Tipping Point: Dublin express barrels down the Kerry track
Boisterous roses are in bloom, but it’s a long way to Tralee if you haven’t got a beer
Punters outside Austin Stack Park on Saturday evening: “They’re just early. Way early. Even the stewards haven’t been let in. And still the diehards are here hours before throw-in.” Photograph: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Saturday morning, 10 o’clock. The train pulls out of Heuston Station, Dubs by the dozen on board. Across the way, four young lads, early 20s. Heads on them from Paddy’s night in town. One jimmies the top off a bottle of Heineken and the rest shrug and join in. Hung for a sheep, hung for a lamb.
Half a bottle in, the fog starts to clear. Volume rises. Stories tumble.
“This is the furthest I ever went on a train.”
“We’re only in Adamstown.”
“I know, yeah.”
“Sure we went to Dunboyne that time.”
“That was on the Dart, yah sap.”
“Oh right, and what’s the Dart, a fookin’ tractor?”
Onwards. Down through Newbridge, Kildare, Portlaoise. The boys talk football for a bit and then they talk life. Deep stuff. Core beliefs.
“Here lads, just remember: it’s Tralee we’re going to. Every woman down here has been called a rose at least once in her life. We’ll need to come up with better lines than that.”
Change at Mallow. Six carriages become three for the rest of the way. More lads, more lassies, more bottles, more yakkedy-yak. More rebel songs the further we go. By the time we hit Kerry, the train has two communities – Dubs On Tour and people in headphones. Lord, it’s a long way to Tralee if you haven’t got a beer.
(To the Tune of Baby Give It Up)
PHILLY-PHILLY MAC, PHILLY MAC – HE’S A CORNER BACK.
HE LOVES TO ATTACK, TO ATTACK, PHILLY-PHILLY MAC.
“Do-doobie-do do-do-do,” you find yourself humming in your head. Can’t beat ’em, don’t wanna join ’em. But there’s no badness in them either, and a catchy tune is a catchy tune.
Austin Stacks Park, Tralee, 4.30pm. The game’s at 7 but the press box is small and the early bird catches the power socket. Turn the corner to find a couple of hundred punters already gathered outside. It’s been sold-out for weeks and there isn’t a ticket going, if that’s what they think.
It isn’t. They’re just early. Way early. Even the stewards haven’t been let in yet. And still the diehards are here 2½ hours before throw-in, dying hard so as to put their name on a plumb seat.
Row by row, the stand fills. Then the terrace on the far side, most of them roaring at Marty Morrissey. Then the terrace behind the town goals, where the Dubs take up position. Cockles And Mussels. Boys In Blue. Hill16isDublinonly.
Over the tannoy, an ad for the Kerry GAA lotto plays on a loop. Starts every time with, “Hi, I’m Marc Ó Sé.” But because there’s no music around it, Ó Se’s distended voice comes out of the blue each time and starts to sound as if Marc himself is standing out the back with a microphone reading a script. Soon the Dubs send up a cheer any time he comes on: “Hi Marc!”
The Kerry backroom cameramen set up in the press box. You’d tell them there was no room for them except you’d likely find out there was no room for you, if it came to it. And anyway, they’re grand company. Pure Kerry.
A young lad comes up to the press box looking to charge his phone, only to find out that there are lost tribes in the Amazon who have more access to electrical sockets than we do at this very moment.
“Poor young fella,” cracks one of the Kerry backrooms as he walks away, shoulders slumped. “He’ll have to watch the game now, God love him.”
All human life is sitting in front of the press box. The reigning Rose of Tralee stands in for a picture with Barney Rock and Jimmy Deenihan. Deenihan asks where she’s from and when she tells him Chicago, Deenihan only has to make two more gentle inquiries before he rustles up someone she knows over there. That, kids, is a politician.
Gametime. In plenty of ways, Tralee is the wrong venue for this game. The capacity is only just under 12,000, and they would have had double and maybe treble that in Killarney. And the lights are old and wan in comparison with some of the more modern set-ups. But here and now on Saturday night, the place is crackling.
Both sides want it. Both sets of supporters won’t let them away with anything less.
To-do for Kerry
Jack Barry, the new Kerry midfielder, does his future no harm by dogging Brian Fenton from minute one onwards. He throws Dublin’s young midfield prince completely out of his rhythm. On Kerry’s to-do list, that’s potentially a line struck through one of the jobs near the very top. Come the summer, that might become the prime reason we remember Paddy’s weekend.
Game up. A draw. Everyone back to their corners and out into the Kerry night. Not a hotel room to be got, not a quiet snug to be found. As if you’d want one. The streets hum and pubs swell and there’s talk of football and life and how to chat up women long into the night.
Tralee won’t do business like it until the Rose festival in August. And who knows? The lads might be back for it. The league is the time for practising your lines, after all. Championship is championship.