I woke up on Thursday giddy with anticipation. Thursday was the day I was going to Croke Park. I hadn't been to Croker since 1996 when I last attended a hurling match. Since then, Croke Park had undergone a major renovation to become the third largest sporting pitch in Europe. No small feat when you consider that only amateur sports are played at Croker.*
But first, I took a trip to the Garden of Remembrance. The Garden was opened in 1966 to the memory of those who gave their lives for Irish freedom. A sunken garden in the middle contains a water feature in the shape of a cross while at the far end, a statue depicts the fallen turning into swans (a reference to the Irish folklore Children of Lir).
Once you walk down the steps, the sounds around you disappear and it becomes very quiet. I walked along the water feature staring at the mosaic work within the feature. Thanks to google, I now know that the mosaic shows the Celtic tradition of breaking and throwing your weapons into a river at the end of a battle. (How did we ever learn things before the internet? Oh, right. Encyclopedias!)
Overall the Garden was lovely and I was happy that I made an effort to check it out. It's only a block beyond Upper O'Connell St and with four rows of benches at one end as well as along the water feature, it would make a wonderful place to stop for lunch away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
After a serious morning, I got giddy as I headed off to Croke Park. CROKER! CROKER! CROKER! I got so giddy, in fact, that I missed a street sign and ended up walking an extra 15 minutes to the park. I didn't care. CROKER! CROKER! CROKER!
What I failed to capture on camera was that after this picture, I fell
I've linked to this video before, but I think now is a good time to post it again because HURLING! CROKER! HURLING! CROKER! HURLING! CROKER!
I started with a trip through the GAA museum. The lower floor deals with how hurling and Gaelic football play into both the Irish identity and to the struggle for independence. For the Canadians reading this, the Irish view the games as an extension of their culture much the same way we view hockey. The second floor deals with players and members of note in the hurling/Gaelic football/GAA organisation as well as an area where you get to test your hurling and football skills. Sadly, as much as I wanted to try out out hard I could hit a sliotar, I had a guided tour of the stadium I had to attend.
Sigh, just another reason to go back ;)
We began our tour with a short video about the All-Ireland Finals in September. It may have caused me a few tears of pride... and a slight regret that I voluntarily chose to come to Ireland after the season was over. C'est la vie! Next time ;)
Our guide--a kind, knowledgeable lady from Kildare--started by taking us into the players lounge. Below is the main chandelier. Made from Waterford Crystal and containing 32 footballs and over a hundred sliotars ("because it just looked a little too bare with only 32 sliotars"), the colour of the lights can be changed to a combination of the colours of any of the 32 counties. After a game the colours are always the colours of the winning team.
From the players lounge, we moved to the locker rooms. As the All-Irelands are over, the four winning teams--hurling, camogie (women's hurling), men's football, and women's football--were hung on the wall while the remaining 28 counties were hung around the room roughly grouped together by their province.
For those who care, the four jerseys are (l-r):
Cork (Women's Football) (BOO! They beat Monaghan)
Dublin (Men's Football)
But there was only one jersey I cared about seeing:
I don't care if Monaghan is crap, they'll always be my first county.
No seriously, the men have never made the finals for hurling or football as far as I know.
We're crap... but I love them.
We moved onto the warm up area. At this point, the sound system was put on to sound like a cheering crowd. The chanting, the drumming, the clapping: it was an actual recording of the crowd at a previous game and you could tell. To the sound of the crowds delight, we moved from the warm up area, down the hallway and walked out onto the grounds of Croker.
I would like to say that I totally played this cool, but I was so giddy I skipped a couple of times.
I'M WALKING OUT ONTO THE FIELD AT CROKE PARK!!
Join me in my chant: CROKER! CROKER! CROKER!
In Gaelic sports, you get 1 point for going above the crossbar and 3 for going under.
That's why you see scores such as 2-7 to 1-11. The '2' means 2 goals (same as the 1) and the
'7' is 7 points above the bar (same as the 11). The totals of these two fake teams would be 13 to 14.
From the field we headed up into the stands where people of note get to sit, checked out a company box, and took in the vertigo inducing view from the press boxes, all while hearing about the history of the GAA, Croke Park, the games themselves and the new stands.
When the tour was done, I really wanted to go again. There was just so much to see and so many stories to hear, I could have done it twice more: once just to take notes and once just to take pictures... although, I would have liked that last tour to have been just me and the guide ;-)
Outside the entrance to the museum is a wall showing all the GAA approved teams in Ireland and beyond. Pretty much anywhere you find Irish immigrants, you'll find a GAA satellite organisation. As you can see from this picture, we even have a few in Canada. The season runs from June-ish to August so if you're in an area that has these sports, I suggest you check out a game next summer.
*While the Lansdowne Stadium (now Aviva Stadium) was under reconstruction, the GAA voted to allow rugby and soccer matches to be held at Croke Park. It was the first time in 120 years that non-amateur sports were played there.
Question: Do you have a sports-mecca that you have visited or someday hope to visit? (Please assure me I'm not alone in my love of a sports facility!)