21 September 2008

Tyrone are the new Gaelic Football Champions

Two weeks ago I wrote about the final of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship, which was won in spectacular fashion by Co. Kilkenny, beating Co. Waterford decisively. (see my entry from September 7th)
Today we saw the second of the annual GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) events that make the hearts of many Irish people beat faster: the final of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.

For people outside of Ireland one has to explain that this is Gaelic Football, which has little in common with the sport that is world-wide known as Football. That one is played in Ireland as well, but here we call it Soccer, to avoid confusions.
Gaelic Football is quite different, as it allows the use of hands as well as feet. It is played by two teams of 15 players each, and like in Hurling there are two ways of scoring: Goals (when the ball goes into the box of the goal) and Points, which are scored by putting the ball over the goal box of the opposing team. But they only count if the ball passes between two poles that mark the corners of the goal box.

Confused? Well, many outsiders are when it comes to the uniquely Irish sports, organised by the GAA. But for most Irish people they are all they live for, their joy, excitement and secular religion. It is therefore no surprise that Croke Park in Dublin, the HQ of the GAA, was packed to the last seat again today, as it was two weeks ago for the Hurling final.
As usual President Mary McAleese attended the match, and so did many other dignitaries from politics, sports and all walks of life.

After the obligatory ceremonies and the playing of our national anthem the match got underway, and it was quite a difference to the Hurling final two weeks ago.
Both teams - Co. Kerry in the west of Ireland and Co. Tyrone, which is one of the six counties in the still British-controlled North - are renowned for their skills in playing Gaelic Football.

Kerry, who won the All-Ireland title 35 times since their first success in 1903, were the favourites for many pundits. But others saw Tyrone as the stronger team. Their success in this sport is rather more recent than that of Kerry, but they won the All-Ireland final in 2003 (beating fellow Ulster team Armagh) and in 2005 (beating Kerry). In fact, for the last six years the final was won either by Tyrone or Kerry. The latter were the defending champions and on a possible hat-trick (like Kilkenny two weeks ago in Hurling), having won the title in 2006 (beating Mayo) and 2007 (beating Cork).

But today the luck was with Ulster, and Tyrone are the new All-Ireland champions and this year's holders of the coveted Sam Maguire Cup that comes with the title.

After a fairly balanced first half, which ended with Kerry 0-8 points and Tyrone 0-7 points, Tommy McGuigan (lucky No. 13) scored the first and only goal of the match for Tyrone (photo left), only 22 seconds into the second half.

Kerry managed to catch up, and a few minutes before the final whistle both teams stood on 13 points. But a massive final effort from Tyrone, which seemed to have surprised some of the Kerry players, created the final result of Tyrone 1-15 (= 18 points) and Kerry 0-14 (= 14 points).

So today, as the Sam Maguire Cup is again adorned with ribbons in white and red, my congratulations go up North, to Co. Tyrone, for a well-deserved win of the All-Ireland Senior Football final. There will be celebrations all night, and into tomorrow, when the victorious team will return to their home county.

And a special thought and smile goes to a dear friend of mine, Lady O'Neill de Tyrone, who is also full of joy tonight, even though she is not a very enthusiastic follower of sports. But that does not matter. On days like this the old clan and county loyalties, which have been key elements of the Celtic life on the Emerald Isle for more than 2000 years, are in the hearts and minds of everyone. This is something quite unique to Ireland, and even 750 years of foreign occupation and oppression could not change these strong and vibrant feelings. Every year they are still fresh and present, when the eyes of the nation are on Croke Park and the All-Ireland finals.

The Emerald Islander

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