As I watched Davy Fitzgerald rage and pout and stomp his feet in Corrigan Park on Saturday afternoon, I felt a great oneness with the Gaels of the world.
I knew that wherever two or more of us were gathered, from one end of the world to the other, that at that exact moment we were all laughing.
Many of us may have found it difficult to engage entirely with games played behind closed doors, and maybe one’s reaction to Davy’s remonstrations might have been closer to annoyance if there hadn’t been a crowd of 500 people in Belfast on Saturday afternoon.
But there was something so pure about hearing a small stand united in utter gleeful disdain for the histrionics of an opponent. It gladdened the heart.
It made you realise that it’s not just the thought of 82,000 people on All-Ireland final day that makes a GAA crowd a thing of beauty, although that’s part of it – it’s also the 50 or 60 at your local under-12 game, and everything in between.
Still I couldn’t help but think that the graded return to crowds at games, ramping up from this weekend, means my most fervent hope for this summer’s GAA championship will go unfulfilled.
It was in the dark days of March, when it seemed like only the pensioners would be vaccinated by September, that I conceived of an entire summer’s hurling and football attended solely by Boomers.
This was to be the summer of the over-65s. But what shape would this take exactly? Off the top of my head I could see a number of immediate changes to the normal run of events.
Stadia would have to open at 9am for a 4pm throw-in, to allow those who insist on arriving early at a game to get full value for their ticket.
For those risk-takers who like to leave only the bare two hours of wriggle-room between arrival time and throw-in time, there would be the exquisite thrill of pitting their wits against the greatest generation of route-planners this country has ever seen.
It would be an unceasing wonder to the members of the Garda traffic corps that every Sunday they would set up camp at notorious traffic black spots, and every Sunday they would be bypassed with surgical precision.
You set up a traffic-easing system in Monaghan town, the hoors would be in Scotstown and Knockatallon as quick as look at you. A cross-Border policing coalition reckons they’d surely need some assistance in Enniskillen, and they’d have Mass got in Roslea before you’d blinked.
The pre-match TV vox-pop would consist entirely of auld fellas being interviewed about what short-cut they had taken to get in the road, where they’d parked, and how badly they thought their team would get beaten by.
And all this would be merely a prelude to the game itself. The recent return of crowds at soccer games has prompted some to suggest that their presence alone has changed how players play the game. Shame, nerves, fear – all of these and more are the precious gifts that crowds give to sportspeople.
What impact would a crowd of pensioners have on our present-day GAA players? How long would Nicky Quaid persist if every successful puck-out to a corner back was met with a hail of boos? 1 game? 2 games? 3?
How long would Lee Keegan’s bullet-proof self-confidence survive if every sideways pass in his own half-back line was greeted by a Greek chorus only landed in the road from Doohoma (and who made great time coming in through Tawnyculawee and Knocknaskibbole, obviously), demanding that he “kick the fecking thing in long”?
At some level, our players are all performers. If their efforts were to be lambasted by fellas three times their age, for an entire summer, would they be able to hold firm? Or would they eventually fold, and give the people what they want – eight turnovers a minute, free-takers taking frees off the ground, and a nice row to finish too.
After the game, the crowd would wander off in the usual ways – the early leavers would leave early, and the bitter-enders would hang around even longer than usual, with no grandkids getting tired and irritable, no sons and daughters eager to get to a crowded pub for a few pints close to the stadium while Nana and Grandad were around to babysit.
They would hang around the dressing-rooms, talking to everyone they knew, until they ran out of those, and started talking to people they didn’t know.
The Sunday Game start time on RTÉ 2 would be delayed until everyone had gotten home, got fed, and got down to their local in time to hear the opening credits, and maybe at that moment, once Des knew everyone had taken their seats, they would rightly feel that after a year of struggles for that cohort above all others, that the Irish summer truly belonged to them.