Night of first times – my first GAA match…

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Me at my first GAA game

Sometimes it would appear that nothing has the power to divide like sport.  How many of us have been asked ‘what team do you support?’ and instantly depending on the response you give, you are greeted by either a nod of approval or a comment from the other person that demonstrates loyalty on their part to some other team.

Or think how sport also divides us in terms of socio-economic backgrounds.  Rugby and fencing, the preserve of the Grammar School with football more associated with the secondary school (a generalisation to be fair, but sometimes the generalisation proves quite accurate).

All those divisions before one even begins to think about how communities here have divided along sport lines, with certain activities being seen to belong to ‘our side’ or the ‘other side’.

On Saturday evening I attended for the first time a match which would have definitely been labelled the sport of ‘the other side’ growing up.  But what I witnessed on Saturday evening was not the ability of sport to divide but in reality the ability of sport to unite.  What I found and discovered was a community of acceptance and belonging and a space where my ignorance wasn’t seen as a point of division but rather an opportunity for those around me to educate me in what was happening so I could enter into what was unfolding on the pitch in a way that transcended the superficial.

Along with 6000 others that evening I found myself at Ravenhill to watch the ‘game for Anto’ which was held to highlight and raise awareness around Motor Neurones Disease given the fact that Anto Finnegan was diagnosed with the terminal condition two years ago.  The match itself pitied an All Star Ulster squad against the Dublin team, which ultimately saw the home team clinch victory.

 

Anto Finnegan

Anto Finnegan

For me what was so fascinating about the evening was not only what was happening on the pitch, but also what was happening off the pitch and among the crowd.  As we settled into our seats I was quickly aware that I was in a venue that I was familiar with from many outings to watch the final of The School’s Cup Rugby but tonight I was watching a game I hadn’t a cue about.  How does a team win?  What’s with this running with the ball and then being able to kick it? What is more important goals in the net or the moments when team members managed to lob the ball over the net and between the posts?  As I asked the person who had invited me these questions I discovered that while she and I had managed to grab a quick cursory glance of the rules online during the week we were both in the darkness when it came to watching the game play out before us.

As we vocalised more questions to one another we quickly discovered that while we were novices when it came to this sport the people around us weren’t and step by step they began to educate us in what was happening.  They enabled us to grasp what was happening, allowing us to observe while they educated us whilst laughing with us in our naivety.  By second half I was slowly beginning to ‘get it’, found myself cheering, finding my mind working through what all the different moves mean’t  and then the experience was over far to quickly for my liking.

I left Ravenhill walking into the crisp November air to realise that really life is to short for there not to be a first time for everything and I was so glad I had taken the step to go and see my first GAA match (an experience I can not wait to replicate).  Though I also left with the challenge of asking myself ‘what’s the next first experience?’

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Team & Anto Photos by Dan Turley 

 

 

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  • Brian O’Neill

    If any users of our email alert service are confused, this post was originally posted under my name but I corrected it to Jonathans name. Anyway Jonathan is the Assistant Minister at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, Belfast. This is his first post on slugger so be nice 🙂

  • Ernekid

    You should try to get to one of the big matches in Croke Park next Summer. You’ll love it. I took my American in-laws to see Donegal play in Croke Park this summer. They’d never seen Gaelic Football before and they loved it. The atmosphere was incredible and we had great fun.

    The GAA could do great work in outreach to Northern Protestant communities to show it isn’t something to be afraid of. Joint training camps with Soccer Clubs and Schools could really expand the sport and help community relations.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    What is the point of this story? The only interesting I aspect I found was correcting the many spelling mistakes.

    I left Ravenhill walking into the crisp November air to realise that really life is to short.

    I hadn’t a cue about.

  • Bryan Magee

    Great to read this. Hope more of this sort of thing can happen.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Why should it be forced upon us?

  • Bryan Magee

    It’s a persons account of them doing something they have not done before, crossing a barrier. I enjoyed reading it.

  • Morpheus

    You felt sooo strongly after reading the story that you logged in to complain? Nice

    http://i.ebayimg.com/00/s/MTYwWDMyMA==/$(KGrHqZ,!pQFCpIuroNBBQsJw5,bFQ~~60_35.JPG

  • Ernekid

    Nobody’s forcing anyone to do anything Joe but fostering good community relations in a way that promotes sport and heathy lifestyles can’t be a bad thing can it?

