Saturday 20 January 2018

Clash of blue and white not for lily-livered

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The Dublin-Kildare clash of 1928 started it all off. The 'Leinster Leader' of the day reported: "A more disgraceful exhibition of deliberately and dangerous roughing and fouling has never been witnessed in recent years in a first-class Gaelic game, and for the sake of their own good name, the Gaels of Dublin should insist on those in authority dealing severely with the individuals responsible."

Kildare won that day and in the intervening years, the rivalry intensified. In the '70s, a Dublin player was accused of spitting at a Kildare player. But the offence was never rightly proven. The affair led to a further escalation, but Kildare were out-battled by the Dubs on a number of occasions back then.

From the '90s on, house prices were cheaper in Kildare than in Dublin and transport links improved. The result was a short migration to places like Naas and Newbridge. In recent years, the commuter belt was let out a notch or two: sylvan villages were transformed into urban hubs.

I have no research to back this up, but my guess is at least a fifth of Kildare's population were born outside the county. The new arrivals come from all over, but most work in or near Dublin.

How many of you in Kildare know the county boundaries in Greater London? To the stranger, the big towns in Kildare are just parts of Greater Dublin.

There's a sameness everywhere you go. In our rush to the investiture of King Consumer, we have forgotten the necessity of place and context. Drop Con Houlilhan's Martian into any out-of-town shopping centre and he would be hard put to figure which county he was in.

The GAA people in Kildare know where they are from and who they are, but the influx in the boom was more like an invasion.

Kildare's first family were originally Norman. The Fitzgeralds eventually became more Irish than the Irish themselves, but the assimilation took two or three generations. I am sure there are now thousands within the county who do not even know there's a game on.

But there's a fast track to integration. People only really feel part of their new home when the kids go to school. Kids are not burdened with any sense of being blow-ins and become friends almost immediately.

The mums and dads meet outside school gates and soon enough they are going out for drinks. Then the GAA activists will go round to the schools and 15 years later, sons and daughters will wear the Kildare colours on and off the field.

Leinster has been unified thanks to their rugby team's heroics, but the GAA is more intimate. It comes down to townlands, lanes and streets. Clothesline crossbars, sideline garden walls and jumpers on the ground mark out boundaries that are cast aside when the kids pull the club jersey over their heads and are naturalised. It's like killing your first lion.

The jersey catches over your head, the light shines through the fabric and for an instant your world becomes a blur washed in the colours of your new club.

Margaret Reen is a football mother. Margaret, from Rathmore in Kerry, celebrated her 100th birthday lately.

She has lived in Millstreet, Co Cork, for most of her life. Her children support Cork and she had them playing for The Street. Margaret is Kerry to the core and next week before the Munster final she will refer to her family as 'ye'. For the rest of the year that marvellous woman will turn 'ye' into 'we'.


The assimilation goes on within counties. Eamon Keane came from Knocknagoshel to Listowel over 40 years ago. He was laid to rest on Monday and our jersey was placed on his coffin. We miss him so much.

Eamon was Emmets through and true, but there was always part of him that was Knock. He grew his own spuds at the bottom of an urban garden behind the hydrangeas and brought home the first of the turf only a few days before he died.

I'm sure there will be loving parents in blue bringing kids in white to the game tomorrow, but there is no love lost between the counties and that will show through from the off.

We think Dublin will win, but this should be one of those games that will not only go down to the wire, but out of the trenches to no-man's land, and beyond to the other side's fortifications. Remember 1928.

Kildare will badly miss the injured Dermot Early Jnr. His dad, Dermot, of Roscommon fame, died a year ago this week. His life is commemorated in a poignant exhibition in the GAA museum in Croke Park.

Dermot came to Kildare as a young man and his kids played with the great Sarsfields of Newbridge. Now there's a map for all of you lonely ghosts lost in strange estates.

Irish Independent

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