“Fancy coming to Croke Park with me this Sunday?” This was the question my Dad posed to me last week. After looking around to see if he was talking to someone else it dawned on me that he was actually asking me. Me! The youngest of his children who has shown no interest in sports, I mean, no interest at all. When I was holidaying in the United States in September 2012, the only event I took my brother to watch in a bar was the first debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. This gives you some insight into my skewed and nerdish interests.
Anyway back to my last weekend. After trying to get over the complete shock of being asked and the terror that I would be forced to sit on 2 hour train journey packed with GAA fans and then required to sit through an entire match; my idea of heaven, it isn’t. Regardless of these concerns, I managed to muster a yes to my Dads very kind offer, at least it would give me a well needed break from book writing and dealing with other pieces of work. Not thinking for a moment I would enjoy it, I began practicing fake smiles and looking up some basic phrases that some fans say when watching a game (sad I know, but it’s in my nature to research and plan things).
Then came D-Day! Sunday morning and the knock on the door, “come Dave, let’s go.” Never has such a basic phrase give me that level anxiety as the phrase “ah feck” raced through my mind. Sitting on the train, my Dad, sensing how out of place I felt, began chatting to the man beside us, who was taking his 8 year old son to Croke Park for the first time. Instead of asking about who would be more likely to win and was Mayo screwed over in the last match, they talked about politics, cinema and other topics at which I could contribute. The lively conversation and the help of a few beers began to make me feel more relaxed and by Dundalk, I looked forward to getting to Croke Park to watch my first ever Gaelic match.
When the train pulled into Connolly station, Croke Park in all its glory dominated inner city Dublin. We decided to walk to the stadium, as my Dad like when I was child told me odd history stories about streets we were talking through. As I walked through the gates, this awe inspiring stadium opened up before me as a sea of blue and yellow filled the stadium to cheer on Donegal and Dublin. By the time of the kick-off I was more excited than the 8 year old I sat beside on the train. It was hard not to be, 81,500 thousand people in such an impressive stadium is something to experience.
As my Dad walked me through just what was going on, I finally got the chance to do something I know and that was sing the national anthem before the match started. As we completed the last few lines, he put his hand on my shoulder, which for me was truly an awesome moment. I cheered on Donegal, as I thought, they are an Ulster team and sure I may as well back a county from my own province. Naturally when they won, I had a beaming smile as I had supported a winning team on my first outing.
When the game finished and we walked out one of the bar tenders who was friendly with my Dad said to me “yer old man, looks much less lonely this time, you were a good addition to the crowd, hope you can come down again.” Phew, I had done it! Made it through an entire game and didn’t make a fool of myself. Overall, I had a great time, not only did I get to fall in love with a new aspect of my country, but I had a brilliant time with the auld fella and a few pints to boot. I look forward to the next game and more great memories of one of the greatest games in the world.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs