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11 June 2009 Edition

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More than a game BY MATT TREACY







The strange world beneath Hill 16

IN IDLE MOMENTS during the Dublin-Meath match on Sunday I used my perch in the Cusack Stand to study some of the characters who were wandering about beneath Hill 16. First of all, contrary to urban legend, the Hill denizens were no less punctual than those in any other part of the ground although several dozen did amble in well after 4 o’clock.
What was even more bizarre however was that quite a number of people didn’t bother climbing the steps to watch the game at all. Some of them, it is true, found what is not actually a bad spot below the terrace at a wall where you can see probably everything reasonably well. And eat your hot dog and sip your plastic glass of beer without danger of being jostled in the sweaty throng. 
Others were engaged in all sorts of strange behaviour. There was a picnic in a sunny spot beside the railway wall, three women were watching what seemed to be a film of a First Communion on a camcorder, a chubby man was playing hurling with his three or four year old son (I kid you not) and there were chaps wandering around eating hotdogs, drinking beer, engaged in animated conversation on their mobile phones and finally a couple, mixed I hasten to add, were doing their best to reproduce the human race. The world beneath Hill 16. Strange but true.
Mind you those who had found alternative means of diversion and entertainment may well have believed themselves vindicated by what was happening on the field, and certainly I have to admit that my gaze was regularly drawn from the action on the pitch to the goings on in the netherworld. Not to the courting couple I must stress.

THE FOOTBALL MATCH was pretty much as described by Pat Spillane. Admittedly the strange wind did not help matters but some of the shooting was unbelievably poor. Dublin spurned at least three good goal chances and worst of all two of them ended with the ball being punched wide which is a not inconsiderable skill although as an eye witness in direct line with Ger Brennan’s late effort I can attest that the ball was certainly caught in a strange dancing movement by the gusting wind. Dublin survive for another day but the jury among the Fancy is still very much out and springing the always game Jayo is hardly a vote of confidence in the new order. Meath were tenacious as always but they are not good on that evidence and will be hoping for a kindly draw in the qualifiers.
The preceding hurling quarter final between Dublin and Antrim was more compelling, and hurling is generally better to watch anyway. It was also good to see that the Hill and other sections of the ground given to Dublin club members were fairly full for the match and Nowlan Park will surely be filled for the semi final in two weeks.
Dublin began well against the wind and ran up a comfortable early lead before seemingly lowering a gear and allowing Antrim to claw their way back, thanks mainly to some tenacious defending and long delivery of the ball with Griffin, Donnelly and Richmond particularly effective. Antrim closed the gap to one at half time and even managed to level within a minute of the restart but after that it was all Dublin. The defence steadied up with Stephen Hiney and Mikey Carton particularly effective in the half backs and the scores eventually came despite a surfeit of wides, 15 in all for the half, and a tendency to over elaborate in search of a goal when points were there for the taking. But in the end it was all academic and while Anthony Daly expressed himself disappointed, a ten point winning margin is good enough and the objective achieved in what might have been a tricky assignment.

There was a mighty cheer in the hostelry later on when the draw for the Leinster hurling semi finals was made and Kilkenny were drawn alongside Galway. That of course is a match that will be relished but for Dublin and Wexford supporters, who have avoided the two big guns and play one another, there was relief and a rise in their expectations of making the final although there are minor schools of thought that believe that it would suit Dublin better to meet either in the semi final rather than the final. I can see some merit in that but truly the prospect, particularly for Dublin who haven’t been in a final since 1991, to reach the decider is more compelling.
Wexford were impressive against Offaly and will be favourites to beat Dublin but Dublin will certainly regard it as a great opportunity to reinforce their claim to be a contender and secure at the very least a place in the All Ireland quarter finals. Wexford have been regular finalists, and indeed have contested the last eight deciders. The fact that they lost all but one of those games, and heavily the last twice, might be considered to impose on them something of a psychological burden but I don’t think Wexford would prefer losing narrowly to Dublin than another tanking, if it came to that, from the Cats. Apart from which getting to the final, and losing even, places one into the latter stages of the championship.
One of the jolly topers on hearing the draw was certain Dublin would win. In his opinion Wexford have only one decent player, and that’s Dan Shanahan, ‘and he has no bleedin’ teeth in his head man.’ I take it he was not in fact one of those who came early to see the hurling but his interest and faith are of course commendable. 

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1