Published 19th September 2017
There is no feeling like standing for the anthem on All Ireland Day in Croke Park. I have done it three times. And each time I felt like I would burst. In fairness it is only slightly more than the feeling on any day of the Championship. The Boys in Blue on the pitch, family and friends surrounding me and the band strikes up the first chords as the crown faces the flag. “Sinne Laochra Fáil…” It all comes out a bit froggy at first because of the emotion.
I am old school. All that breaking off before the end always annoys me. The bit after “Faoi lamhach na bpíléir” when some of the crown start to clap and shout, even some of the players break free. I know it is going to happen but it still annoys me. Maybe because I think it is ultimately disrespectful but mainly because I love the last couple of lines. My clann and chairde always finish the whole lot. And then the roar that comes out of us. From deep inside. “C’Mon Dublin” or just a general animal like “YAAAGH”.
This year we got two tickets. We were very lucky. And what a game. Physically intense from the first glorious second to the last 79 (!!!) minute. It was fought just as hard mentally and tactically. If Mayo bring anything special it is their chameleon-like tactics. Where Tyrone fell this year because they could not adapt, Mayo change tactics in the space of seconds. They are extraordinary.
But the Dubs are, in the words of Dublin’s Mayor Mícheál Mac Donnacha, in the middle of a golden age. This Dub suffered for years and years with defeat following broken dreams always ending before September. It almost seems incredible now that Dublin were the also rans, never taken too seriously from 1995 until 2011.
So why would I write all of this in the Andersonstown News? Because at the same time as we were making our pilgrimage to Croker fellow Gaels ran, walked and jogged down the middle of the Andersonstown Road demanding that progress be made on Casement Park. In Croke Park the vision for Casement was broadcast on the big screen. The crowd around me were impressed. Every single Gael on this island needs Casement Park recovered and realised. The entire GAA must see, as we living here in Belfast see, that we are diminished with every day it lies empty.
Just like Croke Park, Casement is hallowed ground. It’s where partition, occupation and denial of rights of Irish citizens have been put in their box. It is where young Antrim players of hurling, camogie, football and handball aspire to show off and make their family, club and county proud. It is where we can choke with pride singing the anthem on championship days. It is where the saffron can be reborn.
The afternoon I saw the Dublin hurlers playing the Antrim hurlers in Casement, a few short years ago, I felt a little disconcert. I want to feel that again. It makes for great craic in our sky blue and navy house!
The days of doubt and stalling must end. Progress is always challenging, but with the end goal so potentially magnificent, it truly is time. Casement abú. Aontroim abú. Oh and Up the Dubs!