    The IRFU over the past few decades has done great work in attracting new people into Irish rugby. Ideas that it is a garrison game for Prods is totally outdated. The GAA could do similar programmes. Wouldn’t it be healthier for teenagers to be out at training at a Gaelic club than hanging round street corners with unsavoury characters?

  • Morpheus

    I’m sorry, I missed the bit where he said “you had better go OR ELSE”

    Give your head a wobble and wise up

  • Joe_Hoggs

    It’s a response to ErneKid, you need to wise up, you’re bordering on being very offensive.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    No, the GAA is an alien organisation to me and since you and your ilk have no time for my cuture – why should I respect you or yours?

    As you’ve said before most people in Fermangh love Michelle.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    This story has been done to death, why is it a big deal when an assistant minster does it?

  • kalista63

    I’d advise you to go up the Glens for a local hurling Derby.

  • Morpheus

    They already do Ernekid – The Cuchullains being an excellent example. But as always, they could do more

    Soccer/rugby/hockey/GAA training camps are pretty common

  • Bryan Magee

    Dude. You need to relax!

  • Morpheus

    Offensive? Moi?

    Hardly

  • Joe_Hoggs

    You couldn’t wait to come on here and bash the Orange Christmas cards, #hypocrisy

    .

  • Morpheus

    Bash them? My comment read

    “No harm but those cards would not fit through my letterbox. I hear the DUPs cards are exactly the same except they used lemmings instead of penguins Penfold’s getting on a bit!”

    Where’s the Orange card bashing?

    PS. Between me, you and the lamppost, I love that you have been made to think things you have never thought before. 🙂

  • Brian O’Neill

    Nice of you to give our new contributor such a warm welcome Joe.

  • Morpheus

    It was alien to Jonathan – look what he did, look what he learned and look what he got out of it! There’s a lesson in there somewhere

  • Neil

    no time for my cuture – why should I respect you or yours?

    In response to any posts by your self decrying a lack of respect for orange culture, I assume we can paste the above?

    Fair play to the author, it takes courage to step outside one’s box.

  • SaffronDuck

    Ravenhill is a lovely ground and the rugby folks certainly know how to live – fresh crepes, gourmet coffee and prime burgers along with nice bars with reasonable prices and being allowed to take your drink to the stands. Made all the better by some of the friendliest staff and stewards I’ve met anywhere. Ulster Rugby made a big impression on Gaels and I intend to repay that hospitality with a return visit to watch their game.

    Game for Anto ended up a very special night. With lots raised for DeterMND and a great servant of Antrim GAA suitably honoured.

    Even the game was decent.

  • Stan McGlone

    Great read. I loved playing GAA games in school. It is part of our heritage and should be embraced by all. Even Edward Carson was a hardcore hurling player. Good to see this happening in East Belfast.

  • Dan

    Gawddd, we’ll have Marie Jones penning another of her tedious plays if she reads that syrupy guff

  • Joe_Hoggs

    I don’t think he would respect my culture much either.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    He’s one of those wishy washy church ministers with no conviction, they’re all the same. That’s why I find this story tedious.

  • Deke Thornton

    If the GAA were/are serious about equality let them invite the Army regiments at Thiepval, Palace Barracks and Aldergrove to play at Casement Park and other grounds. The Army could reciprocate by allowing GAA matches on their excellent pitches at Ballykinler. The Royal Marines are training there at present, why not have a charity game?

  • Ernekid

    ‘the GAA is an alien organisation to me’

    Is it really? The intervillage kick-bollix has been part of culture on this Island since time Immemorial. Hurling predates the invention of writing. The GAA was part of the wave of Victorian codification of sport and cultural revival. You may disagree with it but Ulster Presbyterians were some of the most enthusiastic proponents of the early revival of Gaelic sport and culture.

    ‘You and your ilk have no time for MY culture’

    I’m sorry Joe but you’re being a wee bit presumptuous about a fellow anonymous Poster on the Internet. I assume your culture is a strain of Orange Protestantism. Personally I’ve no issue with Ulster Protestant culture, My Mother was a Cavan Presbyterian and my Grandfather was a proud Orangeman. I believe that Ulster-Scots, music, literature and language should be cherished as much as any other cultural tradition.

    I’ve no time for sectarianism or bigotry of any flavour Joe.If you think that’s the cornerstone of your “Culture” then I’ve no time for you.

  • Ernekid

    Great idea. I felt that the Formation of the PSNI GAA team was a great step forward. I’d say that the Army lads would give the GAA players a good run for their money too

  • Tacapall

    What the fk has local sport got to do with the British army ? Are you looking human shields ?

