Sunday, 7 June 2015

Ireland v England. 07/06/15

"That game was enough to make me realise that if I haven't had at least one pre-game beer I don't actually like football"

Rosscommon 2-20 Armagh 1-14. Croke Park.
Saturday 06/06/15.
When you are a regular spectator of Brighton and Hove Albion, the phrase "a great day out ruined by 90 minutes of football" is one that is ingrained in your footballing lexicon - a constantly apt description for 90% of the prattery you will witness going on on the pitch over the course of a season.

It's been particularly prevelant in 2014-15 as the Seagulls survived in the Championship largely because somehow there were three worse teams in it. Twelve shots on target which yielded just one goal from the final eight games meant that rounding off the campaign with an England trip - especially given the way Roy's Boys have played recently - should have been a cause for celebration. We might see a goal.

Yet in Dublin the Three Lions caught Brighton-itis. Whoever reported on the BBC website 14 shots from the visitors with three on target must have been on the strongest hallucinegics available as this was literally as boring as any sort of football can get. Throw in the blanket no sale of alcohol going on across the city and a 1pm kick off on a hot Sunday afternoon and you had an encounter that was marginally less boring than any television show involving Miranda Hart. It really was that bad.

And this was a real shame as - and here comes that phrase - this was a great trip ruined by 90 minutes of football. It involved 33 pints of Guinness across 16 different venues, two different sports in two iconic stadiums and the inevitable marriage proposal to one lucky local lady.

A nice non-partisan plaque to Bloody Sunday at Croke Park
Three Conference-standard hurling cup finals were on offer on the Saturday of Mr Raven, Mr Beddow and Mr McCarthy's arrival in Dublin in front of huge crowds of about 4,000 at Croke Park. After rocking up at the home of gaelic sports, we were luckily handed some complimentary tickets by one friendly local outside and took our place in Europe's third largest stadium for a sport that involved all the best elements of rugby, football, hockey, cricket and quidditch (minus Ginny Weasley).

Croke Park was home to this delightful floodlight
It was relatively easy to pick up the general rules and scoring system although this was no doubt helped by the copious amount of alcohol that was flowing. Hurling it turns out is far more entertaining than a sobering post season international friendly, especially if you are a Rosscommon fan and you get to witness your side score a last minute goal against Armagh to win the prestigious Nicky Rackard Cup, as we did.

Croke Park
The clouds gather over the terracing
The second game featured Fermanagh winning the Lory Meagher Cup against Sligo despite having three men sent off. The rain and cold descended after that so we left before the third and final game of the afternoon got underway for the sanctuary of the pub but having seen a last minute winner and a trio of red cards in just two games, serious consideration will have to be given to sacking off football from next season and starting the McCathy's Hurling Travels blog.

The Rosscommon boys celebrate lifting the Nicky Rackard Cup
Pub sanctuary soon extended from the welcoming Bridge Tavern to the less welcoming Sunset House. This venue had everything you could want from an Irish pub that was clearly not designed to be found by tourists such as ourselves. Deathly silence as two English men ordered drinks - tick. An Irish bloke with no teeth you couldn't understand who looked suspiciously like Barry Chuckle - tick. A shrine to the H Block Hunger Strikers - tick. Somehow, we made it out of there alive.

Barry Chuckle's long lost Irish brother? Complete with background
shrine to the H Block Hunger Strikers
The dream comes true - an Irish fiance
What followed was a wonderful pub crawl encompassing Lloyds, Bowes - where a delightful Irish girl snapped up the opportunity to become engaged although unfortunately I have since forgotten her name - Brogans and The Oak but not even those 16 pints could make the following days visit to The Aviva Stadium anything other than a mind numbingly boring experience. We were in the ground unusually early given that the lack of alcohol on sale anywhere left bugger all to do apart from venturing in to the home of Irish football and rugby and appreciating what sitting in a giant greenhouse must be like.

The Aviva Stadium - or a giant greenhouse?
Inside the Aviva
The entire place is made of translucent plastic which means it is very bright and on a sunny day like this one leaves fans susceptible to sunburn and extreme dehydration, especially in the shallow away end which is open to the elements and encompases only a handful of rows behind one of the goals. The weather, environment and complete lack of atmosphere or interest from anybody present - not helped by no pubs being open - easily made the experience more akin to growing tomatoes out on the pitch and to be honest the action would almost certainly have been improved had Jamie Vardy marked his debut by coming on and helping Wayne Rooney plant some vegetables in the centre circle.

England fans try not to doze off...
England players thank the fans for somehow not falling asleep
Relief at there a) being no lock in for England fans afterwards, and b) finding a Guinness was therefore palpable. After nearly two hours sat out in the sun, I was so thirsty that if you'd offered a glass of Jack Warner's urine I'd have happily drunk it, and this point was hammered home as three pints were gone within ten minutes, shortly followed by another 13 across The Schoolhouse Bar, The Long Hall, The Stags Head, Mercantile Tavern, The Norseman and JW Sweetmans. Unfortunately, the famous Temple Bar wasn't allowing anybody in because somebody in there was singing. Clearly, having a good time wasn't just outlawed at The Aviva.

"Nobody having a good time is allowed in Temple Bar"
Dublin was an absolutely cracking city and Ireland a wonderful place. The bonus of the League of Ireland playing through the summer months means it surely won't be long until a return to the Emerald Isle for some league football is on the agenda. Fingers crossed that that inevitable visit won't come under the "great trip ruined by 90 minutes of football" banner.

And if it is, McCarthy's Hurling Travels might not be such a farfetched idea after all.

Ireland: Keiren Westwood (Shay Given), Seamus Coleman, John O'Shea, Marc Wilson, Glenn Whelan (Harry Arter), Aidan McGeady, James McCarthy (James McLean), Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick, Daryl Murphy (Jonathan Walters), David McGoldrick (Shane Long).

England: Joe Hart, Phil Jones, Gary Cahill (Phil Jagielka), Chris Smalling, Ryan Bertrand, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere (Ross Barkley), James Milner, Raheem Sterling (Andros Townsend), Adam Lallana (Theo Walcott), Wayne Rooney (Jamie Vardy).