‘We rescheduled our baby’s christening for the Monaghan match’

One supporter explains her family’s die-hard loyalty to the county football team

 Áine Kerr with her family at the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final between Monaghan and Kerry in Clones. Photograph: Peadar McMahon

Áine Kerr with her family at the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final between Monaghan and Kerry in Clones. Photograph: Peadar McMahon

 

It’s probably fair to say that most families organise their lives according to school calendars, pay days, seasonal changes and public holidays. But some of us organise our lives according to the GAA season: from provincial cups and National League campaigns beginning in January to uncertain championship exit dates in the summer.

Steadfastly optimistic about the prospects of the county progressing through the summer months, there’s an unwritten rule in a family such as mine that no holidays are booked until Monaghan are unceremoniously dumped out of the championship. Or robbed, as has been our history. And so for the last 30 years, the family’s gateway for a holiday has always opened up before a semi-final on the GAA fixture listings.

There have been times, however, when some of us recklessly flouted the unspoken family guidelines about holiday planning, at great emotional and financial cost.

Some in the extended family have been known to fly out after their spouses and children in order to attend a Monaghan match, or return home early to do a second round of silage, which happened to neatly coincide with yet another “crucial” Monaghan game.

Monaghan’s devastating one-point defeat to Kerry in the summer of 2007 ruined Christmas Day that year after we agreed to end a four-month period of mourning

Back in 2007, I made the uncharacteristic decision to be proactive and organise a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival during the GAA season. I booked non-refundable tickets, hotels and flights, only for Monaghan’s quarter-final to be scheduled the day after the planned departure.

In a stubborn plan to honour the only holiday of the year and not have points deducted for disloyalty to the cause of Monaghan football, we flew out only to fly home less than 24 hours later. We flew back immediately after the match.

The competitiveness amongst some family members to claim 100 per cent match attendance records has of course led to protracted negotiations and threats with various employers. Some of us have foregone sleep for more than 24 hours to take in a match and then work the seventh night of shift work in a row. Still others have brought Leaving Cert books to the game in order to study during quieter periods.

Growing dedication

As agonising defeats have followed yet more agonising defeats, my family of diehard Monaghan enthusiasts have grown ever more resilient and dedicated to the cause of getting to an All-Ireland semi-final for the first time in 30 years.

As part of that collective commitment to staying resolutely focused on reaching the Holy Grail, we’ve had a future All-Star in Conor McManus turn up at the wedding speeches (mine) to present a signed football, secured multiple signed jerseys to adorn our bedroom walls (lest we ever forget why we get up in the mornings), and played multiple intergenerational games in our own back gardens trying to recreate some of Monaghan’s magic.

Monaghan’s Conor McManus celebrates scoring a goal during his team’s All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final against Kerry at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones. Photograph: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Monaghan’s Conor McManus celebrates scoring a goal during his team’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones. Photograph: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

When Monaghan aren’t playing, it’s been customary to rewatch matches while impatiently waiting for January to come around again.

Monaghan’s devastating one-point defeat to Kerry in the summer of 2007, for example, ruined Christmas Day that year after we agreed to end a four-month period of mourning. During those soul-searching months, we agreed there would be no playbacks, no articles and no postmortems to explain the daylight robbery. The decision to watch the almost five-month-old Sunday Game recording of the match forced us to realise that we had an inflated and distorted memory of that gut-wrenching loss. It made for a traumatic end to the festivities.

Since then, I’ve come out of retirement twice as a club player: a move never truly recognised by the family since it meant playing for a Dublin-based club after previously playing at underage level up to 17 for my home club in Monaghan. The family loyalty, after all, is specifically to Monaghan football and generally doesn’t cross the county’s borders.

And so, my 12-week-old daughter is already bravely negotiating her way between loyalty to her native Dublin and the county of her mothership. In an act of considerable diplomacy, she has been sporting a half-Monaghan, half-Dublin jersey since the first 24 hours of her very existence.

She’s already attended three Monaghan games (complete with noise-cancelling headphones) in Waterford, Clones and Croke Park in an early demonstration of loyalty to the county and the Super 8s format. That makes her one of the few people yet to witness and endure the heartache of a Monaghan loss.

Great angst

But for a family that’s almost always first at the turnstiles of a Monaghan game (due to another unwritten rule about being in your seat two hours before throw-in), that takes to the pitch to console and congratulate players post-match, and is among the last still waving at the departing team bus, her pending christening this weekend has been the source of great angst.

Yes, I should have extended the “no holidays” rule to “no Baptisms” during GAA season, but for too many reasons to state here, we rolled the dice two months ago and figured that if Monaghan survived, the final Super 8s game would end up being played on the Sunday.

Cue protracted negotiations about moving the service to Galway, or better still, to October, in order to avoid a clash with what is again being billed by the family as Monaghan’s “biggest game in 30 years”.

Monaghan fans look dejected during the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final between Monaghan and Kerry at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones. Photograph: ©INPHO/James Crombie
Monaghan fans look dejected during the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final between Monaghan and Kerry at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones. Photograph: ©INPHO/James Crombie

The christening date was an unforced error and so a private christening at an earlier time tomorrow morning has been hastily organised. Once the final blessing is uttered ( “In the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit and Monaghan football”), one half of the assembled family will ditch their Sunday best for their blue and white uniform and make a speedy exit to Galway.

It was tempting at times to imagine who might turn up to watch the game from our sittingroom if we stuck to the original christening plan. But in the end, we resolved not to stress test for such outcomes. After all, football is family and family is football.

That stubborn loyalty doesn’t make us exceptional, it just makes us pretty ordinary in the eyes of many other GAA families. We’re not the only ones who come together around each other’s kitchen tables to talk about football in excruciating detail during snowstorms and heatwaves, after despairing losses and glorious wins.

For us Monaghan football is an obsessive constant; it’s the thing that sustains and binds us as a family, in good times and bad. And as sure as the seasons change, pay days and public holidays come and go, and a championship season comes to a shuddering halt or enters a new euphoric stage, our family will be refreshing the GAA fixture list in the autumn, and begin waiting, waiting, to go again.

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