John Fogarty: Children, and the passion they bring, sorely missed in the stands

John Fogarty: Children, and the passion they bring, sorely missed in the stands

Loughmore-Castleiney mascot, three-year-old Ollie Sweeney, son of corner-forward Evan, at the Tipperary SHC final at Semple Stadium. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

It was a source of dismay for Anthony Daly during his time in charge of Dublin that so many in the capital supported other counties. Hurling’s equivalent of Lunster fans.

“I remember having this conversation with Niall Quinn one night and Niall telling me, ‘I kinda shout for Tipp in the hurling’,” he said in 2017. “‘Sure.’ I says. ‘you hurled with Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final’. ‘Oh, no, no, I support Dublin as well, like,’ he said. Obviously, his father was a late, great massive star with Tipp.

“That bugged me a lot. I just felt that Dublin hurling needed their own culture; everyone growing up saying, ‘my father was from Tipp but I’m a Dublin man, I support the Dublin hurlers’.”

As an outsider, never mind a pure breed, Daly’s frustration with à la carte followers was understandable but having been one, it’s not too difficult for this writer to explain. My father threw his stone in the Liffey at the age of 16. Being away from Tipperary only emboldened his love for his native land. In his first 11 years in Dublin, his county reached eight All-Ireland finals, winning five. In the next 16, they failed to reach one.

That yearning was made all the more acute by being away in the capital and was passed onto my younger brother, sister, and I.

The drives to Kilfeacle were frequent and involved a countdown to the border upon passing Urlingford followed by a singsong. We were given Tipperary jerseys before Dublin ones. My first three All-Ireland final days involved Tipp — the minor in 1987, the seniors in ‘88 and ‘89 — before I was too big to be thrown over the turnstile in ‘91 and had to be bought a ticket.

It helped that there were plenty other young Dubs receiving the same education from their fathers, the Youngs, the Ryans, the Moloneys — as it did that our formal education was coloured blue and gold by our primary school teachers Seamie O’Neill and Gerry O’Meara. I had no chance of wavering. I didn’t want one either. And when my cousin David was called up by Babs Keating for the 1988-89 league campaign, it copperfastened the relationship, even if Babs did drop him too early.

From the first-round league win over Waterford in Fraher Field in October 1988 to the All-Ireland final against Antrim 11 months later, we were brought to every game.

My brother and I were zealots. My father chided me when on the way to Ballinasloe in March ‘89 when I expressed my hope that Noel Lane would break a leg after what he had done to Tipp the previous two years. When we recognised Waterford full-back Damien Byrne as a spectator at the 1990 Munster final, we lambasted him for what he had done to Nicky English in the previous year’s final.

Lesser flashpoints included parking up the car in Silver Springs and crossing the Lee in a currach for the drawn 1991 Munster final and retiring with the team to Declan Carr’s pub in Holycross after they won the replay in Thurles. As they supped pints, we strawed red lemonade but we felt like we were them.

That access to games and heroes was a privilege, a feast compared to what 10 and 11-year-olds of 2020 have. The decision last week to allow 200 spectators attend games won’t do children much favour.

Looking across towards the supporters in the Ó Riain Stand in Semple Stadium on Sunday, the lack of kids was noticeable. It was only right that players were able to give tickets to their parents and partners. Officials would also have felt duty bound to provide access to those who stewarded the clubs down through the years.

Young people lose out but given that they are at such a low risk of contracting Covid-19, should U13s even be considered among these 200 numbers? You can be sure Darragh Egan, Kiladangan stalwart, Tipperary selector, and principal of the local national school, would love to have brought his pupils to the matches.

The appearance of the Dan Breen Cup in the classrooms in Puckane in the coming days and goalscoring hero Bryan McLoughney will bring no end of cheer but the kids should have been a part of it.

Just one Covid-related withdrawal was reported among the 71,000 children that attended Cúl Camps this summer. It’s understood the GAA intend highlighting their successful staging of 900 Cúl Camps in their joint efforts with the FAI and IRFU to convince authorities of relaxing crowd restrictions.

There wouldn’t appear to be any concrete scientific evidence that they are at risk of going to these matches.

Nor is there proof they are super spreaders. Supervised and retained in groups, they should be allowed provide the cacophony and colour the stands are so badly lacking. Their only bug is the game.

Yellow sliotar arriving just in time

The brilliance of the autumnal sun that graced county grounds across the country on Sunday was hardly wasted as some of the best club finals seen in years were played out. Walking across the Semple Stadium sod on Sunday, the pitch was next to immaculate. In the best of weather, clubs have had no excuses for turning it on, and by and large, they have.

Counties may sing a different tune when the clocks go back on October 25 and the afternoons become decidedly shorter. Sunset on October 26, the day Clare and Limerick face off in Thurles, is 5.10pm and the game throws in at 3.45pm. The following Saturday, when Cork and Waterford clash there at 3.30pm, it’s 5pm.

The November 1 semi-final involving Clare or Limerick against Tipperary, as well as the Munster final, have 4pm starts so floodlight hurling is truly the new norm. Not that Cork manager Kieran Kingston is too perturbed by it: “In an ideal world, we want to be playing on a Sunday afternoon in the best conditions and so on,” he told this newspaper last week. “But this is not a normal world, and this is not a normal year.

“If somebody said to me we would be in a position now to be training I would say, ‘Where do I sign?’ Whatever is presented to us in October or November or December is the same for every team so it’s a level playing field.”

It’s not like All-Ireland finals in recent times haven’t required floodlights but they wouldn’t be favoured by many in the game. It’s just as well the luminous yellow sliotar is set to make its debut for the Championship.

Nobody wants to be lost in the lights.

Allow for some crowd exuberation

Some of the scenes at Healy Park on Sunday night as fans joined Dungannon Thomas Clarkes players in celebrating their dramatic penalty shoot-out win on the pitch. First Minister Arlene Foster has raised "deep concerns" about the pitch invasion. Picture: INPHO/Lorcan Doherty
Some of the scenes at Healy Park on Sunday night as fans joined Dungannon Thomas Clarkes players in celebrating their dramatic penalty shoot-out win on the pitch. First Minister Arlene Foster has raised "deep concerns" about the pitch invasion. Picture: INPHO/Lorcan Doherty

It was a chastening night for Doon on Saturday and their supporters were shown as little sympathy on social media as their players were by Na Piarsaigh for their apparent lack of social distancing in the Mick Mackey Stand.

Speaking to journalists working at the game, the fans weren’t sitting as close as the camera angle highlighted by those criticising them suggested.

Limerick GAA’s Covid protocols were also complimented with Na Piarsaigh and their following entering from one end of the ground and Doon from the other end.

The LIT Gaelic Grounds remains a Covid testing centre as does UPMC Nowlan Park, which hosts this Sunday’s county SHC final between Dicksboro and Shamrocks.

In Thurles on Sunday, Tipperary officials clearly heeded the warnings from the night before.

In fairness to county secretary Tim Floyd and head steward Robert Ryan, they pleaded with Kiladangan supporters to spread out in the Ó Riain Stand prior to throw-in.

Social distancing is made that more awkward when the return of crowds this past weekend combines with county finals.

For both Doon and Kiladangan, they were searching for their first senior title. If there was a valid reason to lose reason and immerse oneself in a rare collective experience, it is one’s club in a county final.

The usual suspects in the North expressed concern at Dungannon’s pitch invasion in Omagh on Sunday evening irrespective of the dramatic penalty shootout or the 64-year wait for a senior county title.

Anyone who doesn’t understand that exuberance doesn’t want to.


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