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Friday 30 September 2016

We have to cherish these magic times

All-Irelands are wonderful Irish cultural experiences

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton, followed by Jonny Cooper, Rory O’Carroll and Philly McMahon, leads his team-mates during last September’s All-Ireland SFC final pre-match parade. Pic: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton, followed by Jonny Cooper, Rory O’Carroll and Philly McMahon, leads his team-mates during last September’s All-Ireland SFC final pre-match parade. Pic: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

All-Ireland SFC final time of year has me thinking. Mulling, firstly, over Sunday week and how I'll watch from the stand and how mostly, I'll be content to do so.

Admittedly, the Kerry game was the first time I've had a real pang but the satisfactory way I finished up last year has definitely helped cushion my transition from player back to supporter.

You have a different perspective on All-Ireland final day when you've played in it, so in that hour before throw-in, I'll picture the Dublin dressing-room.

I know guys' rituals.

I know how some fellas react to nerves. How some play music in the dressing-room. Who's chatty and which men are stony silent.

I'll visualise the lads doing their different warm-ups. The usual little groups they break off into for those preparations.

And I'll send a few text messages the week beforehand.

But definitely, it will be a new experience. Mostly, because I haven't been to an All-Ireland final I wasn't playing in since I was a kid.

Any year we were beaten, I didn't have the stomach or the inclination to go and watch a team - usually the one who had beaten us - lift the Sam Maguire after we had poured our bodies and souls into trying to win.

Last Sunday's hurling final had me comtemplating All-Irelands, generally.

I've heard the one about players devoting their early lives to winning one and then, when they do, how they found the whole thing an anti-climax.

My experience of it could not have been more opposite. It was, honestly, an extraordinary sensation.

If you could bottle that time after the 2011 All-Ireland final; lifting the Sam Maguire, celebrating with the Hill, that hour in the dressing-room with the lads - it was truly phenomenal.

That's a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

You might win an All-Ireland again but you'll never win your first again.

And the days afterwards, too.

I have a huge extended family, all of whom go to matches and each heavily invested emotionally in the fortunes of the Dublin football team.

So to have me, Bernard, Paul and our cousin, James, on the panel that year was just a special, special thing.

Whatever about the city losing its marbles for a while, our whole clan celebrated for at least three or four months afterwards!

It was hard to really comprehend what it meant then and even now, as I write this, I find it hard to articulate how emotional it all was.

All around the city, in the weeks and months afterwards, wherever we brought the Sam Maguire, people were euphoric.

That cup, I swear, has an incredible effect on people. Especially when they've pined for it for so long. It's just a piece of metal but when it's in the room, you can't take your eyes off it.

And everyone shared the joy.

It wasn't just us. It wasn't only the players or the management or our families and friends. It was everyone who had been at the game or watched it on television.

Anyone who had felt a pinch with previous defeats and experienced those butterflies of possibilities whenever they watched Dublin play in Croke Park.

I listened to Marty Morrissey's brilliant intro on RTÉ radio before the hurling final last Sunday and it just hammered home again what being in an All-Ireland final means on a societal level.

Not just in Tipperary or Kilkenny either, but to Irish people everywhere.

All-Ireland finals aren't just sporting occasions, they're cultural events that unite Irish people all over the world.

They're woven into our cultural tapestry. They're character traits in our sporting identity.

They're on Reeling In The Years, for God sake!

I was talking to a friend of mine in Australia and despite the distance between us, we had a shared experience in both having seen the match.

It's a wonderful Irish thing.

Incredible

The pictures from Thurles on Monday night were incredible. Not only had Tipp brought home the treasure, they slayed the beast too.

Fires were lit and grown men cried.

They were only waiting six years and yet still, the entire county nearly crashed to a halt to celebrate their heroes and welcome them home.

The darkening evenings have me thinking also about this Dublin team and what a special time this is for football in the county.

It's incumbent upon them to win everything in sight for as long as they can but equally, it's imperative that we don't take these days or this team for granted.

I lost four All-Ireland semi-finals before we were ever even in a final.

Now, it's four All-Ireland finals in six years.

Saviour them. Because it goes in cycles and a lull probably isn't as far away as a lot of people might think.

Break it down.

Over the last five or six years we've had one of the most consistently prolific scorers in the country in Bernard.

We've had the best goalkeeper who has ever played the game.

And talent-wise, arguably the greatest footballer of all time in Diarmuid Connolly.

These are transcendent footballers who don't fall off trees. Who can't just be replaced.

Bernard is 32 now. Stephen is 34. Paul Flynn - another fella you'd clone if it was ethically viable - is 30.

The senior team will have to go through a period of transition. It's inevitable.

Management might go. These leaders will finish up.

So while they're trying to stack up the trophies, it's so important that we don't take them for granted.

We should appreciate these great players and celebrate the success they've brought us.

Because neither will last forever.

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