Now and again, they tend to be joined by the odd journalist too. All-Ireland finals are a favourite forum for ‘meet the fans’ pieces but last Saturday saw one Dublin radio station undertake a vox pop asking some of the thousands there to cheer on the capital’s footballers if they would be making the return trip for this weekend’s All-Ireland hurling semi-final when Cork will once again be the opposition.
The responses, by all accounts, was mostly of the negative variety. Dubs, it seems, can’t wait to throw on a Vodafone or an old Arnotts jersey and roar on the likes of Bernard Brogan and Ciarán Kilkenny but their small ball counterparts have yet to capture the imagination in quite the same manner in the capital regardless of their heroics under Anthony Daly and the prospect of a first All-Ireland since 1938.
This seemed to touch a rather exposed nerve with a number of friends and colleagues from the capital whose scorn for such seemingly picky supporters was obvious. But then, wouldn’t the rest of us merely dismiss them as bandwagon jumpers if the opposite was the case and they, lemming-like, started to follow the hurlers in their droves? There will be a decent crowd wearing blue on Sunday — an attendance in and around 45,000 is expected — but it is surely asking a bit much to just expect a heaving fan base to click into adoration mode and row in behind a team which left behind a long history of defeat and mediocrity only in the last three years.
The swelling of numbers which occurs every summer for the footballers has long been the source of great mirth among the other 31 counties but the Blue Army is a long-established regiment that can trace its roots back to the early 1970s when Kevin Heffernan mobilised a team and a city that had for so long been little more than a staging post for the GAA’s biggest occasions.
The Association likes to promote itself as one big family: one where football, hurling, camogie, ladies football, rounders and various cultural activities sit side by side like a picture-perfect snap of parents, kids and white picket fence, but the fact is that some siblings are barely on speaking terms and that goes for supporters too.
Dublin aren’t the only county to find that allegiances aren’t easily transferable across codes. The Cork footballers who faced Jim Gavin’s side last Saturday are perhaps the most famous example of a team that remains all but unloved despite their ability to bring home the bacon now and then.
Michael Moynihan of this publication last week interviewed one of their few believers, Anthony Hayes, who thinks nothing of travelling to Inniskeen or the Bogside for a routine league tie.
But then the mind wanders back to an All-Ireland U21 final against Laois in Thurles six years ago when it was entirely possible that there were more red jerseys on the pitch than in the stands.
The footballers of counties such as Wexford and Tipperary are others to have found that their rising tides haven’t always resulted in a loaves and fishes swelling of support from their own which is what makes the upsurge of Daly’s Dubs all the more fascinating as a ridiculously open hurling championship approaches its end.
Unpredictable and wonderful the hurling championship may have been this summer but that old axiom about how one billion Chinese people couldn’t care less about your triumphs or failures can’t help but come to mind and the fact is that vast swathes of this island continue to ignore the undoubted charms of the ancient art performed at it’s best.
In thousands of homes, GAA clubs and pubs around the country, Sunday’s fascinating meeting of Dublin and Cork will go all but unheeded. Even diehard GAA members and fans who would have cleared their calendars for last weekend’s four football quarter-finals though many had no dog in the fight will be among those to give it a miss.
None of this is to rain on hurling’s parade as it celebrates what many believe, or at least hope, to be the dawn of a brighter and more democratic new dawn but it should be pointed out that the last such revolution, in the mid-1990s, failed to widen the traditional boundaries of the game to any great degree.
So, by all means, lets enjoy the games these next two weekends but in the understanding that the battle for hearts and minds beyond the traditional heartlands remains very much in the balance.
- firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @rackob