Feelings of relief and anti-climax in Ennis car park

Women sacrifice personal style to wear polyester Clare jerseys in lurid colours

Anxious Clare fans watching the match on a big screen in Abbey Street car park in  Ennis. Photograph: Eamon Ward

Anxious Clare fans watching the match on a big screen in Abbey Street car park in Ennis. Photograph: Eamon Ward

Mon, Sep 9, 2013, 01:00

From about 3pm in Ennis yesterday, like soldiers assembling for battle, hundreds of Clare supporters in saffron and blue went marching towards the Abbey Street car park.

You might not think somewhere as unpromising as a car park could be thrilling, but from 3.30pm to sometime about 5pm, those assembled there realised from the start they were watching an exquisitely skilled and fervid war of hurling between the home team and Cork.

“Clare’ll win by four points,” Wayne King predicts before throw-in at the Dug Out, the bar run by the Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald. King, originally from Banteer, is noticeable by being virtually the only person in the vicinity wearing a Cork jersey. “I’ve been living here six years. May the best team win.”

No one else appears to share King’s magnanimous view. “Hon the Banner!” is the single-minded mantra being roared everywhere else. Women have even sacrificed their personal style for the occasion, wearing the polyester Clare jerseys in lurid colours that even the most die-hard fan could not describe as fashionable. *

Those looking after security at Abbey Street estimate there are more than 2,000 people watching the match on the big screen.

For so many people in an outdoor setting, there is virtually no noise at throw-in time. Until Clare score their first point a couple of minutes later. That is when I realise that the nails-down-the-blackboard sound of the banned vuvuzela has been reborn as the horn, and that every small child around me is in possession of one.

Collective gasp

Clare score their second point. I am hit on the head by a flag. I do not mind.

Cork score their first point. Simultaneously, I hear my first curse from within the crowd.

Cork score a goal. I hear a lot more cursing.

The screen momentarily freezes, and there is a collective gasp from the crowd. Is there something we are missing? Something bad? More points by Cork.

The merciless photographers aloft in the cherry-picker point their lense at us. A small boy stamps his foot. A woman puts her hands to her face-painted face and brings them away with the Clare colours imprinted on them.

There are wild claps for goals saved, and wild waving of banners for scoring. There is anxious, tense, silence for every point Cork score.

Then it is half-time 0-12, 0-10, two points up to Clare; the home crowd suspended between fear and hope.

“The ref is the one who is winning,” Sue Kelly remarks grimly.

“Clare will win if the ref backs off,” Sioban Fawl states.

A little girl rolls and unrolls a yoga mat. The way stress levels are rising, it seems like she could make a killing by renting it out for five-minute intervals.

Cork score another goal. There are great groans in the Abbey Street carpark. There is also an awareness that a great match is being witnessed, with more drama, frankly, than probably either county would like to see. Especially us.

Hunt for tickets again

Despite the sliotar appearing to be stuck to the collective hurls of the Clare team for much of the match, the Cork team seem to have some voodoo way of ungluing it.

Speaking of sorcerers, many people around me appear to be lacking parts of their fingers.

Either they’ve gnawed them off, or they’ve taken up residence in their owner’s mouths. I’m scared to look. My own notebook has an alarming number of teethmarks indented in it.

It all goes so fast and yet so agonisingly slow after that. More Clare points. Another Cork goal, so close to the end.

A man in front of me is actually holding his hands in prayer to his forehead.

Then he stuffs his knuckles in his eyes, and bawls silently when it goes to extra time, and Clare scores the point to make the match level.

When the ticker tape comes down on stage in Ennis at the end, for a moment, no one is sure what’s happened. Extra time?

No, it’s a draw.

There’s relief, but also a potent sense of anti-climax.

No roaring.

No flags waving.

No clapping.

Just the sound of hundreds of people collectively pulling out their mobile phones and starting the hunt all over again for tickets to the All-Ireland Hurling Final.

* This article was amended on September 11th, 2013.