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Dublin plays at Croke Park

Excited Fans

GAA / A symbol of strength of a nation

Hurling action / Croke Park

Croke Park from the ground up

Park from Above

Croke Park from Above

Croke Park Etihad Skywalk

Entrance to museum and Skywalk tour

Croke Park Entrance to museum and Skywalk tour

This is not only good Craic… but it’s serious business, and these are serious games. GAA founded in 1884 is comprised of two sports ; Football and Hurling. (The Female version of Hurling is Camogi) Hurling is one of the fastest games in the world, played with a “baseball-like” leather ball and a stick called a hurley. At least with this game you can wear a helmet. Must be the luck of the Irish that gave them that gift.  With Gaelic Football anything goes; no protective gear whatsoever. It dwarfs any other game in the world we attempt to call “football”,  be it premiership soccer or American Football (where we look like robots all geared up for outer space, sometimes even requiring oxygen on our own planet). Unlike Rugby, Irish Football is played with a round ball, and although confused by some with the game of Rugby they are completely different. The home of the GAA games isGills Pub Croke Park Stadium, which holds 82,300 people and is Europes fourth largest stadium. Comparatively speaking, in the US for example, my favorite American Football team is the San Diego Chargers which seats 70,561. I’m sure glad they placed that extra chair there just for me. Back to the rules: The object for both GAA games is similar. Each has a net which yields 3 points for a goal, minded by a goalkeeper, and upright posts with a cross bar above the net which yields one point. Either team can score at any time the ball is in their possession. There are 15 players allotted per team. You cannot carry the ball for more than 4 steps in either sport without an advancement of some kind. To advance the ball in Football it is carried, then either hand-passed, bounced, or kicked toe to hand to keep it in play. In the game of Hurling while running with the ball it must be balanced on the Hurley. However, the ball can be thrown, caught, scooped up or hit with the Hurley to advance the ball. The game is 70 minutes of pure adrenaline with no “commercial” breaks and only 1-10 minute intermission. Even if one of these boys gets hurt, the game goes on in hopes he doesn’t get trampled and hurt a second time. These boys are fit; unbelievably fit. Here’s the kicker for ya…(no pun intended), this is the world’s largest AMATEUR sport. You heard me. Not ONE player gets paid. Every man playing does so for the pure love of the sport and representation of his county. Yet they fill one of Europe’s largest stadiums with their fans, nearly to capacity every time. When its GAA season for the quarter, semi-finals and  finals, Croke Park in Dublin is buzzing, or rather, roaring with crowds sporting their colors in all forms of fashion: from flags to hats, Small to large braided yarn wear, jerseys, horns to blow; you name it. The fans are just as proud as the players and come from all over the country (and the world) to see their team. But win or lose, the fans are cordial, friendly and respectful of each other. This is evident when you hit Gills Pub. This is a must-go-to stop, on the way in or out of the stadium. It’s an icon, and only open on game days, teaming with high-spirited fans wearing their county jerseys. I was lucky enough to be given a HUGE County Cork flag (and a lovely kiss on the cheek) by a passer-by when their team won. Although it was more like a 4 person train of “runner by’s as they were bursting with excitement! Lucky was I, and proud to be allowed part of another piece of history in the making. The photographs will speak for themselves for the one football match and two hurling matches I was lucky enough to attend. For seating,  I would highly recommend the lower Hogan stand. Bring a rain jacket if you’re in the first 5 or so front row’s. (Not an umbrella like this stupid American​ did, and then realize you’re a moron when you can’t put it up.) Here’s another bit you may not know. You can enjoy Croke Park to its fullest even when there is not a game to be played. There is a Skywalk tour that EVERYONE must go on. Its spectacular in many ways. Not only for the views, but for the history. Remarkably, the vibrance and energy of a full stadium can be felt without a soul in the stands. I didn’t understand it, but the exhilaration​ and vibe was intense. Walking the top edge 17 stories above the park right down to the bottom edge of the pitch while going into secret corridors gives you a strong sense for how majestic  this stadium really is and how powerful its history, including an infamous bombing attack in 1920 during a capacity game which will be in my next post.  Croke Park also has a museum that is overflowing with history and open, as well, on non-game days. After all that excitement you can imagine my disappointment not being in Ireland for the all Ireland Football final after watching Dublin win the semi-finals. However,  I was lucky enough after returning to the States to find an Irish pub in Temecula, California grown by some Dubliners, who opened their doors at 7AM (8 hours difference) to watch the 3PM football final. They were die-hard fans and a thrill to be around. Fair-play to them, opening so early for a small crowd of about 15.  I was able to wave my Dublin flag in the Dublin V. Mayo football final. Although not many at that pub, (and I, almost the only American), I was proud to wave my flag. (Too bad the bartender couldn’t make a hot whiskey. If you read my other post “experiencing Ireland in the Sates, you can experience the Irish way to have Whiskey) Well, You can’t win ’em all with the drinks, but I was happy to help open the festivities by putting all the chairs down for patrons to sit as the owners were still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. And SO…we DID win ’em all in the end, as Dublin came through as the heroes for the year, which was all that mattered to most of us. ( It must have been my lucky Dublin flag from Croke Park). Camaraderie unlike any other sporting event in the world. It was as close as I could get to being there. Nothing rings more true than the GAA slogan: “NOTHING BEATS  BEING THERE.”