Archive for the ‘Galway’ Category

I’ve had many memorable moments. My marriage, graduation and an episode of The Waltons are the top three. Or were the top three. Yesterday, I attended something that eclipsed all those, with plenty to spare.

I wasn’t really into the hurling at all. On TV it seemed like a big game between the boys I see beating lumps out of the police, and each other, in the Ardoyne area in July. Or manic polo without the horses/upper classes. I tried watching a game on TV in preparation but it didn’t whet my appetite at all. I simply couldn’t follow the ball. On 15 minutes, feeling slightly dizzy, I decided to just watch the score up in the left hand corner of the screen. Every now and again my eyes would wander towards the action and the nauseating feeling would return. So you could forgive my apathy as I made my way to Croke Park yet again for the final.

The only hurling I knew

This time I took the train. There were only a handful of Antrim hurling aficionados on the journey and they seemed to want to make the best of it. We’d only reached Newry and I’d counted 29 empty cans of Stella. Songs included “You Can Stick Your Decommissioning Up Your Arse” and “I’ll Tell My Ma”. I have to admit, I’m still a bit perplexed as to the etiquette as to when to join in. I thought I’d add to the occasion and after a quick g&t I began singing “Bat Out Of Hell”. The reception was muted.

Getting off in Drumcondra, the noise and colour knocked me out. I think it was that or perhaps the boy from Poleglass who was bad-eyeing me up the whole way down on the train. When I recovered sufficiently I made my way to the pitch, not forgetting the last disastrous episode of pub-hopping. When I got there, a minor game was in full flow. I’m not sure what minor means. It wasn’t their size. The physique of some of those boys was mind-boggling. If they continue growing at that rate, the average height of an Irish male will be over 8 feet and weigh a healthy 20 stone by 2030. I thought I read they have to be under 18 but that cannot be true either. I saw one of the Tipperary players with a handlebar moustache. I also spotted one of the Dublin hurlers afterwards with a half bottle of Smirnoff, driving off in a flashy Peugeot convertible with wife and children in the back.

Ireland. 2030.

The pageantry of the senior game was unique. The players all lined up in a row to meet a very small man, possibly one of the remaining mythical leprechauns. I used my binoculars to see if he was kneeling in front of the players but it was quite the opposite – on his tiptoes. God help him. Then they all calmly marched after a brass band, never quiet managing to catch them although the players barely broke sweat, saving their energy for the game. The band were a crazy outfit. One moment they’d be walking straight towards a stand and at the last minute turn away, much to the relief of the frightened women and children in the front row. They did that four times with the crowd trying their best to drown them out and waving flags in protest.

After all that shenanigans we all stood still and listened to the band play the national tune of Ireland. A lot of people didn’t know the words and just sang some kind of celtic gibbiltygeek. Even before it ended, the crowd got bored of it and started yelping and yahooing manically, shouting things about cats and tribes. I must admit I felt frightened at this point.

Supporters were glad the anthem was over

The match was a blur of speed and hurls. It was quite majestic in its ferocity. Men and women in the crowd frothed at the mouth, most of their anger aimed at the ‘blind bastard in the black’. Quite why they put a man in charge with visual difficulties was beyond me but I suppose equality and all that. The match ended in a draw and as I waited for penalties the players sauntered off, as did the crowd. Apparently they just replay the game – IN THREE WEEKS. A lot can happen in three weeks. Players can age, have a growth spurt or fall in love or out of it. It must be a manager’s nightmare.

The cats nearly won it but a Harry Shovelling missed a penalty by about 20 feet. I think he got a bit excited. On the tribal side was a Joesph Canning. He scored a point from his own penalty box, hitting it over 120 yards. Both managers had a bit of a spat at the end with the Tribal manager calling the Cat manager a wee pussy which irked the old Cat man. He fly-kicked the Tribal man and all hell broke loose, only ended when a guard fired a shot into the Dublin sky, hitting the wheels of the RTE overhead blimp.

Unseemly fight between managers at end

I’ll be at the replay.

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As I look out my bedroom window this morning I can still see the dimmed fires burning across the county, as far as the eye can see. Towards Aghagallon I can make out some naked ritual being performed on its highest hill but that might be a standard Sunday morning thing out there. It’s the morning after the night before, and what a night that was. People can recall where they were when the most memorable events occurred across the planet: the gunpowder plot; JFK; Zidane’s head-butt; Katrina and the Waves winning the Eurovision. Well, now worthy of a place on that list is Antrim, the mighty saffrons, who yesterday defeated multiple All-Ireland winners, Galway.

