On GAA roads, it’s the journey, not the destination

You shall know them by the trail of diesel receipts. Or the plastic wrapping from €2.99 best-of CDs picked up in service stations. By the Supermacs cartons and the Frank & Honest coffee cups, all of the fuel necessary to get an army on the road and to keep it marching.

Or driving, in this case.

On Saturday week, June 23, there seems to be an inter-county championship game in almost every corner of the country, and having a spread of venues that wide means loyal armies rise early and point the bonnet north.

Or south. Or east. Or west, be it from Mayo to Limerick, the 165 miles and back from Tyrone to Carlow, the 180 miles from Monaghan to Waterford, Kildare across to Longford, Clare to Offaly, Armagh over to Sligo.

They’ll know the road well from Down to Cavan. The 90-mile hop from Louth to Leitrim, for those who’ll dare it.

And, yes, Kerry, across the county bounds to Cork, for a Munster football final with a difference. Saturday night lights down the marina.

A couple of generations ago, those far-flung assignments meant even earlier starts, hustling to train stations for the match special or flinging a leg over a racer and pedalling furiously for three or four hours: thankfully, Lycra didn’t exist to scar the eyeballs of spectators at the great Munster hurling finals of the ’40’s.

Nowadays, the motorways feature the odd bus — why are GAA supporters cursed with tyrant bladders, given the numbers who disembark from those buses to embarrass themselves on the roadside? — but most spectators move in small cells of three or four, a car warming slowly as the talk heats up.

The audio accompaniment is more various now, with podcasts and Bluetooth facilitating a whole other kind of entertainment, but the atmosphere would be recognisable to anyone in a charabanc a century ago.

The nervous chatter that falls silent when the other crowd’s dangerman is mentioned. The villages and hamlets that foreshadow the eventual venue. The odd flash of colour on a fellow supporter in an overtaking car. A quiet moment thinking of the people who are no longer here, but who used to bring you to games, and the realisation that that’s now your role, handing it on.

The game is great, but it’s true: it’s the journey, not the destination.

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