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Croagh Park in the 1950s

Sometimes I wonder if God, or maybe a G.A.A. supporter no longer with us, puts something in our way when our efforts come to nought and hope has all but died. Or is it some demon, fiendishly frustrating the honest toil of others to reach the promised land, that hands you the key to the green pasture just to watch the anguish of people, more deserving than you, turning maroon with envy?

Or maybe it’s the plain probability which dictates that you’ll be missed by a million bolts of lightning just to be incinerated by the million and first.

I had barely joined the frenzy, partly because I knew a hopeless cause when I saw one. And, miraculously, on the wings of flying forwards and back doors unlocked, the phone rang and a voice said; “If I was to get you a ticket for the Galway- Meath game, would you go?” In the name of the G.A.A. and the dead generations, yes!

It was years since I had been to Croke Park on All-Ireland day and my first thought, sitting in the Upper Cusack with a breeze blowing across me, was that this was sure better than watching through that hole in the fence we call a television in a darkened living room or smoke-filled pub. And, when you see the big picture, you know what a lousy sod the ref is with none of those annoying close-ups or action replays to suggest that he might actually be right sometimes.

Yet, as the game unfolded and my horror at Galway misses grew, my mind started to go back in time to 1964, in fact …

It was one of the most exciting days of my life. My first visit to Croke Park when my age had just reached 2 digits. I was in the company of my late father and it was the All-Ireland semi-final between Galway and Meath.

What struck me was the clarity of that resurrected memory, no doubt stimulated by what was happening before me. A beautiful day. Same colours. Galway, going forward, patiently moving the ball around, doing best when they kept it low. Their frustrating wides, but undeniable talent and dedication.

And Meath? Tough and fair. At times living on nothing. Absolute masters of the high ball and clinical (or murderous, take your pick) finishers.

Galway edged it on the day and went on for the 3 in a row. But when Meath emerged to win the title in 1967, there were few people more satisfied than many Galway supporters (and particularly my father) who simply saw a good team finally getting their reward.

But I was back in the present and gradually the ghosts of the 6Os were taking to the field again. Galway were pulling away. It wasn’t 3 in a row but 2 out of 4 years wasn’t bad!

It’s been 37 years since I first saw Galway and Meath play and, in spite of revolutionary coaching methods, competition from other codes and the stifling rat-race of the Celtic Tiger, their basic footballing styles haven’t changed. Maybe it’s history repeating itself or maybe it’s one comforting bit of constancy in a changing world.

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Written by Paul Holland

Published here 12 Jul 2023 and originally published Christmas 2001

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