  • Morpheus

    Do you believe that attending a charity sports event should be against his convictions?

    It’s 2014 Joe, come join us comrade

  • Bryan Magee

    Agreed. Great to see all these changes.

  • Deke Thornton

    The Army has teams in many sports throughout the UK. Squaddies revel in it.http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2014/july/21/140721-rm-trafalgar-cup-triumph

  • Joe_Hoggs

    I can’t Morph – sorry.

  • Tacapall

    Thats brilliant and whats that got to do with the GAA and equality in sport ? By the way has Thiepval, Palace Barracks and Aldergrove got soccer teams in the Irish league ? Do Cliftonville play games there or does the Parachute regiment or Royal Marines play at play at Windsor park ?

    Do you think the British army should first apologise to the GAA for the actions of its agents at Croke park ?

  • smcgiff

    No one mentioned the glaringly obvious?

    You picked the wrong GAA game, Jonathan. In fairness the only ones with a modicum of skill in the area would be in Antrim.

    Small ball FTW 🙂

  • Joe_Hoggs

    I just find him very offensive. Why could be not attend and not make a big deal about it? Charity is supposed to be done in private.

  • Ernekid

    Built a bridge and get over it Joe,

    as for your Offence, Mr Fry has a few words on that

  • Tacapall
  • Morpheus

    You find him offensive, what he did offensive or – and I will hazard the guess that this is closer to the mark – you think because he attended a GAA match and didn’t spontaneously combust that he’s one of these liberal Lundys you keep hearing about that weren’t about when you were knocking about?

    Two words Joe: RAISING AWARENESS FOR MOTOR NEURONES DISEASE

  • Niall Chapman

    If you thought that was good watch some Hurling Jonathan, you’ll be bored to tears watching GAA Football afterwards: http://youtu.be/8i3-Qk7FNeQ

  • Deke Thornton

    No reason why they shouldn’t have teams now the situation allows it. I don’t know which regiment was involved in the Croke Park killings. Was it the Paras? But that’s just dredging the past for muck raking. The point is that the Army should be integrated in to the local sports scene as they are part of society here just as they are in Colchester. We voted for the agreement and the MoD and MI5 are part of our NI society. Doubt MI5 will field a team though.

  • Deke Thornton

    Oh and plenty of soldiers do play in amateur league soccer, rugby. hockey and cricket teams

  • Tacapall

    Its your good self thats dredging the past muck raking, your obviously deluded and think GAA stands for Gerry Adams Army. Everyone on this planet other than people like yourself know the British army is not a part of this country any more than they are a part of Iraq. Fishing a sport too isn’t it, why dont we have a fishing competition with the Parachute regiment at Narrow water eh that would be fun for you wouldn’t it ?

    “Oh and plenty of soldiers do play in amateur league soccer, rugby. hockey and cricket teams”

    Well dont let us Irish stop you from having a good time.

  • SaffronDuck

    To those allowing this topic to be dragged into the gutter (on both sides), this was a GAA game played for charity organised by a sportsman suffering a life limiting disease with the sole aim of raising funds and awareness for Motor Nuerone Disease. It was kindly hosted and supported by Ulster Rugby as a body with clear community spirit and a true sporting ethos.

    The comments that make it anything other than a great cooperative charitable event only reflect on you and not those that organised, supported or attended.

    Time to do a bit of growing up.

  • Deke Thornton

    Prefer Loughinisland for fishing. Picked up plenty of good bait at Loughall as well. No doubt you enjoy your ‘La Mon’ barbeque every summer Tacapall.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Why do you say that Joe?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I have a vague recollection of the Irish Guards putting on some sort of show piece at my high school many many moons ago and I seem to remember one of the PT instructors was from Cork and mentioned something about the regiment having a Gaelic football team.

    This was before the ’94 ceasefire and I haven’t found any evidence of this on line but, it still sticks in my mind as something of an eye opener.

