A frenetic final weekend ahead for voice of Croker

A frenetic final weekend ahead for voice of Croker
Stadium announcer Jerry Grogan removes the Sam Maguire Cup after the 2016 drawn All-Ireland SFC final between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park. Picture: Stephen McCarthy.

The voice that ends the season is unmistakable, even ordering a pot of tea.

Jerry Grogan left south Kerry for Dublin in the mid-70s and, alongside his work as a primary teacher, started as a voluntary steward in Croke Park in 1978.

He worked as a steward in the press box for about 15 years., which helped his duties as PRO with Cumann na mBunscol, and in time Sean Kelly moved Grogan to the presentation committee in Croke Park.

You know the voice, though. He’s the Croke Park announcer.

“I know Jackie Tyrrell said that recently, when he’d hear ‘stewards to end-of-match positions’ that it meant his misery was nearly over or his joy was about to overflow.

“I walked up behind him a week or two ago outside Croke Park and said it, ‘Stewards to end-of-match positions’, we had a good laugh about it.

“Is the voice recognised? Yes, and in the strangest places. I was in Times Square in New York a few years ago looking for a shop, and I asked a policeman for directions, and I heard a shout behind me — ‘No 1 for Dublin is replaced by No 16’. Fair enough, but when I turned around it was a chap dressed as Spiderman — a Galway man working outside a shop.”

Before taking the mic, Grogan worked on presentation: “Which means getting everything started on time, the parade, the half-time entertainment and so on, making sure they all run on time.

“We decided to introduce fanfares for the teams, toannounce the players’ names, to get children to bring out the cups and the ball — little things to improve the day.

“It can be fraught enough. Stressful would be a strong enough word — I wouldn’t get stressed by it — but at the same time you have to stay on your toes. If an error is made, there’ll always be people who’ll pull you on it, and above all you don’t want the game starting five minutes late.

“We’ve gotten it right nearly every time, and the fact that people are used to the routine helps, obviously. The Artane Band are greatbecause they know exactly how long it takes for the parade, and a fall-back always — if we were running out of time — was to get the band to cut the parade in half.

“Instead of going all the way to the end of the field they’d cut in to save time. Not everyone would be happy with that — and you’d have plenty of conspiracy theories as to why it was done — but you learn as you go along.”

As for the entertainment...

It’s important to have a Gaelic ethos to the day but also to modernise as you go also, to use modern music and so on. It’s a balancing act.

“But you can’t satisfy everyone.If you had Elvis out on the field singing someone would hate him. You have to strike a balance — and to bear in mind all the time that the game, obviously, is the most important thing.”

His involvement over the years with Cumann na mBunscol has been a deeper connection, though. The primary games are a vital source of players for clubs and counties all over Ireland, and Dublin is no different.

Grogan can give you the figures: “For Dublin, of the 26 players on the panel, 23 played in finals in Croke Park — not just the Cumann na mBunscol competition itself, but in finals.

“That shows how special the team is, a special group of players coming through together. I’d have seen the likes of Ciarán Kilkenny dominating games totally: I remember he scored 2-7 in a final one day.

“Certainly with the stand-out players you would be thinking, ‘unless this youngster moves away or something, he’ll surely play for Dublin someday’.”

Every star trails a backstory.

Cormac Costello’s attacking threat was evident from an early age, for instance. “Cormac was so much better than any other player in his age group, that you’d have banked on him making it.

"There’s an annual exchange, since 1934, between Dublin and Belfast schools, which involves a game between fifth-class kids, alternating between the cities — in his time Liam Whelan, the Busby Babe, was one of the Dublin kids.

“But in my time I can only remember one player who lined out in two years — in the Dublin game and the Belfast game as well the next year — and that was Cormac. Even though the first year he was only in third class, which meant he was nine years old.

He was absolutely outstanding against kids who were two years older than him, and at that age it’s a significant difference. When he got to sixth class he captained his school, St Fiachra’s of Beaumont, to win the hurling and football competitions in Croke Park — and then went to Santry and ran the anchor leg in the relay to win the Cumann na mBunscol sports.

"He was five metres behind when he got the baton but he still won it.”

Grogan adds that many of those Dublin players are from strong GAA backgrounds in the first place: ”Cormac obviously comes from a strong GAA background, the Kilkenny family is steeped in football and related, going way back, to Seán Purcell.

“Paul Mannion, the Brogans, and Cian O’Sullivan would have Kerry connections, for instance. Brian Howard and Brian Fenton also have GAA backgrounds — incidentally they’re two of the players who didn’t make it to Croke Park because their schools were quite weak, but they were still picked for the mini-sevens.

“Paddy Andrews I remember as one of the biggest young fellas I ever saw playing in a schools’ final in Croke Park; Jack McCaffrey was another player who caught the eye, so fast.

“There was always a big fall-off, though. I remember one lad, an absolute genius of a hurler, and when he would have been about 14, I met someone from his club and asked how he was doing. ‘Gone,’ I was told, ‘Not even playing for the club’.”

As an outsider, Grogan is well placed to comment on the success of Dublin in GAA terms — and the success of the GAA in Dublin.

“Up to 2011, Dublin hadn’t won an All-Ireland in years and nobody was too worried — including myself! — but now they’re successful and everyone is getting hot and bothered.

“Ok, maybe the resources could be spread around, but people forget how it was. When I came to Dublin first it was very, very difficult to promote Gaelic games. The parish I lived in was steeped in soccer, it was the first choice of probably every kid in the area.

“Now, the local club in that area — Trinity Gaels, Vinnie Murphy’s club — did huge work, the schools promoted Gaelic games.

“When Kerry lost that 2011 final I was disappointed as a Kerry person, but when I went back into the school that week and saw what it meant to people, and the lift it gave people, and GAA people in Dublin, was incredible.”

Their success since has given the GAA a hugely marketable presence in the capital, he adds.

“They’re all recognisable. If Brian Fenton walks into a shop people know who he is.

When Dublin won in 1995 Paul Curran was the man of the match in the final and he was a past pupil of St Joseph’s in Terenure, so the week after the final he went back to visit the school.

“A friend of mine had taught Paul and was in the computer room when he came in. There were 30 kids in the class but nobody recognised Paul when he came in. All-Ireland winner, man-of-the-match a few days earlier.

“That wouldn’t happen now. Any of the players who went into a school now would be instantly recognisable.”

And after Sunday, immortal?


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