Monday 20 November 2017

Off the Ball: Ban on pitch invasions gives teams and fans their victory lap back

Stephen Cluxton lifts the Sam Maguire
Stephen Cluxton lifts the Sam Maguire

Michael McCarthy

When the final whistle went at Croker on Sunday, we saw sport at its most emotive. The dejection of the beaten team, the almost out-of-body elation of the winners. Until three years ago, this lasted all of a couple of seconds, because the invasion was under way.

It was fascinating to watch the joy and grief play out fully on Sunday as Dublin toured their regained trophy around a still-packed Croke Park 30 minutes after the game ended.

When Limerick won Munster back in July, there was the kind of pitch invasion we hadn't seen in years. It looked fantastic on TV, but how long did the Limerick players stay out there after? This was a celebration that ended with Donal O'Grady's speech.

On live TV, we were told this is what the GAA is all about, that basically the Croke Park health and safety brigade were robbing the organisation of its soul.

When Cluxton's speech was done and Sam was lifted, the Dublin panel ran straight for Hill 16, which erupted. It was a wonderful scene, and made the Dublin supporters a character in the celebration. Eoghan O'Gara, having played through injury, even got a piggy back down to be part of it.

As the Dublin lap of honour reached the Hogan Stand, there was still a magnificent atmosphere in the stadium. Brothers, girlfriends and mates called players over from the stand. Bernard Brogan lifted Sam into the crowd for kids to touch.

It was 2010 when the GAA first managed to survive without resorting to 'Plan B'.

That year, Cork were met on their lap of honour by the beaten Down team at the Canal end. The two teams embraced in an amazing sporting moment never seen before in the GAA.

What have we lost by abandoning invasions? My last invasion was after the 2009 U-21 hurling final. I lost the crowd I was with, and said "well done" to three players who were just looking for the guys they'd soldiered with. Not exactly the moments we grow up dreaming of.

If Clare win this Saturday, my hope is we're sitting in the stands crying and clapping, watching the players with Liam on a deserved victory lap. We shall see.


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