The most diverse city on the planet still goes all in for tribalism.
Toronto, as is very much its style, is welcoming the world right now. A rehashed and rehyped World Cup of Hockey kicked off in Canada’s biggest city on Saturday night with the hosts raising the curtain and duly devouring the sorry Czechs 6-0.
The melting pot was slowly working its way back to a simmer yesterday as Scandinavians and Russians blew off cobwebs with a stroll before day two’s action hit the ice.
The visitors glanced with bemusement as they walked by the stressed-out swell of blue and red and green on the corner of Yonge and Wellington Streets. The Irish Embassy Pub and Grill is a heritage building that once housed one of Toronto’s first banks.
Staff were surely tempted to make for the vaults rather than deal with the fallout of a non-heritage, new-world crisis yesterday morning. Premium Sports, the cable provider of many disciplines, but more importantly on this day of all days Gaelic Games to Canadian bars was, perhaps in tribute to one of the headline acts, choking on the third Sunday in September.
The grim dispatch from the poor girl sent forward to relay the news to the arriving hordes a half-hour before throw-in was that none of the clutch of Irish bars in downtown Toronto had a working feed for the final.
Mayo and Dublin fans stood outside and weighed up their options — scouring for dodgy streams back in the condo, waking up that hurling friend who’s actually paid for GAAGo or a trek north of the city to the one bar that was rumoured to have avoided the downtown blackout and somehow managed to get the feed working.
The clock was rapidly ticking to 10.30am and this was no time for division, the jostling for taxis much more civilised than pre-match hostilities back home.
A trio of Dublin girls ordered an Uber and invited a lone Mayo native to a share a lift. There was enough room for your correspondent. The destination was the most unlikely haven for Gaels in need.
The Rose and Crown — neither an emblem of choice for Gaelic footballing strongholds — is also on Yonge but given that Torontonians proudly claim it to be the longest street in the world, that didn’t fill any passenger with confidence.
The front seat of a people carrier was far from familiar confines for Mike Geary. The Pontoon native has suffered at the scene seven times since his first All-Ireland final in 1989. Chief of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at St Michael’s Hospital in the city, his own green and red wounds were just too raw to do it all over again. “To be honest, I just didn’t have the heart for it,” he said as match updates direct from his brother in the Hogan Stand lit up his phone. They weren’t pretty. Two first-half own goals? Mayo were out-Mayoing themselves. Maybe it was no bad thing that we’d missed almost all the first half.
“It’s an awful place to be when you’re on the wrong side of it,” said Geary, who played minor football in 1984 with his county, winning a league title. “You can’t keep going back to the well. The house of pain etc...”
The Rose and Crown was testing Canada’s fire safety laws by the time they started again. The low murmur of half-time gossip slowly then quickly died down as Mayo reeled off scores. But there were plenty of blue boys making noise too. And for that matter girls. When Diarmuid Connolly and Lee Keegan got tied up in a vigorous routine of mutual undressing, the Dublin forward’s physique was the hot topic at a table of 20-somethings from the capital: “He’s on Tinder if you’re looking for a red-blooded man, Karen.” They howled.
Those in green and red could only dream of laughing as an All-Ireland final hit the 60-minute mark. This was Mayo’s time to choke, Dublin’s time to clear their throats and roar on to another triumph. They duly led by three with two minutes to go.
But in this unorthodox campaign for Connacht’s cursed men, there was still another twist.
Geary felt it coming, even as a seventh minute of stoppage time arrived. The long- suffering doctor raised a fist as Cillian O’Connor raised the roof.
“Maybe I’ll head back for the replay,” mused Geary. “Or I might be better off here.”
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