The seed for love of All Ireland Football Finals was sown in our house with my mother telling us stories about how she stood on an orange box on the Canal End watching Kerry against Down along with 90,000 others in 1960. My earliest visual memory is of watching the 1975 All Ireland at home in the kitchen in Killomeroe. The magic of the unexpected win of the young country boys over the Dubs meant I was hooked. We heard a few days after that match that Connie (Nolan) broke the chair when he ‘landed’ after John Egan scored the first goal. My mother used to record the radio broadcasts on tape and if Kerry won we would enjoy our homemade aural version of the Sunday Game for a few weeks afterwards.
I got the opportunity to travel to my first All Ireland as a teenager in 1984 when I travelled with fellow parishioner Bríd McElligott (Gunsboro) and my sister Anne. I was in Jeremiah Behan’s shop the day before the match and mentioned that we were going to the match by train and weren’t too sure where to go when we got there. “Don’t worry”, said Jerry, ”just follow the crowd.” And we literally did that. Our tickets were for the Canal End and we got all sorts of survival advice for the terrace – get in early, don’t stand behind a barrier in case of a crush, stand in front for back support. We took all advice and were in Croke Park for about a quarter past twelve and had our pick of the terrace. Kerry won (of course!) and the way back to the train station required better navigational skills and we requested directions on a number of occasions. It ended well as Bríd was offered twenty pounds for her crepe cap which she gladly sold before we boarded the train.
1985 and 1986 were also train journeys, passed with interest in the brown legs of Kerry’s half forward Timmy O’Dowd and curiosity as to where he got his tan and other crucial footballing facts! The Sunday Independent with its Bendix Washing Machine advert was the root of this interest. More Canal End experiences followed with early arrival stocked with food and drinks in a rucksack having learnt from the first outing that the start of the minor match to the end of the senior match is a long time.
College attendance in St Patrick’s Training College, Drumcondra and ten years teaching in Dublin brought opportunities to go to the All Ireland annually. The early nineties passed in general with neutral attendance but valuable skills in ticket-sourcing gained. I had a ticket for Hill 16 in 1992 when Clare played Dublin in the semi-final. I had perfected my terrace occupation by this time – in early, confident to be behind a barrier, rucksack full, bladder empty! The Hill is special when Dublin are playing. Near me was a lone Clare supporter who was fully decked out in his county colours, armed with a flag and was attempting to let the Dubs know that they did not own the Hill. From his vantage point he could nearly see down the tunnel between the Canal and the Hogan where the teams came out. When Clare came out onto the field the blue and yellow colours shot into the air and covered both stands and the Canal End and Croke Park was a sea of blue and yellow and the roar indicated that Clare footballers had not been in Croke Park in a while. The man from Clare beside me roared like he had been personally appointed by the county board to do his bit for the team with pride in Clare oozing out of his every pore. He waved his flag wildly while shouting “Come on The Banner, Come on The Banner. Ah Ha! Ah Ha! Where are all the Dubs today? Ah Ha! Come on The Banner!” to which a Dub from up behind us calmly replied “they’re down in Clare robbin’ yer houses!” Don’t remember much about the match after that apart from a Dublin win.
Our turn came again in 1997 and I stuck a green and gold flag on the classroom window of our school on the Navan Road on Dublin’s northside with the words “We’re back!” across it. The principal was a Mayo man and enjoyed the banter. One pupil on seeing the flag remarked to the principal “Sur (sic) someone’s up for Meath”. First lesson that day – county colours.
Moving to early in the new millennium going to the All Ireland became a three day event courtesy of the Celtic Tiger mentality. Friends flying up from Kerry and staying in five star hotels, meals out the night before and taxis galore. Boy how things have slowed down – I’m back to the flask and the sandwiches. Where is that rucksack I used to have?
And now my teenage daughters are hooked and Timmy O’Dowd has become David Moran, John Egan is James O’Donoghue and on we go for another generation with the help of God!