been a fan of Gaelic games for sometime I jumped at
the chance of a ticket for the historic Ulster Football
final to be held in the 'home of the GAA Croke Park'
Dublin on Sunday 11th July between Counties Donegal
and Armagh. 'Ulster' finals are played in Clones or
Belfast but the GAA thought that the final would be
between Tyrone and Armagh - a repeat of last years
All-Ireland Football Final and would attract a 70,000
+ crowd. Translink had put on extra trains. The carriages
were from the old GNR days 'of steam' as the game
had a earlier throw-in time than usual. At 9.05 the
football special pulled out of Belfast Central Station
on-time with about a dozen or so people on board.
I deliberately sat as far up the train as possible
seeking solitude as I was intending to read the Business
Post in peace and quiet; at least until we reach Lurgan
where I expected many hundreds of Armagh supporters
to join the train. No sooner had the train moved when
I was joined by four blokes from North Belfast each
armed with a 12 pack of Harp and enough sandwiches
to feed a small army. They introduced themselves and
insisted that I join them which I did. They then insisted
that I take a beer, and after much arm twisting I
took one and then two and three and
be sociable of course.' As expected we were joined
by hundreds of jolly Armagh supporters and were joined
by two girls and a bloke from Lurgan who were just
as well armed as the Belfast Brigade.
the time we had reached the border town of Dundalk
the supporters were beginning to feel the effects
of the alcohol and rebelled against the smoking ban
on the train and in public places in the Irish Republic.
Their war cry was Bollocks the smoking ban.'
There was much banter between the two groups. The
Lurgan group took great pleasure in slagging the blokes
from North Belfast about the Orange Order walking
past Ardoyne, and that they couldnt even defend
a lamppost, and that the Orange would never again
get down nationalist roads in Armagh. The 'lamppost'
in question was the one with spy cameras.
I am no stranger to the wooden spoon, I decided to
try and mix-it up a bit and slag off Sinn Fein - British
rule in Ireland was OK so long as uncle Gerry and
SF were the administrators; and that by registering
to vote you are accepting partition and legitimising
British rule in Ireland. Big mistake - the Armagh
Brigade thought that the sun shone from Gerrys
I was out numbered 800-to-1, I made a tactical retreat.
The beer loosened our inhibittions as we were led
in to one republican song after another by the Armagh
Brigade. With each we were quizzed on the history
of each song as if to prove that they were better
nationalist/republicans that anyone else. We arrived
at Dublins Connolly Station half inebriated
but still managed to make our way to the Clonliffe
Bar where we managed to sink a few Guinness before
the game which ended with a comfortable win for Armagh
and a mad dash back to Connolly to catch the football
special back to Belfast. Which was just as noisy as
the forward journey but uneventful.
experience had smitten me and feeling I need another
fix I travelled back to Croker on July 25th to cheer
on Antrim in the quarter-finals of the Hurling Championship.
This time I travelled on flagship service The Enterprise
with no more than a 100 Antrim supporters. The journey
was quieter than the last and the Antrim supporters
showed none of the passion of the Armagh fans. I went
to Casement Park in Andersonstown on Tuesday 21st
July to get my ticket for the game. The ticket at
35 Euros was more expensive that the Football ticket
but I was told that if I showed my student I.D. at
Croke Park that I would get a 20 Euro refund.
arrived in Dublin with time to spare so I went for
a few sups of Guinness and then on to the ground.
I went to the turnstile for the Hogan Stand where
my ticket was for and was told that if I wanted my
refund I would have to go the Cussack stand on the
opposite side of the ground. I had counted for the
20 refund in my spending money for the day. However,
I was to be disappointed for when I went to claim
my refund I was told the only people with tickets
for the Canal End and Cussack Stand of the ground
were getting a refund, I asked for a reason for this
but none was given. Is this because there can be no
reasonable explanation as both tickets cost 35 Euros?
game was disappointing and Antrim were well beaten
by a in-form Cork team who give an exhibition of how
hurling should be played while Antrim give a lacklustre
second game of the day was between All-Ireland champions
Kilkenny and Clare. A fine game full of passion and
incident, but which ended in confusion when the referee
blew for full-time with the scores tied. Initially,
we were told that there would be 20 minutes extra-time
and then ten minutes later we were told that the game
would be replayed next week, We made our way to Connolly
Station for the 18.30 service to Belfast which was
quiet and uneventful until we reached the border when
a fight broke out in the train's bar, which forced
the train to stop a Newry to wait for the riot ready
PSNI-RUC-SFs Bully-Boys, which delayed our journey
by 30 minutes and brought back memories of the P-Checks
and disappointed by the countys performance
we arrived back in Belfast. But even more disappointing
was the fact that the fans and supporters of the county
team have had their eye wiped by a bunch of money
grabbing officials. The crowd of just over thirty
thousand was disappointing; the Hurling Board of the
GAA would do well to follow the footballing counties
and how they treat their fans. The Antrim GAA need
to realise that the supporters have other less expensive
options of supporting their county, such as 'staying
at home and save the cost of ticket and travel up
to £70.00, go to the pub and still save money.'
If they keep abusing the fans the way they are then
the future looks bleaker than most people realise.
Cork may have ended our dreams of All-Ireland success
but the county board have shot themselves in the foot
- for it will snow in hell before I ever again put
my hand in my pocket for the Antrim GAA.
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