Make sure you stand a chance on the terrace this summer with this Championship guide
You know your Championship has finally arrived when you're asked 'are you in the terrace or the stand?' by your friends, family and the local butcher.
Watching a Championship game in the terrace is an experience in itself with the amount of moaning, groaning, cheering, terrible one-liners, laugh-out-loud quips and that's just the carry-on at half-time as the school-kids play.
You would be forgiven for thinking that referees are enemy number one among fans in the terrace on any given Sunday. "Ref, go back to your holiday home in Ballybunion ya langer!" was one of the tamer lines a Cork supporter shouted during one Munster Championship game with Kerry. But there's another problem we can't seem to get to grips with on the terrace and proves we're never happy with our lot: the weather.
A few years ago, the sun decided to roast the heads off supporters in the terrace in Killarney for a Kerry v Cork game. There's no hiding from the heat in Fitzgerald Stadium. As well as the sun blaring down on you from above, the heat seems to steam up off the pitch and there's the body heat off everyone standing around you in the terrace which makes you appreciate why some fans can get extra cranky during games.
In the middle of the terrace on this particular day, two middle-aged men shared a tube of sun cream and as they rubbed it over their farmer's tans, they gave out about the unbearable heat and the sunshine supporters. One of them then turned to the other and said: "D'ya know what would be lovely now? An auld dart of hailstones."
Ah yes, the weather is just as much moaned about in the terrace as any other part of Irish life. Last summer for the Munster football final replay, we stared enviously across the pitch at the sensible, dry folk in the stand as we got soaked in the monsoon conditions in the terrace that evening. Plastic ponchos are unlikely to ever feature on 'Xposé' but the one I bought on the way into the ground that evening lessened the drowned-rat look I was sporting. A plastic poncho and sun cream are the best accoutrements you could bring to any game this summer.
There's something about standing in the terrace which misleads you into thinking that you're some sort of modern-day William Wallace. After 'Amhrán na bhFiann' is played, you watch folk in the stand settle into their seats and await the afternoon's entertainment. But there's a curious sort of freedom to standing up as you watch your county play in the Championship. It feels easier to shake off nerves when you stand. Emotions can be more unfiltered here with less nuance and restraint. You've practically got a licence to lean on people metaphorically and literally and you can easily hide when you don't want to look at what's happening on the pitch.
There's also a freedom in choosing where you want to stand in the terrace if you get there early enough, although the risk and reward is that you can't control who will end up beside you once you've found your spot. Not even Tinder comes close to the amount of sizing up you do when supporters who aren't wearing county jerseys stand beside you in the terrace as you wonder if they're from the same county as you. There's nothing like solidarity on the terrace and equally, there's nothing that drives home your gloominess more than someone beside you from the opposing county celebrating scores in a place where personal space can be non-existent.
No introductions are needed on the terrace, where you're from is the only identity folk need to know. And because not everyone has a good viewing point from the terrace it is one place where it's actually good manners to butt in on other people's conversations with any updates and opinions. When Paul Galvin knocked the notebook out of the referee's hand in Killarney in 2008, fans in the terrace could have done with a traffic controller such was the flow of information, myth and Chinese whispers being passed around between those who saw the incident, fans who didn't and those who claimed they saw it. Having knowledge and information at moments like this gives you serious status and power in the terrace, especially when there is no big screen (not that the GAA would ever show controversial incidents on the big screen as they prefer to keep paying customers in the dark in case we all lose the run of ourselves).
It's no secret that the prime piece of land on any terrace is the part right behind a barrier which allows you to lean on it with your backside sticking out and your arms stretched out in front of you until people look at you and wonder why you're taking up the space of three people. But there's no guarantee you will get a good vantage point. One of the worst was apparently in the Canal End terrace before Croke Park was redeveloped. There used to be a big step at the back of that terrace and if you came off it, it was practically impossible to get back up. This was something my grandfather discovered during the 1976 All-Ireland football final between Dublin and Kerry and he ended up spending most of the game unable to see anything and had to rely on my father to give him a running commentary.
The terrace is where the sign JOHN 3:7 used to be spotted from Croke Park to Semple Stadium. The sight of Hill 16 erupting is one of the best images in the GAA and you don't need to be a Dub to appreciate that. But the terrace also has its ugly side. How a Confederates flag gets its way into GAA grounds for some Cork matches is ridiculous. Some fans seem to forget that going to a Championship game is a public place for families and kids which should not equate to a free pass to getting away with any anti-social behaviour on the terrace. Players have admitted in the past to having verbal abuse thrown at them from the terrace. No matter where you are in a GAA ground, supporters who hear serious verbal abuse should report it to the gardaí.
During the Championship the terrace holds a unique charm for GAA supporters. Let's keep it that way.