After being lashed by showers and fans, boys in blue must now reign over the Kingdom
THERE were two big winners in Croke Park on Saturday evening. Dublin and the bloke who sells the blue ponchos.
Of the two, the Poncho Man was probably happiest. Showing a precision and timing that evaded Dublin's footballers as they stuttered to a place in the All Ireland semi-finals, monster rain bucketed down on the fans as they splashed their way to Jones's Road.
Nothing for it then but to tog out in plastic like Gok Wan at a fetish party and hope the extra dash of blue on the Hill would inspire the lads.
Quarter-finals are always a nervous occasion. For supporters, it's a bit like crossing no-man's land with the promise of Sam Maguire a distant mirage.
On Saturday, the fear of an ambush by Cork was all too real.
Before the match, as officials drew our attention to "pitch safety notices", it wasn't the lads on the field I was worried about. They could take care of themselves. It was the fellas around me that gave cause for concern. Especially when Cork was the first team to score.
After that I spent a nerve-racking 70 minutes fretting that I hadn't brought a defibrillator.
Thank goodness the Boys in Blue couldn't hear the instructions that were being anxiously screamed in their direction.
"Ya feckin' idiot. Keep the bleedin' ball. What the four-X are ya at?! Pass the jayziz thing."
"You're useless! What was that!?" With minutes to go, Cork grabbed a point that brought them within four of Dublin.
A man who had possibly consumed most of the glasses we refer to as half-empty, began to froth at the mouth. As he began speaking in tongues, I worried that I was witnessing a rare case of demonic possession.
But the only exorcism that was needed here was the sound of the final whistle as the wet pitch caused the ball to skid beyond reach, and players to slide into trouble, raising the dreaded spectre of a last gasp Cork goal upscuttling Molly Malone's apple cart.
Be warned. Croke Park is no place for the timid on All Ireland quarter-final day.
But Dublin hearts are made of stuff more durable than Nelson's Pillar.
As the clock ticked down, the decibels went up, threatening to break the record set at the Olympics by Katie Taylor's fans. If there had been a roof, it would have been well and truly raised. Afterwards, relief was the dominant emotion. But Dublin had won and are now just two games away from parading Silver Sam from Ticknock to Tyrrelstown in September.
Afterwards the Dublin manager showed his delight by performing a stunning piece of stand-up with his point-scoring goalie Stephen Cluxton.
The jovial Dublin keeper met the press and performed an Oscar-winning role as Paddy the Plasterer in Zero Dark Thirty where, despite the waterboarding, he kept schtum, revealing only his rank and serial number.
Beside him, manager Jim Gavin reprised his famous Bertie Ahern School Around the Corner routine, gulping, shrugging and giving it loads with the puppy-dog eyes.
Credit for getting to an All Ireland semi-final – and another instalment in the Dubs v Kerry saga – isn't enough for these hardy bucks. Gavin and Cluxton know that only too well.
They also know that from now till September they're going to have every news-hound, maybe even Kay Burley, parked on their doorstep. And that's enough to put the frighteners on anyone.