Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Joe Kernan: GAA is shining bright at packed Croker

The feelgood factor. It’s not quite so pronounced in society right now, is it? Quite the opposite, in fact. We appear to be engulfed in gloom and doom, fear and apprehension stalking virtually every step we take.

But for a few hours over the course of last weekend the vibrancy that marked the launch of the GAA’s 125th anniversary celebrations, the stunning performances of some teams and individuals in the opening round of the National League and Rory McIlroy’s spectacular success in the Dubai Classic temporarily lifted the clouds of depression.

When it was initially mooted that €500,000 would be required to meet the cost of the anniversary extravaganza at Croke Park in conjunction with the Dublin v Tyrone game, grave doubts were expressed in many quarters within the GAA – indeed, letters opposing the move appeared in the press and the airwaves were alive with the sound of protest.

But there were certainly no complaints at a packed Croke Park on Saturday in what was undoubtedly one of the greatest occasions in the history of the GAA.

We all may harbour our reservations about aspects of the Association such as players’ reimbursement, the experimental playing rules, refereeing standards and fixtures congestion but the manner and style in which Saturday’s programme was presented showed the GAA in a hugely impressive light.

We may be in the throes of a recession but just under 80,000 people paid good money to be part of a historic event – and left feeling proud that well into the future they will be able to make that most beloved of all sporting statements: “I was there!”

It has since been confirmed that Saturday night’s attendance was one of the biggest at any sporting event in the world since the dawn of 2009.

To put it into perspective, there were 74,000 fans at the Super Bowl final between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburg Steelers while Manchester United played in front of 75,000 fans earlier in the day.

No other sport, I feel, could have sold its image so well on a bitterly cold January night.

And that’s why the feelgood factor made a welcome on the lives of those privileged to have been at Headquarters.

If the fireworks, music and razzmatazz were key elements on the agenda, then the style, flair and indeed ration of pure genius that was on offer during the Dublin v Tyrone clash almost defied belief.

Seldom has a more enjoyable game been served up, Tyrone’s cavalier start suggesting that they were about to engage cruise control before Dublin’s resurgent comeback took them within a whisker of what would have been the most dramatic of victories.

Had it not been for the sublime finishing of Stephen O’Neill and the killer-punch provided by Sean Cavanagh, Tyrone could have found themselves overhauled going down the home straight.

As it was, the Red Hands landed a two-point win (1-18 to 1-16) and in the process fired out a warning that they are preparing a slot in their trophy cabinet for the National League silverware.

If Stephen O’Neill stole the Croke Park show, then Ryan Henderson was the pick of the crop for the orchard county on Sunday, his four-goal rampage destroying Wexford.

It was particularly pleasing to see a Lurgan player scale the heights in such fashion — he has thrown down the gauntlet to other north Armagh players eyeing the county jersey.

And I was delighted, too, to note that in a crowd of in the region of 5,000, almost half of them were from Armagh. Fanatical or what!

But it was disappointing to note that Ronan Clarke was dismissed, a victim of the very rules being implemented — or so we are told — to protect players like him. Fouled repeatedly prior to taking exception to one particularly heavy tackle, Ronan must surely feel, with considerable justification, that the true spirit of the experimental rules did not manifest itself at Wexford Park.

Derry gave their new boss Damian Cassidy a heartening open win in Mayo, Down had six points to spare over Tipperary and Monaghan will feel happy about their win over Fermanagh.

But Antrim will rue the fact that they let Wicklow off the hook at Casement Park and had to settle for a draw while Donegal came a cropper against Kerry and Cavan slipped up against their neighbours Longford.

It might be early days but it’s obvious that not every side is going to enjoy the feelgood factor this year!

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