Devotion and lunacy in Dub's purgatory
Blue brigade will still go bananas even if Summer of Sam ends in August
To follow the Dubs is to submit to a form of psychoanalytical treatment. No wonder so many of us need a drink. There are days and weeks of intensely gripping anticipation, a couple of hours of primal screaming followed by a thumping headache.
Your correspondent would not testify to being an intimate one of their number, yet it has been a yearly highlight to wallow among the throng and, in another code, I can bear special witness to the foibles of the species.
For the Dubs supporter is not necessarily a unique being: as a Dub fan opined once, a la The Bard, "Prick me and I bleed all over my red bleedin' hand, but those Red Hand fellas are only pricks!" Or something to that effect. Forgive us, it was late and we were drunk.
Dubs fans are essentially sports nuts. It takes one to know one. A devotion to St Patrick's Athletic, whose 49-year-plus pursuit of the FAI Cup sometimes makes one curse the day your father and mother met and placed you within a 10-mile radius of Richmond Park, offers a beginners' course in the art of having intemperate impatience with sporting heroes.
All other sporting devotions, whether to Terenure College FC, the Boston Red Sox, Ken Doherty, Middlesex CCC or Spurs, to name but a few of a thousand, feed into each other in varying degrees.
Being christened a Dub has hardly equated to an offering of commensurate recompense. And yet therein lies the potential to see one's life utterly smothered by the magnificent triviality that is sport.
Because being as quintessentially Dublin as the Boomtown Rats, the 46a or Ronnie Drew is what makes being a Dublin GAA supporter so special -- it is what we are.
And, even though the domestic soccer and championship seasons may now overlap, it is difficult to conceive of an Irish summer's sport not revolving around a series of Sundays in Croke Park, with the whole brief, sordid, messy, saga usually terminating some time in August.
During this tumult, the Dub must undergo an inordinate and disproportionate amount of at times well-meaning and, at other times, malignant abuse from all four corners of the country, either directed sneeringly at our inaccurate time-keeping or our consumption of alcohol.
It has become a faintly risible annual affair, albeit not entirely leavened by the self-same Dubs engaging in their annually hearty japes upon the sacred Hill 16 -- take your pick from offensive chanting, illegal drug-taking and missile-throwing.
This gay jaunt betwixt Dubbalin Man and the rest of the country has bestowed an air of tribalism where, given the existence of the Meath-Dublin rivalry, it was arguably not needed.
I mean, do Dublin football fans really need to be patronised for their non-attendance at hurling games by, say, the thousands of Galway folk -- or indeed all the other "genuine hurling people" with nothing better to do but clamber upon Ivory Towers -- who couldn't bother their arse going to Salthill on a beautiful spring day last month to watch Cork take on Galway?
Do we need to be demeaned for not turning up on time by supporters who wouldn't cross the road to watch their teams in action? Thought not.
It's all a bit tiring really and yet, with the unlikely alliance of Keith Barr and Colm O'Rourke -- the same O'Rourke so many of us gleefully spewed abuse at when clattered by Paddy Moran in the unforgettable dying moments of the 1995 Leinster final -- standing up for 'poor' Sean Quinn, those of us of a certain generation are beginning to wonder are there any certainties left at all, at all.
What is almost certain is that Dublin will not win the All-Ireland this year -- the brains trust currently in situ has decreed that their game plan doesn't involve the annexing of the Sam Maguire, an interesting diversion which could be, improbably but conceivably, the greatest bluff since Joe Brolly decided that his opinion was worth more than Pat Spillane's.
But no, this summer is likely to be spent in an almost surreal purgatory; so integral to the honeyed plot of the summer and the moneyed pot of the GAA coffers, yet somehow detached from the real battle for honours once August segues into September.
And, as per usual, Dubs will continue to normalise a crazed existence where devotion and fidelity merge with fanaticism and lunacy. Happy are those who relegate their dull, pale everyday existence by pulling on transformative blue uniforms.
The many paths to the Croke Park cathedral are widely divergent -- mutually exclusive southside and northside types mingle freely in pubs or on the Hill or upon the expensive seats.
Whether o'er Luke Kelly's or O'Connell's bridges, the blue throng converge as one and there is nothing like a summer's day when the Dubs win to make one feel as if the sun is revolving around you and your kin alone.
I know one man who must cut his grass every morning before a Dubs game. One who sends a text of unintelligible, rambling nonsense before and after every game.
The ritualistic requirements of the Dubs fan are almost Buck Mulligan-esque in their intensity; and still none of them affect the result. Indeed, such a stubborn adhesion to good-luck charms has prolonged the suffering for so long, perhaps a change of ritual is called for by the devotees.
