After 20 years of hurt, a monkey (I think it was a langur) has been removed from the back of a team of talented, hardworking and committed footballers. Cork’s victory last weekend was wonderful in itself, but there was also a little side bonus. For the first time in a long while, Cork football fans could enjoy every aspect of the All Ireland Final Weekend experience in Dublin.
For country-folk the trip to Dublin for ThawlIreland is a feast for the senses. There are many types of fans who make the trip. At opposite ends of the spectrum are:
1. Make A Weekend Of It
2. Home for The Sunday Game
Those who decide to ‘make a weekend of it’ may start off their journey on the train on Saturday and limp home on Monday morning in tatters. Make A Weekend Of It (Let’s call them Donie and Connie) triumphantly announce their presence on the train to Dublin with a simultaneous Qhuisssssh! as they open their first cans. They’ll bring a couple of apples for the train. It’s the only food they’ll eat for 48-hours that is not cooked in vegetable oil.
On arrival, they’ll have a few ‘acclimatisers’ in a pub in the city centre. A number of hours later they land – mowldy – at the apartment of their friend Barry who lives in Dundrum. Barry may express surprise at how lightly his friends have travelled. “Where’re the bags lads?” Grinning, Donie produces a toothbrush and two contact lenses from the back pocket of his Pepes. Connie has The Cork News. The lads settle down for a few cans before Town. There’s some gentle slagging of Barry when Donie finds the Jamie Oliver cookbook. Barry is defensive “Grow up lads would ye, I don’t fancy him. Some of the recipes are good like.” Connie feigns hurt “You’ve changed Barry, you’ve changed…”
After laughing at the start of Up For The Match and speculating on “how in the name of God does Dessie Cahill get so much work”, it’s time to hit the town. Generally GAA fans stick to what they know so hundreds will converge on The Barge.
The Barge is a pub on the Grand Canal. It has no outdoor drinking area officially, but on busy nights it’s ‘footprint’ can expand to cover about an acre. It’s a cheerful tradition in Ireland to annex extra outdoor drinking space no matter what it’s currently being used for. Elsewhere in Dublin, Mulligans in Poolbeg Street often employ an extra member of staff to move excitable fans out of the way to allow the No. 39 bus to pass through their newly created ‘beer garden’.
From The Barge, it’s time for a visit to Flannerys. You will hear it said that Copperface Jacks is the zenith of culchie culture. It is not. Compared to Flannerys, Coppers is an art gallery in Manhattan. However if the bouncer stops you from going into Flannerys, you can then make your way to Coppers. They will take anyone. This is because the place is so full of guards and nurses, it’s the safest place in Dublin.
Meanwhile, a few hours later, back in Cork, a different weekend is unfolding. It’s Sunday morning and Home for the Sunday Game is packing a car full of children, raincoats and flags. While the sandwiches are being wrapped in tin-foil, he’s checking the pressure on the tyres. He’s dressed in comfortable shoes and a Cork GAA polo Shirt. Home For The Sunday Game shuns the full replica outfit. It’s not that he’s a lukewarm fan, he’s just not the type of man who wears large logos. His trousers are pale chinos and the back pocket is stuffed with match tickets he has magicked out of various sources. When it comes to tickets, like Marlo Stanfield in The Wire, this man has the Connect.
Because ‘there’s some road there now’ progress to Dublin is smooth and at the Park N Ride, they board the Luas.
All human life is present on the Red Luas Line. Passengers can hear Stevo organise a drugs deal on his phone “Anto, Anto, listentome righ, Anto I swear man. It’s dere righ. It’s in a brown Penney’s bag behind a bin near the railings, awrui man”.
Croke Park’s location means that whether they like it or not, Cork people are brought right to the unadorned heart of Dublin. For one afternoon only, culchies are granted diplomatic immunity to drink in some of the saltiest establishments in the city. Pubs that normally have Garda tape across the door are now a temporary home to Cidona-drinking young lads and their father who’s trying to hear what ‘Spillane’ has to say on the small telly high up in the corner.
Without warning, the masses decide to make tracks. Pints are slammed down. There is no official coordination but like gnus on the savannah who’ve got the whiff of a lion, a large group is moving. Soon the streets empty. The nerves descend and the stadium fills. The match itself can be summarised in one word:
Within minutes of the final whistle, Home For The Sunday Game is striding purposefully back to the Luas as the speeches are being made. “We’ll make great headway while all those fellas are talking” he says to his children who are struggling to keep up.
Donie, Connie and Barry are in The Hill 16 pub on Gardiner Street about to embark on an odyssey that will see them end up arguing with the staff at the Burlington who are unwilling to let them in because (A)Connie has only one shoe and (B)it’s 6am. In between, they will have many adventures as they drink their way slowly southwards. They will shout ‘Cmon the Rebels’ at a Garda horse. They will teach the first verse of De Banks to a group of Brazilians. They will watch the Sunday Game and pretend it’s live.
These are good times, but in the following week there will be a sense of unfinished business.
Something is missing. There’s no one to gloat to. The sheer soundness of the Down fans, their graciousness, the clean football their team played have robbed us of something. It’s the sense of vindication felt only by people who see that a great injustice has finally been undone – it’s shared by the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the average Cork GAA fan. There’s only one thing for it: Next year, we need to beat Kerry. And Galvin.