The light shone brightly as I exited the tunnel. The wind whipped my face and the banner in my hands. My eyes began to water as I looked up from the green of the pitch to the many fans lining the seats above. Was it the light, the wind, or the moment that brought those tears, I did not know, but I wiped them away and continued my proud march out onto, what many Irish have long agreed, is hallowed ground.
Croke Park, the home of GAA, was named in honour of Archbishop Thomas Croke. Since 1884 the stadium has been used primarily by the GAA to host Gaelic games, most notably the annual All-Ireland finals in football and hurling.
Most Sundays throughout the summer Croke Park fills with fans ready and eager to watch their counties and clubs battle it out. They come from across Ireland, hopeful to be a part of a historic match, one they might tell to their grandchildren one day.
Yesterday was significant for two reasons. Firstly, at halftime the GAA World Games Opening Ceremony, of which I was a banner bearer, was held at halftime. Secondly, yesterday featured a back and forth All-Ireland Hurling Semi-Final between Killkenny and Waterford. Many did not expect it to be game at all, seeing Kilkenny as far superior – which was probably why the 80,000 person stadium was nowhere near capacity. But a game it was.
Waterford it seems did not give over to the pundits’ predilections. With minutes to go in the game Waterford was up by 3. They had fought and swung their hurls mightily for near 70 minutes. Victory was within reach. They could have pulled ahead by five but missed on two different chances as the sliotar swung just wide. Then, in the 68th minute, Kilkenny proved why it was back-to-back champions and buried one in the net, leveling the game. Draw match.
One day long from now, people will most likely forget this game. It will be stowed in the analog of statistics that become the sole evidence that this game actually happened. The fans will move on to the next game and sooner or later the players will retire. Some may remember snippets of great games they played in. Some may not. Then, new players will come along, and new games, and new rivalries. And then one day, they too will fade.
However, one thing will remain in the hearts and minds of players and fans alike. It is the one thing that I too will always remember. Whatever the setting, the score, the teams, or the outcome, we will never forget the fact that, on an insignificant Sunday in August 2016, we walked those hallowed grounds of Croke Park.
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