Friday 20 September 2019

Wayne O'Connor: 'Destination Croker: the true spirit of an All-Ireland final journey'

Journeys of pain, passion, rivalry and excitement come to an end today for players, coaches and fans, writes Wayne O'Connor

Sport is not about victory, loss, or taking part. It is about an all-consuming nature — the way it takes over our lives and distracts
from burdens we all live with. Photo: Sportsfile
Sport is not about victory, loss, or taking part. It is about an all-consuming nature — the way it takes over our lives and distracts from burdens we all live with. Photo: Sportsfile
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Today is not about the five in a row, the drive to deprive the five, or even the occasion itself. It's not about Jim Gavin. It's not about Peter Keane and it's not even about Sam Maguire. It is about life outside of that.

Sport is not about victory, loss, or taking part. It is about an all-consuming nature - the way it takes over our lives and distracts from burdens we all live with. All Ireland final day is the antidote to Brexit, a cure for our ailments and a relief from stress and strain - partially at least, if only for 70 blissful minutes.

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At 3.30pm today referee David Gough will throw a ball between two men clad in blue and a pair of rivals draped in green and gold. With it he will stop clocks, and turn our world upside down. We will be rocked by jolts, shock, despair, and most painfully - hope.

Sport is about more than any single occasion. Sport is about where we have come from and where we are going. Sport is about an infinite amount of journeys that distract from the lives we lead.

Today's journey starts earliest in the Kingdom. The cock will crow and sun will rise as foil wraps ham or Tayto "sangwedges" before being packed away with a flask of tea or bottle of Club orange. The train will have pulled out of Tralee by ten-past-seven. Within an hour it will be filled by hordes piling on at stops in Farranfore, Killarney and Rathmore before crossing the county-bounds into Cork. Others supporters will board buses, or designate a driver for the 600km round-trip east to Croke Park. All will be filled with hope.

In Dublin, the build-up will be equally buoyant for locals. Those with tickets will head for the north inner-city lost in a soundtrack of bustle, a cacophony of 'True Blue' choruses and cries of "hats, flags and headbands".

Maps tell us those winding up the M7 from the Kingdom today have had the longest journey, but today is not really about the mileage clocked up or even about the first Sunday in September. It is about how we all got here.

As with every other season, the players and management began their journeys last winter with a gruelling training regime and determination to do better.

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However, only looking back this far ignores Dublin's achievements as the team of this decade. In reality, this voyage began with an All Ireland win in 2011. This all-conquering side, with another four uninterrupted titles since 2014 can now go where no team has gone before by securing a fifth on-the-bounce.

For the True Blue, today is about more than 2019, but a chance at history.

This logic also applies to Kerry's fans and players, young as they are. Both are determined to preserve their county's esteemed history at the top of the game. Kerry should have been the first side to do the five-in-a-row in 1982 before a stroke of Seamus Darby's left boot condemned them to just four titles in succession. There is hope that Dublin will be stopped today and that this could be the birth of a Kerry charge in to the 2020s.

Of the two divided hordes looking on, only one will go home happy, but for at least 70 minutes they'll be united by their separate dreams, caught up in faith and encapsulated by a prism of aspirations that exist separately to their real lives.

Sport "is not war, or death, or famine - it's not that at all. It's the opposite of that," broadcaster Michael Parkinson once said.

"It's to persuade us of a life outside of that … that's why sport's important."

An All Ireland final does even more than this.

Sunday Independent

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