Brendan O Sullivan

All-Ireland Sunday - Memories Evoked From Half a Century Ago

by Brendan O'Sullivan

We lived in Dublin within shouting distance of Croke Park but we were a Kerry household when it came to gaelic football. If Kerry were in the final, not an unusual occurrence, excitement was intense. The build-up started early in the week-with team selections and pen-pictures of players in the papers. There was no frantic search for tickets in those days-the terraces were first-come, first-served  and, in fact, usually all were served.

The Kerry relatives would arrive on the Saturday. In the days before phone use was widespread, family news had to be updated and discussed. Then, there was speculation about how the match would go, what form were members of the team in, had the selection been right, which opponents were most feared, worry about the form of Mick O'Connell, the enigmatic midfield genius, and an almost mystical faith in the ability of Dr Eamonn, Kerry trainer for many years.There were reminiscences about the great players of the past, about the "ghost trains" of the war years and, above all, pride in the achievements of Kerry gaelic football.

One relative, an uncle by marriage, nearly always travelled. He talked excitedly and rapidly in a language which I could not understand and I marvelled at how my father could answer this man in English! A translator was needed for his Kerry dialect!

Sleep was limited and the big day dawned. Sunday in any week was different from any other day and All-Ireland Sunday was different from any other Sunday of the year. It meant early Mass, it meant a larger breakfast than usual, it meant sandwiches being made. We had to get to Croke Park two hours before the minor match started, my father said. The excitement of the walk, the large crowds, the people sitting on the pavements begging for money, the hat and rosette sellers ( only players wore jerseys in those days). No tickets required-you paid your money or in my case were lifted over the stile -- and you found your spot. There were options on the terraces then-the Hill, the Canal End or under the Cusack Stand. We usually tried to find a location under the Stand away from entrances where latecomers might pour in-and beside a barrier on which I would eventually climb in order to get a good view.

Time passed slowly. The match programme was read and reread. The Artane Boys Band provided some entertainment. The sandwiches were eaten. The minor match started and, while we certainly took an interest, it was very much the precursor to the main event. Finally, the senior teams took the field. The Kerry players always ambled on to the pitch, chatting casually in twos and threes. Then-the arrival of the President, the team parade, the tension rising, Faith of Our Fathers, the National Anthem and, at last, the throwing-in of the ball by the Archbishop of Cashel, Patron of the GAA.
My father would hold me up on the barrier so that I could get a good view. However, this didn't work when, at dramatic times in the match, a goal or a save, the crowd would surge forward and my father would disappear down the terrace shouting "mind the young fellow". I had to mind myself as it was each person for himself. Health and safety regulations were unheard of in the '50s and '60s.

But we survived the dangers and sometimes we came away happy and the relatives headed for the train home in good form. Other times we were not so happy but stoical and believing that next year would be better. And often it was!

There were great victories - 1955 against the much acclaimed Dublin team of that era -- easy wins in 1959 and 1962 against Galway and Roscommon. There were disappointing losses to Galway twice and Down twice as we awaited Kerry's coming-of age with 21 All-Irelands. Finally that milestone was achieved in 1969 against Offaly and number 22 in the following year against Meath. Then a gap of 5 years to the arrival of the greatest team of all and the glory years.

By then I was an adult and my father was too old to go to the terraces. He moved to the stand and eventually to the sitting room and now he watches from "the veranda of heaven" to use Micheal O'Muircheartaigh's memorable phrase. Hopefully he watches on each All-Ireland day as his team( and mine) attempt to win another All-Ireland. An apparently confused creature, a Kerry Dub, I have cheered them to 19 of their 36 victories since my father brought me to my first final in 1955. Every All-Ireland day and every time a Kerry team takes the field, I remember him and his pride in the players who wore the green and gold.

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