Aghagallon this morning

There was something in the air on the way in that made it feel this day was different to all the others. Some say it was the animal incineration plant near Lough Neagh but I smelt something different. Things were happening for me. My wife had just finished reading 50 Shades that morning and was in some form. When I managed to escape the house (I’m sure she can untie herself) things just fell into place. I managed to get into the ground free. I started talking to the man at the gate about the wife and the book. He didn’t seem to be that interested and ushered me through quite quickly without taking a penny off me. The ground was full when I got in. I reckoned about 50’000. Children were perched on top of the stand like something from the 1920s in Wembley. The Saffron Ultras were behind the goals on the Andersonstown Road in their droves with flares and fireworks littering that stand. I was worried about Kerr and the smoke as I know he has been trying to give up the cigarettes but it was well cleared by the time he graced that end.

Image from during the warm-up

The game started off rather slowly with the Butcher’s men eyeing up the opposition. As I informed you in the previous post, they deployed their Latin tactics and it seemed to be working. From the moment Loughrey roared ‘ad victorium’ before the throw-in like a gladiator, you knew these lads were hell bent on winning today. Tomas McCann, fresh from his honeymoon, quickly burned off the love-making lethargy by merrily and majestically prancing down the field to knock over the first score. He ran to the crowd and embraced Mrs McCann in a touching moment that even had Padraig Joyce in tears. Romance is alive and well up there. Galway hit back with a couple of points, one of which Kerr almost saved. He saw it coming and started bouncing on the sand. Each jump was getting taller and if he’d started bouncing a few seconds earlier, he’d have caught the ball 7 feet over the crossbar. A mighty effort and symbolic of what they were prepared to do.

Kerr jumped as high as this lad

Aodhan Gallagher, with his immaculate dome sparking in the bright Belfast sky, hit his first score. To be honest, the shine was a bit dangerous for children and I saw many mothers shielding their children’s eyes any time Gallagher touched the thing. I want to stop here to talk about Michael McCann. He scored the next point but his overall performance reminded me of Maradona v Belgium or Messi v Arsenal. He lorded the ground like a farmer telling the intruders to ‘get off my land’. Such was his mastery that day that he seemed to double in size and width, like some kind of saffron hulk. The ground shook with his every step. He scored a point in the second half and the ball traveled so far it landed in the lap of some Cavan hillbillies who were sitting in the back of a transit van motoring down the M1. What a collector’s item.

Artist’s impression of the Cavan keepsakers

It was tit-for-tat for the rest of the game really. Some of the highlights were as follows: Tony Scullion made a run in the second half that actually broke the sound barrier. He shouted ‘my ball’ on his own 21 but the soundwaves only reached the crowd after he’d crossed the halfway line. This was roadrunner in 3d. There was a scorch mark on the turf which put the fear of God into the Galway men. Christof Kerr made a couple of crucial blocks but his main contribution was the unusual noise he made when All-Star laden Padraig Joyce bore down on goal with seconds left. Whilst waiting to see the net bulge, the crowd held their collective breath. At that moment, time stood still. All you could hear was a high-pitched Mexican-like ‘areeeeebaaaa oi oi oi oi oi’ with the manic Kerr jumping around like a man on fire. Joyce, with all his experience, just wanted out of there. He fisted it over and ran as quickly as he could away from the scene towards the touchline. A masterful stroke. Finally, there was the winning score from O’Hagan. I watched Bradley taking to him on the sideline before he came on. He showed Deaghlan a ball, pointed at his foot and then pointed towards the Galway goals. O’Hagan shook his head so Adams drew it out for him using colours and all. Deaghlan nodded and the rest is history.

The view Joyce had of Chris ‘ariba’ Kerr

The final whistle offered scenes never witnessed before at Casement. Everyone embraced. Men hugged women, men hugged men. Some men kissed men but they seemed to be from South Belfast. 30’000 ran onto the field and carried their heroes off to the changing rooms. The pitch was torn up for souvenirs. I managed to rip the togs off Murray. Some carried off the goalposts and marched nonchalantly towards the direction of Poleglass. It threatened to get out of hand when a group of women tried to bundle the brave O’Boyle into a mini. The celebrations started in earnest with the Whitefort offering a free bar for 10 minutes. Bonfires were lit from Dunloy to Dundrod, from Cargan to Crumlin. It really confused the OO I’m sure.

Celebrations in Ballycastle

How do you top this? I’m not sure but didn’t I back the right horse when I left the sultry shores of Co Durham seven months ago.