Opinion: A great day out as win secured on hallowed turf
The worry about a big game in Croke Park is that if you don't attract a large attendance to the stadium, it’s hard to create an atmosphere. In the build-up to Sunday's Tailteann Cup, semi-final my concern was that the stadium would take away from an occasion which clearly meant so much to the Cavan players.
The weekend before, the double-header round 4 All-Ireland qualifier games involving Mayo, Kildare, Clare and Roscommon boasted an attendance of 16,485 spectators. The reports all week after centred around how the occasion lacked atmosphere and, all in all, it appeared Croke Park had a negative impact on the games themselves.
So on Saturday night I decided to put up a poll on Twitter asking were people go into Croke Park for the semi-finals, watching them on television or had they no interest at all. When the results were tallied, 5% of the replies had no interest, 43% were intending to watch it on the box while 52% were going to Croke Park to experience the match in person.
I guess I was hoping for a higher percentage going to the game given the fact that the last time Cavan senior footballers played in GAA headquarters in the white heat of summer was back in 1997 when they faced Kerry as champions of Ulster. These occasions don't come around too often for the diehard supporters of Cavan so as I woke up Sunday morning, I was a bit unsure as to what way the day would turn out.
At 10.15am, I jumped in the car outside my house ready for the commute to the big smoke. The first thing I noticed was a neighbour who had hung the Cavan flag out the window of their upstairs room.
As I came down the Barrack hill, I spotted a car driving by McGinnity's with two Cavan flags proudly blowing out the back windows adding a little bit of excitement for me for the day ahead.
Passing the Lavey Inn, I noticed they had perched about a dozen Cavan flags on top of the building for the occasion. When I got to Virginia, the traffic began to slow as I passed Ronan Carolan’s physio practice and coming up to the bus stop, I could see a gang of young Cavan supporters, proudly donning the blue jerseys, waiting for the bus to Dublin.
The traffic was clearly heavy for a Sunday morning as we passed through Maghera with both filling stations populated with Cavan supporters fueling up for the day. A quick stop in Navan to pick up my co-commentator Mickey Brennan and while re-fueling ourselves with Meath’s finest coffee, we experienced a couple of encounters with fellow Cavan supporters on their way to Croke Park.
By the time we got back on the M,3 my worries that the blue army may not showing up had disappeared as every car appeared to have people wearing the Kingspan jersey inside. So we parked the car at the back of the Davin Stand and, radio equipment in hand, headed for Jones’s Road.
Turning the corner over the canal, it was clear to see that supporters had bought into the occasion. The turnstiles were yet to open but the queues appeared to be mostly dominated by blue jerseys. Walking down the street, we met lots of Cavan supporters in jovial form ready to cheers on Mickey’s men.
As we strolled into the media entrance of Croke Park, a group of young vuvuzela-blowing Sligo supporters tried to breach the security in a light-hearted attempt to gain early access to the stadium.
After recording a little bit with them for broadcast, it was clear that the Sligo supporters were also looking forward to the big day in Croke Park and why wouldn't they as it was the first time they had played in headquarters since 2015. This fact alone is a ringing endorsement for Tailteann cup in my opinion.
As we got up to Level 7 and after a quick cup of tea, we began to set up our radio equipment at the very front of the upper tier. I looked across and saw the abandoned Cusack Stand. By looking at this you would think that there was nobody in the 82,000-capacity colosseum that is Croke Park but when Sligo entered the field it was clear that we were sitting above an excited and energised crowd.
Cavan soon followed out with the decibels rising even more and the sense of occasion was no longer a worry. I have to give credit to the GAA and Croke Park for having the foresight not just to keep the crowd in the Hogan Stand lower and premium level (which had more Cavan supporters experiencing it than any other day in the past) but they also ensured that RTE set up their cameras and commentary on the Cusack Stand side so the pictures that went out on TV had a backdrop of an almost full Hogan Stand lower.
At half-time, the stadium was pumping out great music and the teams running on to the field was enhanced by an increase in volume and a change of song which got you ready for the second-half action. With the game really entertaining and close enough that you couldn’t take your eyes off it for a second, and of course the right result in the end, it all contributed to a great day out for Cavan fans.
Speaking to several them on my short visit to premium level and on the way back to the car, everyone enjoyed the occasion. While the attendance number was just higher than the previous weekend at 16,616, it felt a lot bigger when down among the diehard supporters.
In 2020 we had lots to cheer about following Cavan but because of Covid restrictions, we couldn’t mobilise the blue army but now we have a final in Croke Park in the peak of summer to look forward too. Wouldn’t it be great to see the tribe of Cavan supporters being called the best in the country once again?