Tuesday, September 23, 2014

GAA Irish football

If you start out in Boston and fly 3,000 miles or so west, you find yourself in San Francisco or thereabouts.  If you fly east and north for 3,000 miles you find yourself in Ireland.  So, now explain this?

When I was in Dublin recently I delivered a paper at a Sports History conference. The paper was based on the Madness of March book I wrote a few years back.  I made the case at the conference, as I hope I have in the book, that those who travel to Las Vegas to bet on the games are not inveterate gamblers, but rather fans who congregate that weekend like those who attend the annual meeting of any group with common affections.

The people who attended the Sport History conference were all knowledgeable about sport-especially as the conference name indicates- sport history.  Yet, a question after my presentation by one fellow was shared by the others in the room. He/they wanted to know if I had coined the term March Madness for the purposes of explaining the fandom.  I was surprised by the inquiry and when I told them, that no, of course, I had not coined the term; it is used throughout the country at that time of year by everyone from sports broadcasters to advertisers peddling products with their March Madness sales, the audience members were surprised.

I know a fair bit about sports. Dad was a big fan and I honestly came to be similarly interested and, more than the average bear, knowledgeable.  As I wrote in an earlier blog, when I had been briefed by the cabdriver from the airport about the GAA football championship that was occurring, coincidentally, the same weekend of my visit, I discovered that football in Ireland was not soccer as I assumed.  It was a game that was completely alien to me.  I have since seen snippets on the television when I was still in Dublin.  I had never seen a clip before.

Fly to San Francisco and mention March Madness to anyone not under a rock and they at least have a passing knowledge about it. Fly the same distance northeast, speak to those who are scholars of sport, mention March Madness, and these aficionados think you made up the phrase.

Not a person in Dublin that I ran into did not know that this past weekend was the time of the GAA football championship. It would be like someone during the first weekend in February not knowing at least what the super bowl was.  Yet, I who have followed sport since my dad took me to the Polo Grounds when I was maybe 4, had never heard of the game let alone the schedule for the championship.

Sit on the subway in Boston and you might come across some teens carting their football gear to a practice site, or a lacrosse stick, or some sport apparatus.  As I sat on the 16 bus going from city center Dublin out to my hotel on Swords Road, I noticed three young men hauling what, in other countries, would have seemed like weapons. They were sticks shorter than hockey sticks, with a base like a hockey stick but fatter. These kids were obviously coming from some practice.  I knew from a conversation I had had previously with a cab driver that the sticks were for a game called hurling.

Hurling is not Curling, a game with which I have a passing acquaintance.  I asked one of the fellows with the sticks to explain the game to me.  He did. It was intriguing to me but more significantly, I had never heard of such a game before.  (The explanation was so engaging that I missed my bus stop. It was a double decker bus so when I thought I'd missed the stop, I moved as fast as I could down the spiral staircase and approached the driver.  "Did I miss the Swords Road stop" I asked.  His deadpan response was worth the 3/4 mile walk back I had to take. "You did, indeed." said the proper Irishman driver without taking his eye away from the windshield).

Irish football and Hurling are the two major sports in Ireland.  Sports knowledgeable people in the United States, never heard of them.  Sports knowledgeable people in Ireland had never heard of March Madness.

The championship game was between Donegal Creameries and the Kerry Group.  My hotel was jammed with the Donegal Creameries faithful.  I would have liked to have seen the game, but it took place during the first hour of my flight back to Boston.  During the flight, the pilot got on the speaker to inform all that Kerry had defeated Donegal. I could not catch the score because before he uttered it, as soon as he announced the victors, there was a loud roar on the plane from those who followed Kerry.

When I got back home I picked up the Sunday Boston Globe to see if there was a single mention of, what would have been at the time of printing, the upcoming GAA championship game. Not a word. Then on Monday I looked to see if there was a column or even a listing for the championship in the scoreboard section of the Globe.  Alas, no reference whatsoever.

Go figure, same distance as San Francisco. I can find out the nuances of the successes of the San Francisco Giants, 49ers and Golden State Warriors and know much about them without even having to resort to Google.

For fun, if you are a fan of sport, go to youtube and see if you can catch some snippets of an Irish football game. Very fast moving game.

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