Hail to the League we love more than we can ever let on
SIDELINE CUT:Hail to the GAA National Football League! To the perpetually poor cousin of The Championship, that fancy-dan summer show with its hot days and its history, its corporate boxes and six course lunches and its eternal parades. The League doesn’t need any foppery: you take it as you find it. The League is blue-collar. If Bruce Springsteen lived in Ireland, he’d be a League man.
To that most unloved and under-appreciated sports competition in the world, of which managers and players alike claim that while they wouldn’t mind winning it, nobody remembers it.
But some do! The guy from Monaghan or Kerry or Waterford who was, in 1985 or 1998 or 2009, given his League debut somewhere Godforsaken and taken off after 43 minutes just because he fumbled a couple of balls and the manager’s eye glazed over him for the rest of the League before he was finally “released” from the panel for the summer, after which he lost interest; he will remember the League for the rest of his life.
To the only concession to directions to obscure country grounds being a cardboard sign stuck to a telephone post with the word ‘MATCH’ in marker below an arrow pointing to a road that doesn’t exist.
To the wonderfully lawless way in which people ditch their cars in hedgerows, gateways, on double-yellow lines and know they will get away with it because it is the League.
To the outlandish hats and caps (from all eras) which Irish people wear with abandon on those League Sundays when the temperature is hovering around zero and the wind is cutting. Anything goes when it comes to League headwear. Tokyo Fashion Week wouldn’t be in it.
To the young lads who meet scandalised punters with a flinty eye as they charge four notes for a “programme” which consists of a folded sheet of A4 paper still warm from the printing machine.
To the polystyrene cups of tea filled to the brim, leaving no room for milk so patrons get a severe scalding when they take their first sip. (And to the etiquette observed by fans of both counties who share with scrupulous politeness the one spoon supplied to service the sugar requirements of several thousand Gaels).
To the way everyone crowds into the Stand for warmth except for the two lads on the terrace leaning into the gale, just to the left of the town-end goal. Because that’s where they always stand.
To the way the Amhrán Na bhFiann always sounds as if it is being played on a vinyl record circa 1972.
To the way that in Tuam Stadium, it is still 1966.
To being able to hear the manager shouting at his players.To being able to hear what the players shout back.
To being alarmed at the realisation they are mostly just cursing at each other.
To the bravery of the linesmen, who always look peculiarly naked during the League, running up and down with their flags and trying to ignore the heckling.
To the unexpected privilege of seeing a once-in-a-generation star like Michael Donnellan or Brian McGuigan make his debut in the League.