Wet, Wet, Wet. That’s how the Irish pre-season tour ended for Pete Sixsmith and assorted SAFC 24 Hour People. The black stuff appears to have offered some consolation…
We suspected something was wrong when we spied a pair of cats walking hand in hand down the street, asking all and sundry if they knew where the man who was building the big wooden boat lived.
It was a downpour of biblical proportions, entirely appropriate in a land where nuns are still widely seen and RTE broadcast the Angelus, the sound of a bell ringing, at six o’clock every night.
It had been an easy trip from Athlone thanks to Irish Railways. Cheap as well; a single ticket was 24 euros,a return 10. National Express take note! Jurys at Croke Park was excellent, although they appeared to have no trace of our bookings but the receptionist (from Poland) sorted it out with help from her colleague (from Spain).
Then, on to Bray courtesey of the DART fast train, which took the same amount of time as the slow train, because it was two minutes behind it and there were no passing places on the line. Bray is a pleasant little resort with a football team who punch above their weight. Unfortunately, neither they nor Sligo Rovers (who featured former SAFC protege Ritchie Ryan) had any concept of the word punch and we had to endure a tedious 0-0 draw.
Saturday’s forecast was dismal and at 7am the rain was lashing down. However , it had cleared by 10am and it was a warm, muggy summers day as The Famous Five (Horan, Sixsmith, Wood Major, Dobson and Wood Minor) met up in the hotel for four hours of GAA football before the clash with the Hoops.
Pete Horan and myself fell in love with the GAA last year when we attended the hurling. The football is just as good and it has the added advantage of having a ball big enough to see. We had seats close to the touchline, close enough to see the illicit punches thrown on the referee’s blindside and sat with supporters of Wexford, Armagh, Kerry and Galway all intermingling and shouting provocative slogans like “Come on now lads” and “Fair play to you, Padraig” and “Jeezuz referee, yer a fecking gobshite”. Pure Father Ted!
Alas, they were also close enough to give us a drenching when, midway through a very tight and competitive game between Kerry and Galway, the heavens opened. If the Good Lord was crying, he must have witnessed something truly awful and the Croke Park crowd looked for shelter. GAA officials decided to help the patrons by opening the Upper Tier (unlike the SoL stewards who refused to allow the Ajax fans to move back last week – miserable jobsworths) so we climbed umpteen flights of stairs and were able to watch an engrossing game and also see the nearby Tolka Park floodlights fade out of sight behind a sheet of vertical water.
We waited in Jurys until the storm abated and at 6.45 set off to walk the fifteen minutes along Drumcondra Road to the game, despite warnings that “the only field in Ireland that could take this is the one you’ve been watching the football on”.
And those warnings were right as we discovered by text message from Dunston that it was off. The river alongside the ground resembled an Alpine torrent and the flooding on the roads was so great that public transport heading to the airport was just giving up and depositing its passengers in one of the many welcoming pubs along the Drumcondra Road.
Fagans, Kennedy’s, Quinn’s, McManners and the Red Parrot all benefited from us having no game to watch.
The pints rolled in, the money wad went down and the number of people who asked “How do you think Sun-der-laaand will do” reached into the hundreds.
The enquirers knew their stuff, and like the Irish the world over, were not frightened to voice their opinions.
Generally speaking they thought that Keane had done a good job, but he could not afford to flirt with relegation again this year. Malbranque and Tainio were seen as good signings, Diouf was a gamble and “maybe we should stop signing so many Irish players because we never win a fecking thing”.
A hugely enjoyable night and infinitely better than the overcrowded, overcharging bars in central Dublin – except for those owned by any members of the Drumaville Consortium which are fine places where a fair price is charged and the atmosphere is always wonderful.
The consensus from the five of us (and the 30,000 Irish men and women who bombarded us with their opinions) was we need a centre forward and another defender. Might they be in place for Saturday? We can but hope.