Friday 28 October 2016

Dermot Bolger: Dubs carried off on a wave of fervour for greatest clash of all

Dublin players, from left, Cormac Costello Ciaran Kilkenny, Diarmuid Connolly and Davy Byrne celebrate after the game
Dublin players, from left, Cormac Costello Ciaran Kilkenny, Diarmuid Connolly and Davy Byrne celebrate after the game

Carnivals can light up the most unexpected places, and a Mardi Gras is only a Mardi Gras when it suddenly bursts into life after months of anticipation.

The Galway town of Gort was never a cornucopia of colour, vibrancy and excitement until, during the Celtic Tiger era, it became a magnet for Brazilian meat factory workers who infused its quiet streets with samba rhythms by organising their own carnival to coincide with the annual celebration in Rio de Janeiro.

Such torrential rain fell yesterday that it would be an exaggeration to say the joyous scenes in Drumcondra after Dublin’s hard-earned victory resembled Rio’s carnival.


Indeed, the downpour was so intense that at times the saturated flag-lined streets struggled to resemble the

carnival in Gort.

Yet if, like me, you live as close to Croke Park, it was impossible not to be swept up in the sense of excitement before, during and after this latest stage of Gaelic football’s version of El Clasico.

Dublin v Kerry is the ultimate clash of rivals that has epitomised all that is great about Gaelic football since those great 1970s battles that defined my teenage years.

This is not to denigrate other clashes involving the great Tyrone dynasty; the glory days of Meath, which older readers entitled to free bus travel may recall; the achievements of Galway, Donegal or Armagh; or the dark curse on Mayo football ever since it was discovered that the archaeologist who opened Tutankhamun’s tomb had a grandmother from Ballinrobe.

No All-Ireland final is ever less than fiercely contested. The streets around Croke Park are always awash with

colour, passion and good-natured banter between fans.

However, nothing can replicate the intensity of great Dublin-Kerry clashes.

Yesterday’s match looked like it was being fought out on the set of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was hard for the players to keep their footing and harder still to grip the ball. Yet no rain could extinguish the passion, ferocity and fervour that are the hallmarks of every meeting between these two counties.

The Kerry defence looked brittle early on against a relentless Dublin onslaught, the blistering pace only slackening whenever Stephen Cluxton meandered ponderously forward to take a free.

Cluxton is a taciturn, private man, yet yesterday’s match showed that when his autobiography finally appears, it will undoubtedly be entitled Zen and the Art of Free Kick-Taking.

The weather robbed the game of any one defining highlight. But for me the highlight occurred last week when I watched children in junior infants walking to school in Dublin jerseys, carrying homemade Dublin flags and with their faces painted.

Summer only starts for me when I look across the street and see the Dublin flags with which my neighbour, Connie, a passionate Dublin supporter, has been decorating her house for decades.

Each year when I see them go up I hope that – like this year – they won’t need to come down until the late September evenings are setting in.

I know what a Dublin victory means for people like her who have supported the Dubs for decades through thick and thin. But the real joy is knowing what it means to classrooms of six and seven-year-olds: classmates with contrasting backgrounds and accents, all drawn together by a shared excitement in the lead-up to a victory like this.


Dublin keeps changing so much that I’ve long ago given up trying to

define what an average Dub is. What I do know is that, on days like this, Dubliners all share one defining

characteristic: happiness.

These are the moments that unite a city in pride. They are the sort of moments that make me believe that, when Neil Sedaka recorded a certain classic hit in 1974, he obviously closed his eyes and imagined Drumcondra on a wet afternoon like yesterday, awash with sodden flags and high spirits.

Then he began to sing: “Oh, I hear laughter in the rain, walking hand in hand with the one I love.”

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