An Irish code

Comparison is a key part of life.

I think that an internal balance sheet is visited in almost every interaction we conduct in our daily lives.

Unconsciously my writings on the beautiful game are informed by my love of another code.

On Sunday, as I stood trembling in the lower Cusack stand, Cillian O’Connor put his laces though the ball in the final breath of a pulsating All-Ireland final.

Dublin, thought they had it won, but Mayo weren’t beaten.

The whole country outside of the capital was shouting for the men in Green and Red and what men they are!

Gaelic football just isn’t a different code to Association Football; it is, quite frankly, a different moral universe.

When I told a British friend that the sporting spectacle he had watched on TV had been played by amateurs, he thought I was being glib and shameless.

When I set off from Westport on the 08.45, last Sunday morning I was on a genuine football special, the craic express.

There were lads sitting just in front of me, and they started a Mayo sing song.

Across the aisle from me was a man from Newport with his young daughter.

Twenty seconds of chat and we knew a friend in common, a buddy of mine in the Mayo Mountain Rescue Team.

I had various attempts to secure a ticket in the previous week that would not have been out of place in a Tom Clancy page turner.

One day saw me take the bus from Westport to Sligo and back, but my contact didn’t show.

On the return journey, I shared with David, the driver that I was probably fekked.

However, when I boarded the train at Westport, a sound man had promised me that, this time, the ticket was in the bag.

That station has a lot of history for me.

During the Tan War, my grandfather was a guard on the train out of Westport up to, as it was called then, King’s Bridge station.

Today it is known as Seán Heuston Station, and that suits me better.

We have still have bridges, but no kings here any more.

I know from military archives that my grandfather would meet up with a member of the General Headquarters Staff (GHQ) of the IRA at the station.

This was under the noses of bayonet-wielding British Tommies and prowling spies from Dublin Castle.

My grandfather was a courier, carrying communiques from the IRA in the West to ‘Mick’.

If he had  have been discovered by the enemy then it would have been a ghastly end in Dublin Castle.

Croke Park itself was the scene of British savagery as the empire turned its  anger on a defenceless crowd watching  a Gaelic Football match.

My meet up on Sunday reminded me of those days.

I’m glad we’re in a better historical place, but I remember what took place before I was thought of.

As I walked onto the station concourse himself was there.

Finally, my man had come through, and there was the contact with a ticket.

Lower Cusack, one of the best seats in the house!

In the Luas into Jervis, it was more craic.

The driver was a Dub, and he used the intercom for the craic with the Green and Red ensemble that made up about 90% of his passengers.

In the shade of the GPO, I commandeered a taxi to take me to my AirBnB safe house in Drumcondra.

The driver was in his Dublin jersey and politely didn’t give us Mayo boys a chance.

He heard my accent, he asked what the connection to Mayo was.

“Me father, and his mother’s side, all the way back, ” I said.

“Ah, you have no choice then” he replied.

He was, of course, correct.

The bag was thrown into the billet, and I left with the two vital pieces of equipment, my ticket and a Green and Red jersey.

My destination was Croke Park

If you’re reading this and it is all terra incognita to you then put an all-Ireland final on your bucket list.

First of all, you’ll  be in one of the world’s great amphitheatres of sport.

I was blessed to be one of the 82,257 souls that made the place bounce as Aidan O’Shea and Bernard Brogan tried to gain a sporting advantage.

Croke Park is the kind of stadium you get when the people looking at the architects’ plans are thinking of the sport and not a nice set of offices for themselves.

If comparing is part of the human condition, then the comparison with Hampden is stark and unforgiving on the agenda of the SFA blazers.

Because of Cillian’s final swing of the boot, it was all square when hostilities were ended.

So we go again.

Last year Dublin beat us in a semi-final replay and, since 1951 we’ve been on the end of some cruel results.

However, this is real sport.

There are no EBTs or Honest Mistakes.

Before the match started the lads on Hill 16 and the Mayo fans everywhere else sang Amhrann na bhFiann together.

After the match, the blue of Dublin and the Green and Red of Mayo mingled and chatted.

These words blink to life next to a black and white picture that is even older than me.

A victorious hurling team poses with a cup that they have just won.

In the back row looking as stern and earnest as I’ve ever seen him in any photograph is my father.

A Mayo hurler, a rare enough creature!

The older members of his team proudly sport bent fingers and twisted noses.

This was in the days before protective head gear and, just like the lads on Sunday at Croker, they were amateurs.

Clashing the ash for the love of it.

In the corner of the study is my junior hurly.

I wielded that fine implement in the summers of my boyhood.

If sport can define a people, then I consider myself blessed that I’m part of this.

So, on October 1st we go again.

The Green and Red of Mayo will be a crucial part of the occasion.

Our lads will go through the pain barrier again.

Once more, despite all the hurt since ’51, we believe.

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