Monday 20 November 2017

Rainbow flags and the Stars and Stripes

Croker welcomes the gridiron game as Limerick hosts the gays and the GAA

Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

American football, it is said, is a great way of getting rid of your aggressions without going to jail for it.

And all the razzmatazz that makes the gridiron game great - big fast men trying their best to give each other concussion following a deafening fly past by F16 jet fighters - was on display in Dublin yesterday.

Mayo and Kerry fans were crying blue murder about having to make the modest trek to Limerick for yesterday's All Ireland semi-final replay because of the US college game.

But in fairness more than 20,000 American football supporters had made the 3,000 mile journey across the Atlantic to see Penn State and the University of Central Florida open their college football campaigns. Penn won in a tight game - 26-24 - but it was some spectacle.

Fernando Brito, Lucas Lopes, Marianne Madoxx and Claudio Eduardo Novaes all from Dublin city centre.
Fernando Brito, Lucas Lopes, Marianne Madoxx and Claudio Eduardo Novaes all from Dublin city centre.

It would have been churlish to make them change venue especially as the American college fixture is a €30m boost to the economy.

Fans gathered in Temple Bar before the game for a tailgate party - a match day tradition that usually takes place in stadium car parks replete with barbecues and water coolers full of beers.

By 10am yesterday, thousands lined Dublin's streets and the party was in full swing, although gardai were quick to ensure that the water coolers would not be integral to the occasion, moving on a small number of unwitting traditionalists.

Some fans ducked into coffee shops for an Americano and doughnut breakfast, while others got into the spirit of the occasion with an Irish coffee or a pint of the black stuff.

UCF fan Sheila Pyle said that she and her husband Ken have travelled to every one of their side's football games since 1975 "with only a few exceptions" - and added that they were delighted that they made the long trip to Dublin.

"Ireland has been on our bucket list for a number of years so it was great to be able to combine the game with being able to see this beautiful country. We've been here for three days - but we'll stay for another 16 after the game, pick up a rental car and travel clockwise around the island," said Sheila. However, Sheila and her fellow UCF fans were vastly outnumbered by an army of opposing Penn State supporters.

University of Central Florida cheerleader Sarah Gralton
University of Central Florida cheerleader Sarah Gralton

Before kick off, former Penn State student Kaila Grupp explained that she came to the game because it was a perfect opportunity to visit her Irish friends.

"It is my home university so there is no way that I would miss this game. It is great that we have a strong turn out. I was in Cork a few days ago and I could see guys walking around in Penn State shirts. It is a big deal," she added.

There was pride of many different kinds in Limerick as football fans and members of the gay and lesbian community mingled in the city centre.

O'Connell Street was brought to a standstill from lunchtime as an estimated 500 people took part in the annual Limerick Pride parade, while hundreds of Kerry and Mayo fans who beat the traffic chaos by arriving early for the All-Ireland semi-final enjoyed the sights and sounds.

The annual parade - the centrepiece of Limerick's Pride Festival - was led off by openly gay senator Katherine Zappone, and her partner Anne-Marie, as well as Mr and Mrs Gay Limerick Shane Guerin and Stacey Collins, who sat atop an open topped car.

In a bid to make the parade more 'family friendly' this year, a special children's area was set up behind the Hunt Museum, near where the march kicked off from.

Speaking outside the area, Kerry fan Michael O Coileain, who travelled from Dingle with his children Doireann (13), Caoimhe (16), and Iarla (9), and brother Aodh, for the match said: "It adds a bit of colour to the city. I hope some of the people taking part are wearing Kerry colours! But I guess the rainbow flag covers everything!"

Sunday Independent

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