Fans leave early...supporters stay until the end

THE 5pm train out of Dublin’s Heuston Station on All-Ireland final day must have felt like a weird form of limbo over the years.

No matter how tight the big game was, beating the crowds and getting the early train home was vital. It was almost preferable if your team was being hammered.

That way you could leave with your conscience clear.

So the exodus would begin with 10 minutes to go and hundreds of men would scurry out of Croke Park, rushing through Mountjoy Square while dragging sullen sons, incredulous that the magical day had ended early.

I could never fathom this. You wait all year long, your county wins a handful of games en route to the final and when the day arrives, you watch an hour of it with one eye on the clock.

And then when the first fella, who looks like he knows enough to know exactly what’s coming next, makes a boastful dash for the exit, the rest follow with little regret.

Of course growing up an ignorant urbanite during a time when Cork’s 1990 success was a joyful oasis in the midst of a geographical spread of rural dominance in hurling, I would comfort myself in the knowledge that these culchies couldn’t enjoy a bit of success for fear their cows wouldn’t be milked.

I even revelled in that cruel story about the comfortably seated Limerick farmer in 1994 who contentedly watched the hordes of his brethren scramble for the train.

He didn’t notice their ashen faces through the slightly tinted windows. He couldn’t possibly have imagined his county tossing away a five-point lead with four minutes to go.

Surely the 21-year wait was over.

“How much did we win by?” he asked his fellow passengers as they dropped in next to him, exhausted from the physical strain of the commute and the mental anguish of defeat.

“Johnny Dooley,” was all they could muster up in response.

I can’t shake the image of that poor old man. I don’t know whether or not he’s an urban myth (in any sense of the expression) but he stands as a symbol for the perils of believing sport can be left to its own devices.

And when I envisage this tragicomic character, he always looks like my granduncle, also a farmer, who played for Limerick before the war and who had mercifully lost his marbles by the time Offaly had torn the heart out of his beloved county that fateful year.

My last memory of this uncle was the day of my confirmation.

No one noticed when he wandered off with my hurley, looking mildly threatening as he gripped it by his side, proceeding to call into all our neighbours asking for the way back to the Riordan house.

The Riordans were in New York visiting me this last week. My brother, the Toronto Blue Jays fan, wanted to see his team play at Yankee Stadium for the first time.

In the concourse, a huge screen plays the action for the benefit of latecomers and early leavers.

Often fans will linger there in the ninth inning, celebrate the winning run for a split second before rushing for the Downtown train. Just yards from the real thing, they watch it on a screen.

On Sunday in the Bronx, there was no desire to catch a train nor any need to rush back to the farm for the 3,000 GAA fans who gathered in Gaelic Park for the Connacht SFC opener between Roscommon and New York.

About 500 travelled from Ireland while for the Rossies living in the city, it was a welcome return for their team after five years. And a timely one too given their status as Connacht title holders.

So when Pat McEnaney blew full time on a listless game which was dominated by the visitors, no one left.

Players from both sides mingled with star struck supporters while even county board members enjoyed their day in the sun with a bit more dignity than we’d often give them credit for.

In the midst of the crowds milling around beer tents and barbecues was New York full-forward CJ Molloy to whom I owe an apology (I interviewed him last week ahead of the game but due to space constraints, he failed to make the cut).

What’s more his claim to fame as being the nephew of 1992 football All-Ireland winning captain Anthony Molloy was erroneously passed over to the slightly older (but no less Donegal) shoulders of New York boss Seamus Sweeney.

CJ forgave me for the mistake but I could never forgive myself if I didn’t manage to rectify it.

Because after a week during which the very notion of a New York team competing in the championship was frowned upon, it’s important to remember why their admittedly minor role is so crucial.

And even though they were no match for the slick Connacht champions despite all the expectations which arose out of last year’s performance against Galway, the people who keep the GAA going in the Bronx and Queens and beyond need to look forward to every May with hope.

And the rest of us should look at them for inspiration. They treasure every minute and they stay together long after full-time, even when hope is gone.

* Contact: john.w.riordan@gmail.com; Twitter: JohnWRiordan


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