The thrills and ex­ite­ment of Croke Park

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - OPINION - Fr Michael Com­mane

I’LL be back in Croke Park on Satur­day. Is it pos­si­ble to re­live the thrills and ex­cite­ment of the drawn game? We’ll see.

Re­ally, I had no right what­so­ever to be at the drawn game. I’d be con­sid­ered a fair-weather spec­ta­tor, even if that. Late on the pre­vi­ous Satur­day evening a friend phoned to tell me he had a ticket for me. He’s an ex­pert on the game and would hold his own with any sports’ me­dia an­a­lyst. All dur­ing the game he had his pro­gramme out, co­pi­ously tak­ing notes on every­thing that was hap­pen­ing, ev­ery score, ev­ery free, not­ing ev­ery sub­sti­tute who came on.

I can’t be­lieve the amount of fun, thrills and ex­cite­ment I got from the day. From the mo­ment I left home un­til I turned the hall door key on my re­turn I was con­sumed in the ac­tion. The crowds stream­ing to­wards the sta­dium, the flags, the stream­ers, the hats, the jokes, two mounted gar­daí keep­ing an eye on all of us. Ev­ery­one in the best of hu­mour. And the game had not even be­gun. Among the mass of peo­ple, I hear a ‘fella’ shout ‘A Mhíchíl’. In that swarm­ing crowd I bump into some­one from West Kerry. He was up­beat about a strong per­for­mance from the Kerry team and as­sured me they were go­ing to show the Dubs a thing or two.

It’s some­thing of a mys­tery to me how 82,000 peo­ple can get to their places with such ease.

We’re there about 30 min­utes be­fore kick-off. I’m think­ing of the days fadó fadó when the Arch­bishop of Cashel and Emily would throw in the ball. How many in Croke Park would even be aware that that was the cus­tom? As pa­tron of the GAA it was his role to start the game. Ac­tu­ally the arch­bishop is still pa­tron of the As­so­ci­a­tion and he pre­sented the Cork team, the win­ners of the mi­nor game, with the cup.

I find my­self think­ing of the ban. That in­fa­mous GAA rule that pro­hib­ited play­ers from play­ing or at­tend­ing ‘for­eign games’. Imag­ine, had they not got rid of that, where would the GAA be to­day?

Rule 27 was abol­ished at the GAA an­nual con­gress held in Belfast on Easter Sun­day 1971. It was the first an­nual con­gress to be held

in North­ern Ire­land.

The first episode of this year’s All-Ire­land fi­nal was one of the best en­ter­tain­ments I have had in a long time. I watched ev­ery kick of the ball.

There are so many an­gles, twists and turns to it all. The fa­ther of one of the play­ers on the Kerry team was my prin­ci­pal when I was teach­ing Ger­man and English in his school. I can still re­call how he would be talk­ing about go­ing to games back in West Kerry to watch his young son play. And now here he is in Croke Park play­ing for Kerry.

My mind wan­ders again and I’m think­ing of the late An­ton O’Toole, who died in May. He was known as the Gen­tle Giant when he was play­ing for Dublin in the ’70s. I had the great good for­tune to get to know An­ton be­fore he died. What a gen­tle­man.

On RTE’s ‘Up for The Match’ the pre­vi­ous evening the leg­endary Dublin goal­keeper Paddy Cullen, spoke so warmly about his team­mate An­ton. I know ex­actly what he was say­ing. It’s re­mark­able how good­ness can spread its wings. And peo­ple al­ways recog­nise it.

All set now for Satur­day. I have my ticket and rear­ing to go.

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