  • Tacapall

    I dont see the murder of my fellow Irishmen and women as anything to celebrate but obviously I touched a raw nerve with you, hopefully surely now you understand how ridiculous and insensitive your suggestions are. Put simple there is as much chance of the parachute regiment playing Gaelic games at Casement park as the Orange order have attending a mass at the Vatican with the Pope.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Really positive post, great to see someone reaching out from one culture to another with curiosity and the desire to understand rather than condemn. It also expresses what I think most people feel about wanting all sports to be politics-free and equally welcoming to all ethnicities.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Erne Kid, poppies offend you, “Curry my Yogurt” offends you, Orange parades offend you, Unionist election pacts offend you, in fact Nationalists and Republicans are offended by everything and anything. Your statement is a joke.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Nationalists on this forum are an absolute joke, circling the wagons and promoting this type of “sport” as some jolly all inclusive event that should be cherished by the entire community. Ignoring the political elements, the IRA trappings and the fact it’s pretty much used my Sinn Fein as a weapon against Unionists. As Slugger is now practically free from any Unionist posters (I think only I remain) it’s became nothing more than a talking shop and back patting exercise for backward looking, hate mongering ignoramuses.

    Enjoy your forum, I now realise why the troubles existed.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Unlikely this minister will recognise never mind attend any Unionist or indeed Orange events.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Playing the man Morph!!

  • Ernekid

    Wow Joe a lot to unpack there.

    Poppies, frankly I don’t care if you wear one or not. I’ve ancestors who fought in the Great War and I wear a poppy on Armistice Day to remember them and all who died. I get annoyed when loyalist appropriate a symbol of remembrance to be used for paramilitary thugs but who wouldn’t?

    Curry my yoghurt? Offended me? I was more embarrassed that an elected representative could be such an idiot.

    Orange Parades? Couldn’t give a damn, I get annoyed when people deliberately go out of their way to wind up their neighbours but thats due to their sectarian childishness.

    Unionist Pacts? I think that they debase politics to little more than sectarian head counts but isn’t that the point?

    If you want to chat about this stuff Joe, we could get a coffee together in Belfast City centre. I’m not one for offense really. I’m not a fan of sectarianism really but that’s as far as it goes. I respect the political beliefs of my fellows as long as they can intellectually justify them.

  • Morpheus

    Hahahaha…and you weren’t? Pathetic.

    Is the plan to behave like a tool then cry ‘man playing’ and poor old me when pulled on it?

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Calling someone a “tool”!! Is that the full range of your debating skills?

  • Morpheus

    Who ordered the MOPE with a side order of MOPE??

    Anyone….?

    Anyone….?

    No one….?

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Been yellow carded I see Morph!!! Were you being bold???

  • Morpheus

    Probably. For you, it was worth it toodlepips

  • Morpheus

    He’s an assistant minister at a Presbyterian church Joe.

    But above that he is a fellow human being who attended a charity sports event…get over yourself

  • Morpheus

    Nope…put u in your box while doing work and knocking back a steaming large americano at starry b’s didn’t I?

    You’ve embarrassed yourself enough comrade, let it go

  • Tochais Siorai

    Irish Army played the Irish Guards in a hurling match in Cyprus when both were on UN duty. Late 60s I think.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Am I in a glass house?

  • Joe_Hoggs

    These charity events are nothing more than self promotion, it’s the same everywhere.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    So he went public to show he’s supporting charity or that he’s a left wing loony?

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Well if you can’t defeat the enemy with reasoned debate just resort to insults, verbal abuse and bullying. You stay class Morpheus.

  • mac tire

    Joe, it has been you who has resorted to “insults, verbal abuse and bullying”. You haven’t even once, in all your posts in this thread, used reasoned debate.
    Your responses have been as knee-jerk as something from the Knee Breakers.

  • Morpheus

    I have no enemies comrade but as you have seen I can hold my own when it comes to debates thank you very much 🙂

    FYI. it’s ” you stay classy”

  • Morpheus

    And there it is….

  • Joe_Hoggs

    What’s the point?

  • Ernekid

    Probably best to stop Joe. It can’t be good for your mental health getting this annoyed over something like this.

    Remember this.

  • mac tire

    You can’t see the point I was making? Then, I don’t think you would understand if I explained it to you.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    What’s the point arguing with you lot? You’re all a bunch of dinosaurs!

  • Morpheus

    Must….bite….lip…

    Too……easy

  • Tacapall

    “Am I in a glass house”

    You and Eddie McIlwaine are both in the Orange order and seeing as thats not offensive to you, nor his, or the Orange orders lack of sensitivity about him stewarding an Orange order parade parade past the parish church of most of his victims then we can all presume your as hypocritical and bigoted as most Orangemen are made out to be.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Oh fellow members of the a Orange and I are bigots, that’s original.

  • kalista63

    I always check Twitter when the hurling matches are on Sky. The reaction of the British viewers is brilliant, a mix of fear and admiration.

