Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hurling Leinster Final

Earlier this summer, we attended our first Gaelic Games event, and it was a doozy. The hurling regional final pitted the local Dublin hurlers against the Cats from hurling-crazy Kilkenny. We had our tickets for the general admission standing area called Hill 16 - more on that later - and were off for a big day out at Croke Park.

First, we stopped for lunch at Irish Americana chain restaurant Eddie Rocket's. Hamburgers, fries, and a jumbo hot dog before this most Irish of athletic events.

Eddie Rocket's Lunch in Dublin
Eddie Rocket's Lunch

After lunch, we made our way to Croke Park on Dublin's north side. This historic stadium is Ireland's traditional home for the Gaelic games championships, and it also happens to be Co. Dublin's home park. It is in the middle of a residential neighborhood, giving it a very cozy feel. It isn't like the ultra-modern stadia in Dallas and New York with specially-designed pedestrian routes and parking choices. It is more like Wrigley Field in Chicago, surrounded by homes and businesses.

Its residential status doesn't come without its share of problems, and the Garth Brooks controversy was still fresh in everyone's mind as they gathered for the game.

Before going into the stadium, we stopped for a drink at Gill's pub, just around the corner. It was jammed full of black-and-gold-clad Kilkenny fans and strung with Kilkenny flags and signage. Clearly this was the visitors' pub. We kept our blue-and-blue scarves under wraps...

Gill's Pub Near Croke Park
Gill's Pub Near Croke Park

Drinks at Gill's
Drinks at Gill's

In the stadium, we found our seats on Hill 16. This famous corner of Croke Park is named in honor of 1916, the year of the Easter Rising that ultimately led to Ireland's independence from England. In 1920, the tragedy of Bloody Sunday came to Croke Park, as a troop of British soldiers entered the stadium during a Dublin-Tipperary Gaelic football match and began firing into the players and the stands. Fourteen people including one player were killed.

Today, the standing terrage of Hill 16 is an icon for Ireland and the local Dublin supporters to yell, sing, and heckle from the less-than-comfortable standing cement steps.

We arrived at the game quite early, and per the advice from another Dublin fan, grabbed a good standing spot against a barrier near the tunnel. The view of the field was great!

View of the Stadium Croke Park from Hill 16
View of the Stadium

This Sunday at Croke Park was actually a hurling doubleheader. The minor regional final, also between Dublin and Kilkenny, threw in two hours before the senior event. We were able to watch the young hurlers from these two counties go at it as Hill 16 slowly filled up behind us.

Dublin Minor League Player Warming Up
Dublin Minor League Player Warming Up

After the minor league game, the senior hurlers took the field for warmups. We were blindsided by the sudden outburst of singing from all the blue-clad Dublin fans around us in the Hill 16 stands.

"Come... on.... you... BOYS in blue, c'mon you boys in blue, c'mon you boys, c'mon you boys in blue. C'mon you boys in blue, c'mon you boys in blue, c'mon you boys, c'mon you boys in blue..."

The Gaelic games have a long tradition of pregame pomp and pageantry. Before both games, to get the crowd pumped up (?) they cranked up the adrenaline-pounding hit "Only Time" by Irish artist Enya.


Although using slow progressive electronic music for pregame events isn't all that unusual...


 Our favorite pregame ritual at GAA games is the kids marching band leading both teams on parade around the field. I don't know where this tradition comes from, but it is a very sportsmanlike routine. Both teams shake hands and line up to take a lap around the field to be recognized and appreciated by fans of both sides.

Dublin and Kilkenny on Parade at Croke Park
Dublin and Kilkenny on Parade

After the presentation, they line up for the Irish national anthem. The text of the piece is in Irish, and singing it is considered a much stronger political statement than Americans singing our anthem at any gathering of more than six people.

The match itself? An absolute beatdown of the hometown Dublin team made the game a bit sad, but the enthusiasm of the Hill 16 crowd never waned. Their shouts of encouragement turned into shouts of insults and challenges as Kilkenny pushed farther ahead in the second half. 

One particularly colorful character kept telling the referee to go back to Westmeath, the neighboring county to the west of Dublin, whenever he made a call in favor of Kilkenny. Not sure if the ref happened to actually be from Westmeath or if a Dublin person telling someone to "Go back to Westmeath!" is some kind of coded city folk-country folk insult.

Follow this link to see highlights from the match.

Now we can gear up for our next trip to Croke Park, the Croke Park Classic of American college football featuring Penn State and Central Florida!

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