Here they come, the Garth Brooks army. The Hallion Hordes. Descending on Croke Park in their hundreds of thousands. The penny dropped during the week that the reason there isn’t all-out war this time like in 2014 is actually fairly straightforward. Somewhere in the Irish psyche lies a simple, unshakeable truth – heading for Croke Park in September is the inalienable right of the hallion.
And make no mistake, hallions there will be. When the promoter Peter Aiken was on Morning Ireland during the week, he revealed that 18,000 ticket-holders were coming from Monaghan. And that 26,000 were coming from Tyrone. He didn’t give out a number for the Donegal contingent, presumably because they’ll rally ‘er up the road regardless. Every Donegal person knows somebody in Dublin with a locka tickets going spare. They just wouldn’t be saying it officially.
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[ ‘I’m in the country of love’: Garth Brooks holds court before playing in front of 400,000 fans at Croke Park ]
Oh, it’ll be Hallion City all right. This column is expert in very little of anything but when it comes to this specific subject, he knows whereof he speaks. For a start, Peter Aiken would want to check his numbers. The population of Monaghan is around 60,000 – if he thinks only 18,000 are heading to Croker, he’s in for a shock. There’s men in Tydavnet who haven’t been beyond Carrick since the ‘97 shows. They’ll be up the road, don’t you worry about that.
That Morning Ireland interview more or less guaranteed it. The idea that there’d be more Tyrone hallions than Monaghan ones going to see Garth Brooks across the two weekends can’t be allowed to stand. There have been enough Croke Park defeats to Tyrone over the years, thanks very much. This one would cut deepest of all.
It isn’t just the border hallions who will be making the trip, of course. Brooks Fever has dashed through the land like Michael Cusack’s prairie fire all those decades ago. In Limerick, Gardaí had to be called to keep order when the original tickets went on sale back in 2014, when hundreds of Brookites came for dozens of tickets. They were more mannerly about it this time around – but of course they’ve had plenty of Croke Park experience in the meantime. Limerick is a more chilled place these days. But they’ll be up the road too.
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In time-honoured fashion, Kerry people might come or they might not. They’ll hardly be in a hurry to come to these early shows anyway – better to let the northern crowd get some of it out of their system before the final gigs next weekend. The All-Ireland has been won, Sam Maguire is touring the schools, it’s the first weekend of the county championship. Priorities are priorities.
The steak-fed cowboy jowls are long gone. Instead he looks now like the sort of trim middle-aged S&C coach you find hanging around in the background as teams file into the dressingrooms on matchdays
And anyway, sure isn’t the man himself staying below in Beaufort, flying up and down from Farranfore between gigs? If you think Kerry people were self-satisfied before, imagine how they felt when they heard that. The rest of the country in flitters to get up to Croke Park and instead Garth Brooks is heading the other direction to live in Kerry for the week. There’s Dublin hotel prices for ya.
Kerry is the perfect spot for him, of course. If David Clifford can walk down the street without causing people to crash into lamp-posts, they’re not going to lose their minds over some country singer. It’ll be the opposite. They’ll subject him to the same semi-reverent abuse they shower on all their heroes.
For the love of Garth
True story. The night of the All-Ireland final back in July, Paul Galvin was hailed on his entrance to a pub gents with the greeting, “Oh here he is, our worst ever wing back!” Galvin chuckled and said, “Good one” and the night rolled on. You think Kerry people are going to fawn over Garth Brooks? No chance. As we speak, some bucko in Gneeveguilla is hatching a plan to cadge a lift home on the Brooks jet one of the nights. Mark it down.
As for the gigs themselves, you’d hope somebody has warned Brooks that he’d want to bring his A-game. Croke Park has found out plenty of spoofers and shapers in the past, after all. Men who came to the big house thinking it was just the stage for them, only to find out that the other crowd have been training five nights a week as well.
To be fair, he looks to have done the work. It got lost a little in the newsmageddon over the past couple of days but by the looks of him in his press conference on Thursday, there’s a lot less of him to go around than there was before. The steak-fed cowboy jowls are long gone. Instead he looks now like the sort of trim middle-aged S&C coach you find hanging around in the background as teams file into the dressingrooms on matchdays. That’ll stand to him.
For those of us who spend our working lives down around Croke Park, it was funny to see him conduct the press conference in the little auditorium under the Cusack Stand. It’s very much the second press room, generally only ever used for the curtain-raiser in a double bill. Croker is a great leveller like that – a global superstar gets to sell his wares in the same room where a manager comes to bitch about a referee after losing whatever Leinster semi-final the Dubs weren’t in.
Hallions assemble, do your worst. Croke Park has seen it all before, Croke Park will see it all again.