to ensure you were eligible for a ticket for the All-Ireland final? Giving the priority to the ordinary club member, a group that tends to overwhelmingly overlap with the frequent match goer anyway, is sensible policy. The second reason was that the word on the street was quite insistent that tickets would be available on the day. People chase so many leads in the build-up to the game that they suddenly end up with a glut of tickets and need to divest themselves of them in the vicinity of Croke Park. Combined this with a Zen-like calm based on the idea that it was more important that the team be there without me than I be there without them, and que sera sera reigned supreme.

In retrospect, such considerations look entirely too modest. Four tickets turned up by Wednesday where only two seemed likely. The same evening the contact in Donegal said that if I really wanted it, the ticket was mine. I felt able to spurn this kind half-offer because there were suggestions that there were two more coming from Galway. Then Friday night the contact in Laois came up trumps with one definite ticket, and a person in Tramore offered us another ticket entirely out of the blue. So at the time of writing we have six definite tickets and a probability of two more. The system seems to be working, after a fashion, and the old hands who were chuckling at those getting so upset in the last three weeks can feel rather smug.