21 April 2005 Edition
Never more important than life or death
BY Matt Treacy
I imagine that I was not the only Dublin supporter who rechecked the draw for the Leinster Football Championship on Sunday evening. What had initially looked like the easier route when the draw was made, now looks slightly ominous. The reason for that, and no offence intended to Longford, Meath and Carlow, is that Dublin may well face Wexford in the semi-final.
I also looked at the betting and noted that Wexford have been cut to 6/1 while Dublin have drifted slightly, to 9/4. The reason for that, of course, is Wexford's dogged victory over Tyrone in the Division One Semi-Final at Portlaoise. This puts them through to their first League final since 1946 and they have never won the competition. The last time Wexford won the Leinster Championship was in 1945, after which they were beaten by Cavan in the All Ireland semi-final but they must harbour ambitions of bridging that 60-year gap in 2005.
• Yellowbellies awake
Wexford have won five All-Ireland titles in the past, and are the only team other than Kerry to have won four in a row, between 1915 and 1918. Their 1916 Leinster victory over Dublin was particularly interesting, because the match was played in Frongoch Internment Camp due to the fact that so many of both team's players had been rounded up in the aftermath of the Easter Rising! In 1913, Wexford and Dublin had played a match to raise funds for the families of the workers locked out in Dublin.
But enough of history. Sunday's game was played in atrocious conditions. So bad that one Tyrone supporter remarked on Seán Cavanagh having been tackled at one stage by a large puddle! Wexford managed to give away a soft goal early in the first half but were dragged back into the match due to dogged defensive play and the brilliance of Mattie Forde who scored a goal in the 15th minute. Forde ended the game with 1-3, three of which were from frees — a testament to the close marking of Shane Sweeney, the Tyrone left corner back. Just as the match appeared destined to go into extra time, David Fogarty took the winning point. Wexford now meet the winners of the postponed Mayo/Armagh match in the final.
• Rule 42
The main interest at the weekend was in events off the pitch, where the GAA Congress voted to amend Rule 42 to allow temporary access to the Croke Park to the FAI and IRFU. Ironically, while the debate had focused on the need to do so while Lansdowne Road is renovated, Ahern came out almost immediately to suggest that planning permission might not be granted, and took the opportunity to revive his plans for the 'Bertie Bowl' at Abbotstown.
Given that Ahern made no secret of his desire to have Croke Park opened up, delegates are entitled to feel slightly conned. Have they simply given the FAI another option while Lansdowne Road remains as it is, and the Abbotstown project gets the go-ahead? And if so, how temporary will the 'temporary' clause remain? Already, there is speculation that another attempt will be made at next year's Congress to further amend or delete Rule 42.
The fact that sport is never, as claimed by Bill Shankley, more important than life or death, was starkly reinforced by two television documentaries on the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985. RTÉ's Primetime and BBC2's Requiem for Heysel were frightening insights into the heart of darkness.
I watched the first in a place where the sound on the big screen television was turned down because there was live music. It was so compelling that all conversations ceased and even the musicians' eyes were fixated on the footage taken of the carnage. Requiem for Heysel looked at the factors which had contributed to the deaths of the Juventus supporters, and also on the moral questions surrounding whether the match should have gone ahead once the scale of the disaster was known. It is interesting that those closest to the teams were almost unanimous in believing that it ought not to have. Some appeared ashamed that it had.
While there were undoubtedly organisational and structural deficiencies that compounded what took place, the ultimate responsibility lies with those who felt such hatred for supporters of a different team that they were prepared to kill them. In a week where the GAA has taken a decision to embrace the forces of "pluralism" and "multi-culturalism" (to quote from one pundit), let us hope that Croke Park remains the scene of passionate but civilised intensity.