Games are the embodiment of culture


ALL-Ireland GAA finals are the centrepiece events for people across the 32 counties and among the Irish diaspora. A packed Croke Park awaiting the summer’s best hurling or football teams are the pinnacle moments in our sporting culture. These age-old games have been played on the island for hundreds of years, whilst their modern manifestation led to the establishment of the Gaelic Athletic Association by Michael Cusack and six others in the 1880s.

Distinct to Ireland and her diaspora—yet having positive interactions with Australian Rules Football—Gaelic sports are unique national games to be proud of. They are a fine example of ancient history marrying with modern relevance to produce great sporting occasions. In other words, a far cry from burning wooden pallets, littered with racist and sectarian banners, to express an ill-founded sense of religious superiority. However, the latter is often reported under the guise of cultural celebration, the word ‘tradition’ replacing ‘antiquity’ when describing the marking of the anniversary of prevailing Protestant political, social and economic domination, which followed a 17th century battle between a deposed English King and his Dutch relation at the Boyne!

As bizarre as it all sounds, those archaic scenes of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic hatred were sadly endured by our community in Scotland and by Nationalists in six of Ireland’s counties this past July. However, Ireland would only have to wait a week to demolish the false cultural equivalences touted by some of the commentariat, as Croke Park awaited the battle scene that would emerge with Kilkenny and Limerick vying for the Liam McCarthy Cup.

One of the greatest hurling matches of all time ensued. The game ebbed and flowed with Brian Cody’s men looking to give the legendary Kilkenny manager a chance to bow out in style, but for all that the Cats threw at Limerick, the Treaty were able to respond. 82,000 voices roared among the mixed crowd, who tempered their passion with magnanimity, as over 66 points were scored—nine courtesy of goals. Finally, the smoke bombs dispersed across the Dublin sky above a pocket of Limerick supporters, for they had won one of the all-time classics 1-31 to 2-26.

Fast forward another seven days and the capital was once more the hub of the island’s sporting culture. This time, Galway and Kerry fought to take home the Sam Maguire Cup. Galway went into the match as underdogs, in keeping with their Gaelic Football record which has seen the county win just a handful of All-Ireland football championships as compared to Kerry who have lifted Sam on nigh on 40 occasions.

Kerry had lost one solitary match all summer and took the scalp of Dublin in the Semi-Final. Confidence was high in the Kingdom camp, but Galway’s toppling of Derry and Armagh to reach their first decider since 2001 meant they were never going to be a pushover. Determined to win and aided by the exceptional performances of Shane Walsh and Cillian McDaid, the Tribesmen kept their dream alive for most of the game.

It was the outsiders who led at half time, having converted all but one of their score attempts. Their lead was slender and Kerry would likely be a different proposition in the second half. Yet, that wasn’t necessarily the case as the scoreboard continued to add points in a tit-for-tat fashion. It was neck and neck, 0-16 apiece until the closing moments, when Kerry took the trophy with four points in as many minutes.

The All-Ireland finals saw over 160,000 people pack into Croke Park to enjoy unique sports, which emerged from a centuries old tradition. The Irish national anthem was performed by a band before throw in, county songs were sung by the crowd, another generation of kids were inspired to join one of the hundreds of GAA clubs dotted around the country, and there was not a hint of suppressing someone else’s identity.

These games of ours are quite simply the embodiment of culture and so richly deserved by communities such as those within our readership who have recently had to endure the bigotry spewed their way by people that former Derry GAA star Joe Brolly described as ‘effectively being the Ku Klux Klan.’