And perhaps a change of scenery as well. After all, the GAA cognoscenti now publicly wonder whether it might be more suitable for the Dubs to flee their Jones's Road love nest and improve their All-Ireland hopes with a bit of summer sightseeing via the play-offs. The 'real' Dublin fans may agree, especially those who winter at varying league venues around the country, their 'D-reg' cars spoiling grass verges from Castlebar to Crossmaglen and Tralee to Tullamore. They boast extraordinary tales of epic journeys during the league, heart-crossed encounters in dodgy nightclubs and surreal stopovers in B & Bs.
One of this writer's better summer days last year was a sneaky trip to Longford on a wickedly wet day to see Kerry squeeze past the home side, but not before a diversion into Casey's shop-cum-bar in nearby Newtownforbes, where talk of locally flagging GAA and Guinness fortunes passed the time as the early Saturday TV game passed on unacknowledged in the parlour.
On another day in another year, myself and my occasional sporting partner -- our respective wives are on the verge of filing divorce proceedings -- spent a few hours mimicking 'real hurling people,' by deciding to skip the Cork footballers and linger in Sean O'Casey's near the Abbey until it was time to watch the Cork hurlers lock horns with Kilkenny.
Strangely, much of the Cork faithful did the same, of which there was little trumpeting in the daily letters pages, and their camaraderie and lack of pretension was thoroughly engaging.
So, it was with little surprise that one of their number produced a couple of cooked chickens upon which to gorge; the Dubs enjoyed a breast or two as we awaited a raucous occasion where King Henry ruled supreme.
Dublin fans can even have enjoyable days up north; witnesses to the joyous sun-kissed occasion in Omagh a few weeks ago hint at, dare it be said, a warmer atmosphere between the sets of supporters, not all to do with the £1.70 pints of Bass.
Of course, drink is the great leveller -- sometimes literally. The 'pre-match pints' are always followed by the 'couple' after the 'pre-match pints'; similarly, the 'post-match post-mortem pints' are predominantly followed by a swift 'couple' to catch up on other sporting events of the day.
After doing all that, it's little wonder a fella might get thirsty.
Politically correct society frowns upon these alcoholic endeavours, but I, for one, challenge them to clamber upon their soap box and denounce it on any given championship Sunday, perhaps on Dublin's boardwalk where drug pushers ply their wares unmolested by the PC brigade and their uniformed protectors.
Inflict your self-righteous tubthumping upon shops and off-licences that sell under-priced beer to under-age kids and be gone!
And will the Dubs have anything to drink about this summer? Can we possibly have anything to replicate '83 -- the embers of Heffo's Army enthusiastically accepting Cork's invitation to a Lark by the Lee before unveiling the miracle of the Apostles?
Or what about '95, the summer of Boom Boom when all the heartache of '91 and chilly northern exposure and an era mocked by penalty misses from Keith and Charlie were exorcised on an unforgettable September afternoon?
Since then, much swagger but little substance. Hence the new brains trust reliance on perspiration rather than inspiration, and attendant worrying hints about the subjugation of personality.
Dublin football is all personality, though, and in the forthcoming months, the Brogan brothers and more will seek to impose that personality on the green swards of Dublin 3 and, if necessary, nationwide. Dublin have spent too long worrying about how to beat teams by trying to beat them up; Kerry, too, worried long hard about how to beat such teams. Their answer? They just played football.
Hopefully, Dublin's reliance on defensive football won't suppress their creativity. A genius such as Bernard Brogan requires liberation, not subjugation. The success of the new tactics will be measured against his continuing effectiveness.
Gilroy and his ageless lieutenant Mickey Whelan are intelligent folk and, unlike the occasionally suffocating regime that existed before them, they must deign to allow their players submit to their own intelligent creativity.
We wait with bated breath to discover can Philly McMahon handle the heat of the summer and the breath of the game's marquee men on his shoulder. Can Eamon Fennell last the pace of a 70 minutes with more comfort than the souped-up 'Jacks' dying for the jacks?
Will Dublin's increased devotion to accurate foot-passing continue to decorate the game that was called, when we last checked, football? Will 2010 be to Kevin McManamon what '95 was to Sherlock and '02 to Cozzie? Why isn't Paul Flynn advertising energy drinks? Is Mickey Harte really scared of the Dubs? Is anyone still scared of Tyrone?
Perhaps the most realistic assessment of where Dublin stand is that there are no unrealistic expectations.
Gilroy and co will have plan. And the 15 boys will implement the plan. And the rest of us?
The rest of us, a sprawling, shrieking, sweating mass of unrepentant prejudice dressed in blue, will still go bananas.