  • LordSummerisle

    Your Reverence should try an Belfast derby next. Either Glentoran V Linfield or Cruesaders V Cliftonville.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Joe

    That’s a bit presumptuous Joe, are you sure you’re not just labeling him with very little evidence?

    Let’s say that you’re right and that he doesn’t attend Orange or unionist events, fair enough. Doesn’t mean he’s unwilling to respect them does it?

    With that in mind, why would he not ‘recognise’ them?

    If he’s open minded enough to go to a GAA game then surely he’s open minded enough to be respectful to a culture that is quite dear to a large number of his co-religionists?

    They’re not mutually exclusive, it’s possible to respect both cultures.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Joe

    You say dinosaurs yet on this very site you’ve crossed swords with people of a nationalist background who are ‘pro-union’, unionists who are (still) pro-union but would vote SDLP over unionist parties, unionists who are pro-Gaelic-revival, nationalists who tolerate (if not respect) Orange culture and a shinner who condemned an attack on an orange hall.

    That is a very different set up from the way things were 20 odd years ago let alone the Triassic era…

    I hear you loud and clear on certain criticisms of the GAA (I have ranted ad nauseum about this) but at the same time we in the unionist community make very little effort to dispel some of the myths and negative images that we have of the GAA.

    It took me many years to even consider that someone might wear a GAA top because they like Gaelic sports, I always assumed it was because they were Provo loving sh*t stirrers.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Joe,
    I know how you feel with how few voices from ‘the unionist community’ there are on Slugger these days. There are one or two others of us though. Not Mick’s fault, he’s been keen to get more in. But making even a moderate point from a non-nationalist perspective does tend to attract howls of shock and disbelief on here these days, or be regarded as ‘trolling’. Just remember you’re far from alone in the real world. This site was never intended to be a nationalist echo-chamber and it would be a terrible shame to abandon it to such a fate.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    I’m relieved to hear that MainlandUlsterman, I was beginning to think Unionist views weren’t welcome on here. I did find the attacks on me quite uncomfortable. I know Mick has tried hard for this not to become a Nationalist forum but it has turned into one, I would not be very keen on posting here again. If one mentions culture then nasty derogatory links are made between this word and the LAD FB page. In fact most people on here use that page as a means to mock and patronise Unionists. There is simply no mutual respect on here at all.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    good place to do missionary work 😉

  • carl marks

    Joe for a man who gets haughty about others convictions you don’t seem to have a problem breaking the ninth commandant when it suits you , so excuse me when i laugh when you talk about others people’s “convictions”

  • carl marks

    Here you go Joe!

  • HighKing33

    Very pleasant article but I can’t understand why the game is so alien to a northerner? BBC screen Ulster football championship games every summer and while not everyone is a dedicated armchair athlete it seems bizarre that the fundamentals of the game would perplex anyone in the north with even a slight interest in the sport. In the south pretty much everyone I know who would be a fan of gaelic football also has a decent knowledge of other games including rugby football.

  • HighKing33

    “I now realise why the troubles existed.”

    Maybe not.

  • HighKing33

    And yet every year gaelic football consistently pulls in more viewers. If hurling was so much better than it’s footballing cousing surely that would be reflected in the ratings.

    The one thing that always marks out the hurling snobs is that very few of them actually watch football but they’re more than happy to roll out the platitudes concerning Ireland’s oldest sport. Hurling is great, but you can’t beat a top game of football – just look at the Mayo Vs. Kerry games this year, epic!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Joe

    “. As Slugger is now practically free from any Unionist posters (I think only I remain”

    In that case could you please define ‘unionist’?

    I have it down as someone who is pro-union (e.g. like in Scotland).

    Is that incorrect?

  • Niall Chapman

    I do enjoy watching the football, but I’m from Antrim and the best achievement we had football wise in my lifetime was the Ulster Final a few years back so never really been too enthusiastic about it, the reason why I know hurling is more entertaining is because I live in a big expat city, and when we go out to watch the football final, the British and Spanish lads like watching it for a bit but after a while are talking amongst each other, but during the hurling final the only words spoken are about how mad and impressive the sport is

  • HighKing33

    Yeah, I used to drink in a Korean bar where the staff were permanently distracted by the game but that’s it – hurling is all pace and mad intensity – I’ve grown to like the tactical nature of modern football and everything that goes with it, placement of kickouts, etc. I honestly prefer it as a spectator sport.

    I know you’re not a hurling snob and it would be great to see Antrim compete at the top level again but the bar is set so high now with Kilkenny.