Sunday was the All-Ireland Football Final. When I say football I mean Gaelic football, which is a sport, different from British football (or American soccer).
Gaelic football could, I suppose – be described as a cross between rugby and football. It’s a game of two halves, each half lasting thirty five minutes. The teams are made up of fifteen players who try to score goals (worth 3 points each) or points (which are individually achieved every time someone kicks the ball through two poles above the crossbar of the goals.
Players advance the ball towards the opposing teams goalposts by carrying, bouncing, kicking, and hand-passing.
It is one of Ireland’s national sports (along with hurling).
The sport is governed by a corrupt, mafia-style sporting body called the Gaelic Athletic Association, who run an annual competition where counties compete against each other, in a series of games, and where the victorious final team will win the Sam Maguire Cup and be crowned All-Ireland Champions (for a period of one year) on the third Sunday in September.
As you would expect from a team sport, it inspires a kind of delirious passion in its supporters, whose loyalties are tied to the location of the country from which the teams hail.
It’s kind of an insane, miniaturised national pride. Dublin people support the Dublin team. The rest of the country supports their own individual county. And if their own county is knocked out, they support whatever team is not Dublin. Those jumped up Dublin jackeens and their notions must be opposed.
My father who hailed from Cork, was a massive GAA fan – both hurling and football. In the olden days Cork was the dominant national team in hurling. Many is the match I would attend with him. I was therefore, a Cork fan. Even though I hail from Limerick, my home county team was always tragically useless. So it was fortuitous to have an alternative team to switch my allegiance to.
Cork player Donal Og Cusack was the first ever GAA senior player to come out as gay in 2009. He wrote a book called ‘Come what may’ which for some reason my mother bought me for Christmas that year. My interest in the sport was by this point peripheral.. Perhaps she thought I might finally develop an interest in the sport of the rural gods, if there was husband potential among the players?
The All-Ireland competition begins in May and carries on throughout the summer.
There is an unfeasibly large percentage of matches which end in draws. I smell the work of the devious GAA here. Draws result in rematches, resulting in huge extra wodges of loot for the GAA and their pals. As the sport is amateur (at least in the sense that the players are not paid for playing) there must be an awful lot of cash sluicing around in dirty brown envelopes at the higher echelons of the GAA.
Yesterday Mayo played Dublin in the Final. As per usual, it was held in the GAA-owned Croke Park – one of Europe’s biggest stadiums – which has a spectator capacity of 82,000 people. It has been rebuilt and expanded several times over the years, most recently in 2003 at massive expense. In 1920 it was the scene of Bloody Sunday when the Royal Irish Constabulary murdered thirteen civilian spectators at a Dublin-Tipperary football match. Tipperary player Michael Hogan was also murdered and the Hogan Stand in the stadium was named in his memory. This was during the War of Independence. It was in retaliation for the murder of fifteen British intelligence officers by Michael Collins’ squad earlier that day.
I took a greater than normal interest in yesterday’s match, because a friend from Mayo had kept me well informed of the progress of her team.
I was rooting for Mayo. Well of course I was. I may live in Dublin, but I am not from the Pale. I am a culchie. The population of Ireland is divided in a lighthearted way between jackeens (Dubliners – the nickname comes from the Union Jack, as Dublin was traditionally the part of Ireland most loyal to Britain, before independence) and culchies (everyone else). Once a culchie always a culchie. And culchies stick together.
When Dublin are playing, I support the team opposing them. Tribal loyalties run deep in the GAA.
Even more shockingly, I watched the match.
What fine, strapping lads they all were. I had feelings for some of them – solely related to their football skills, and absolutely nothing to do with how they sported their shorts.
And to absolutely no-ones surprise, the result was a draw.
The rematch is on 1st October.