Home thoughts from abroad on the All-Ireland championships

‘A lone Donegal fan was in an empty carriage and had his head in his hands. He cut a forlorn figure. Who says nobody cares about the provincial championship?’

The ‘Boss’ Bruce Springsteen paid tribute in Limerick to the deeds of the Treaty County’s hurlers. Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire

The ‘Boss’ Bruce Springsteen paid tribute in Limerick to the deeds of the Treaty County’s hurlers. Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire


It probably doesn’t happen this way but it would be great to think that when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band arrive in Nowlan Park, they will use the actual team dressing-room before they go on stage. That they are ushered from the limousine through the dark corridor and escorted into a ‘green room’ consisting of a plain wooden bench and pegs on the wall, perhaps a forgotten Puma boot lying in the corner, a physiotherapists’ bench held together with masking tape and bearing a huge box of Fifes bananas and in the corner, a table laden with cups and saucers, a tray of ham and salad sandwiches, a tray of buns and a big plate of barm brac – already buttered........

– Eugene ‘Nudie’ Hughes, former Monaghan player turned radio man, is one of the great GAA names. It holds the power to instantly transport one back to the mid-late 1980s when Cry Before Dawn were the next big thing, when Larry Goodman was always in the news and the Monaghan football team were big-boned, teak-tough, unaccountably cheerful and travelling at a rate of knots – much like they are now.

– Michael Lyster has become RTÉ’s Dean Martin in terms of dapperness and one-liners. It’s little wonder that he won the coveted ‘Barnaderg’s Most Suave Man’ title for the 27th year running back in June.

– Brian Cody is a Neil Young man but you can bet there is a Darkness On the Edge of Town LP somewhere in the dusty collection of his youth. Although every Kilkenny hurling fan knows it won’t happen, the deeply concealed romantic aspect of their personality will dream of a walk-on from Mr Cody, possibly to the first bars of Glory Days.

– When Bob Dylan was booked to play Nowlan Park years ago, the idea of major counter-cultural late 20th century guitar balladeers playing GAA stadiums was still novel if not downright strange. One long -serving Kilkenny County Board man confessed himself baffled by the excitement and genuinely wondered if this Bob lad was any relation to the (late lamented) Pa Dillon, Cats full back in the 1960s.

The merits
– Monaghan settled the merits of the provincial football championship for once and for all. There’s no other way. What is the point of eliminating a tradition that includes four chances of winning a valuable piece of silverware as well as the main piece of September silverware?

– When Monaghan won the Ulster championship in 1985, just over 17,000 people showed up in Croke Park to see them play Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final. They can bank on a bigger crowd to see them this time around.

– There was only one Donegal fan to be seen in all of Manhattan on the Sunday of the Ulster football final. Clearly, the days of hundreds of Irish lining the streets for big GAA games are over. That’s live streaming for you. This particular lad was travelling on the A train about an hour after the game and was wearing a vintage Tir Conaill shirt from back when McGee tailoring were the sponsors.

– He was in an empty carriage and had his head in his hands. He cut a forlorn figure. Who says nobody cares about the provincial championship ?

But if Donegal get past Laois this afternoon, none of the provincial champions is going to want to draw them.

Galway hurlers are, without doubt, the eternal mystery of GAA summers. They might go out of the championship against Clare on Sunday. They might win the All-Ireland. And not one Galway supporter travelling to see them has a clue which will occur.

– Kieran McGeeney should stay with Kildare

– It was deadly to see/hear Joe Brolly quote some Paddy Kavanagh on television in honour of Monaghan’s day. This is an improvisation that RTÉ should maintain. If London do the impossible and win in Croke Park today, it behoves Dessie Cahill to open his show with a rousing version of The Old Main Drag by the Pogues.

– No GAA county other than Mayo could leave their imprint on the Tour de France. Mayo GAA people are compulsive graffiti artists. The roadside declaration was both insane and wonderful.

A charm
– There should always be a Brady and a Reilly on Cavan football teams. Even if the day comes when not a single Brady lad in Cavan is bothered kicking football, they should stick one on the team anyhow, just as a charm.

– The best interview in the history of television would be if Davy Fitzgerald and Ger Loughnane could somehow end up as guests on The Letterman Show.

When Monaghan celebrated with gusto the last day, it was impossible not to think of former Monaghan boss Banty McEnaney, in the corridors of Croke Park minutes after a narrow quarter-final defeat to Kerry, explaining that the feeling was like having your heart ripped out – “without an anaesthetic”. The moment was at once as moving as the climactic scenes featuring Ricky Schroder in The Champ and as chilling as anything Anthony Hopkins achieved as Hannibal Lecter.

– We need to something about Jamie. The Armagh lad is clearly going to be double teamed into oblivion. The next development in Gaelic football will be to teach more functional forwards how to set screens so sublime talents like Clarke can shake off at least one of their pesky defenders and work some magic.

– If you stand outside the Oldcastle pub on W54th on championship mornings – run by Eugene Rooney, Mayo shot-stopper circa 1972 – you can hear the voice of Marty Morrissey in full flow drifting towards Sixth Avenue. For the unsuspecting throng of international tourists who trudge up and down this thoroughfare all day long, the sound of Marty in rhapsodic mode is unlike any sound they have encountered in their native continents. Some come to an absolute standstill and stare into the sky, as if enchanted.

– Is it true that while on stage in Thomond Park, the Boss congratulated the Treaty county hurlers on winning the Munster hurling championship before musing, “whatever the f**k that is”. If not, it should be.

On strike
– If baseball or gridiron umpires were aware of the plight of the GAA umpire – the powerlessness, the excruciating uncertainty that comes with waving the flag for a protested score – they would go on strike in solidarity.

– Even from this distance, it is plain to see that there is something about Mayo this year. If it really is Mayo’s year, then the county will go berserk. Warn the troika that they won’t hear tell of Enda Kenny between September and Christmas.

– It is time we began to face up to the fact that Barack Obama’s Irish heritage is not as important to him as we would like to think. He was asked for his views on Ollie Baker’s season with Offaly at a White House briefing and hadn’t a dicky-bird.

....And after Nowlan park has emptied and Bruce and the E Street band are back in the dressing room basking in the afterglow of a wonderful evening and fretting about the calorie count of the delicious current bread, a sharp knock on the door will announce the appearance of the groundsman, who will wave a huge set of keys in the direction of Steve van Zandt and say with mocking softness, “Have ye no homes to go to lads?”