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Fan power blows me away

By Declan Bogue

Around about mid-July, I checked the calendar to see what the next few months would hold.

Out of eight weeks stretching from August until the dying end of September, I would be in Croke Park for hurling and football matches on seven weekends.

Sometimes time is tight and you have to forgo the traditional feed of early Sunday purdies. Occasionally, and it pains me to say it as a diet fascist trapped with the mind of a man with minimal willpower, it has to be a fry at a service station. Don't judge me.

But the upside to all that is the education you get when you follow the same road to Croker as Donegal fans have over the past few years.

You see all sorts of humanity in that service station. Gangs of lads on the tear. Nuclear families, with fresh-looking parents taking adorable children to the match, all resplendent in the latest Donegal replica jersey. The girls favouring the white away kit, the boys in traditional gold and green.

All this is wonderful for the Donegal football team and all involved in it. They would be aware of all the joy that surrounds a successful football team, what kind of lift it can give to a region that is stuck out there on the north-west in splendid isolation and is often ignored.

Fans feed off times like these and it is scary just how much self-esteem can be boosted by the success of whatever sports team you follow.

It has left me considering what the true nature of 'fandom' is in the GAA.

We had a little taste in Fermanagh of what Donegal have grown accustomed to, a while back. Just over 10 years ago now, my own county were on the end of some questionable calls that saw an All-Ireland semi-final slip through their fingers against Mayo.

For a few weeks, Fermanagh fans were on top of the world, with the whole world talking about them.

The other half patronised them, such as Marty Morrissey's pat line of 'They love their football in Fermanagh' after they pulled off probably an even greater shock than Donegal's win over Dublin on Sunday, when they beat Armagh in the quarter-final.

At the final whistle, for the first and only time, supporters of the Erne County flooded the Croke Park pitch. It was rich and beautiful. Madness and joyful. Wasn't there myself though. Ah, no.

Was in Australia instead, watching it in the Gaelic Club in Surrey Hills, Sydney along with dozens of other Fermanagh and Armagh people.

But my father – taking advantage of the generous teacher holidays – and brother were also there with me, which made it a truly special memory I often daydream of.

Imagine, we whispered, not wanting to tempt fate even 10,000 miles from home, being in an All-Ireland final?

What's seldom is wonderful they say, and never was that idiom truer than last Sunday. Donegal played the build-up beautifully and resisted the temptation to reach for that most GAA of phrases in the aftermath of 'Youse writ us all off' in the aftermath.

Dublin, like so many others, found that Donegal gained in strength by the turnover. In Ulster, Donegal's gameplan is enough to beat the rest but in Croke Park, the thunderous cheers that greet a turnover appear to imbue the players with astonishing strength and energy.

And while they were cooking, the Dubs fans on Hill 16 were baling out. There is a smugness in the five-eighths GAA fan towards the devotion of soccer fans towards various Public Limited Companies in England, but at least their fans stay to the end to offer support.

Not only did Dublin fans not turn up to lend their support to their minors against Donegal, but they bolted long before the end of the senior game. For the last 18 months, Jim Gavin's team have won everything in front of them, playing with an agreeable panache and style.

Yet there was no support in defeat, no gratitude for what had gone on before. Eaten bread is soon forgotten.

The sight of the Dubs fleeing the Hill and bolting for the safety of Fagan's, Meagher's, Kavanagh's and other post-mortem locations was greeted by the laughter of those from the Hills.


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