A STEADY flow of people forever trickle down Shop Street in Galway town. From the inside looking out, it is perhaps one of the finest viewing points in the country for a wannabe people watcher. Most people wander in without any prior intention, walking at the most nonchalant pace, in a state of semi-focus. The overriding reasoning? Sure it’s something to be at.
Over time you develop a cultural awareness in such a touristy location. The Spanish and Italians in particular seem to be particularly mellow in middle age, from cheeky beginnings. Rarely would they enter without a beaming smile of acknowledgement. Under the mask of customer service, and the guise of common decency, you are inclined to smile back.
But somewhere, ingrained in you all the while is this deep-rooted Irishness. A little devil on begrudging shoulders, and a voice that deters you from any inkling of positivity. Every single time it pipes up: “What the f*** are they so happy for?”.
But the voice never transfers itself onto the lips. We are all too sly for that.
Mayo TikToker Garron Noone conveys it best in his guide to an Irish compliment, where a compliment is simply “a springboard to say something you don’t like about someone”.
“Let’s say someone’s looking very well, and you want to let them know, you might be inclined to say: ‘You look great’, but how would an Irish person translate this?
Easy peasy: ‘You look great, I didn’t recognise you’. This lets the person know that while they might look well today, generally, they’re an absolute disgrace”.
The moral of the story is that nothing is ever good enough, even when it is. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that a cold, wet February night, on a pitch that could inhabit some rare form of marshland wildlife, is going to produce a lower quality match than Croke Park in mid-June.
Yet that has been the narrative around the Allianz Football Leagues of 2023. Games are too defensive, players aren’t ambitious enough, etc. The same names and faces are the ones to criticise when the simple option isn’t taken.
One day you’re parking the bus, the next you’re tactically naive. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Maybe we just have to come to terms with the fact that we, as a people, love to complain.
Or maybe we should accept that life is more layered than that.
Walking down Dr Mannix Road early on Sunday morning, there was that same steady flow as Shop Street. Supporters in white and blue, and maroon and white, all eager in anticipation, as the notorious Salthill rain held off.
Even in the Wild West under the darkest of skies, every cloud has a silver lining.
You soon realise these connotations of boring football, and a lack of appetite from supporters, don’t exist in real life at all. You soon realise that there is arguably nothing in this country that binds people together the way the GAA does. A quick scan around the ground with 40 minutes until throw in and the demographic is so incomparable to any other aspect of Irish life.
On the pitch, a young fella in a Castleblayney hat, no more than eight years of age, strokes a size four with the confidence of prime Conor McManus.
No more than 20 metres away, tight to the Pearse Stadium fence, stands a couple of around 70. They watch Galway warm up, before she asks him for the programme and whips out her glasses in a fashion that suggests she is primed to critique. It appears as though her husband agrees. You get the impression he probably always does, and you probably wouldn’t blame him either.
On the stand side, there are bands of middle aged men and gangs of teenage girls. There are veterans who are reeling off the clashes from days gone by, and there are babies who likely wonder what all the fuss is about. But their day too will come. Some day, they too will understand.
It’s early March, it’s only the league, but it’s incredibly heartening to see over 5,000 people make it their business to witness it. The returning Shane Walsh raised the roof, and seeing him in the flesh you get a comprehensive report on why he is the real deal.
There is always going to be a sprinkling of negativity and frustration when emotions run so high. There was never any sense amongst the crowd on Sunday that this game was anything other than crucial. And one would assume that that was the case in the 15 other grounds around the country across the weekend.
We might judge the demeanour of tourists, but most of us will still smile back. We might throw in passing remarks, but we still dish out compliments. We might live in an era where the style of Gaelic football is as far from its origins as it’s ever been, but by God we will still travel to matches, we will still back our tribes, and we will still support with every cell inside our bodies, through thick and thin.
Because this is part of who we are. There are no choices here. From the day we are born until the day that we die, our team is our team. This is a land where efficiency rarely seems to be the first priority, and there are various aspects of the GAA where that sentiment could be applied.
A quite perfect imperfection, where there’ll always be something to feed the old Irish begrudgery. But there will always be far, far more to feed our ravenous appetite for bragging rights, and ultimately for glory. Long may it continue.