Saturday, June 18, 2005

On the Pale, and Being Outside Of It

Tomorrow Dublin footballers attempt to take the next step on a quest that has now lasted ten years: the restoration of Dublin to the top echelon of Gaelic Football. They will be narrow favourites to dispose of Wexford, one of Leinster’s several upstart counties that have taken advantage of Meath and Dublin’s relative turmoil in recent years. They are not, however, considered genuine contenders for an All-Ireland title.

To those of us who grew up in the eighties and nineties it is strange indeed for Dublin to be so firmly resident in the chasing pack as they have been since 1995. It is even stranger for those of us who grew up outside of Dublin to view them with condescension, to be dismissive of their threat. While they were by no means the sole dominant force in that time, and indeed were some way behind Meath and Cork, and later Down in terms of ultimate achievement, whenever they played, it was thirty-one counties versus one.

It’s not too hard in sociological terms to surmise why. Leaving football aside, Dublin overshadows the rest of Ireland to such a degree as to make someone outside of the Pale feel as if they are an irrelevance. Everything revolves around the city. The majority of news items seem to be based in the city. If a teenager wants to go and see is favourite band in concert, he goes to Dublin. He will very probably end of up in Dublin later on in life in college or in employment. The city’s development in recent years has only exacerbated the country’s eastward tilt.

I grew up in a Gaeltacht area in Donegal, and throughout the summer the local Irish college took in hundreds of well-dressed, sleekly-coiffured, confident, or, well, arrogant young children of the suburbs to learn their Modh Conniollach and how to French kiss. As ever when one feels colonised, one resents the invaders.

So when Dublin filled Croke Park on summer Sundays, with their tens of thousands of supporters appearing to have the mass and belligerence of a British soccer terrace, and the natural famed “swagger” of their football team, one inevitably made common cause with the opposition, likely to be, like us, from rural Ireland, and likely to share the same disdain for the city slickers.

But it got to the stage in 1995 as Dublin had fallen, year by year, to schneaky country fellas and groundbreaking Ulstermen, that their success against Tyrone in that year’s All-Ireland final felt like their due, and gleaned a lot fewer grumbles than it would have a few years earlier. It was something of a valedictory success for many of the team which had pushed for the ultimate glory over the previous decade.

As Dublin attempt to reconstruct a sense of self-belief that appeared to have dissolved to nothing at the end of the Tommy Lyons regime, one senses that this year’s Leinster will be crucial. It will do Dublin no good to go into the qualifiers. To recover the strut and cockiness, silverware must be one.

While Leinster this year does not appear to contain a solid All-Ireland contender, it is (in stark contrast to their hurling brethren) intensely competitive, with all four teams in the semi-finals being in contention for the provincial crown, Dublin will not fear any, and nor should they, but are a long way yet from viewing their competitors with the traditional sense of superiority, testament of course also to those counties’ improvement.

But it is inevitable that someday soon Dublin will regain that sheen, the confidence and the innately urban momentum that their great championship campaigns can engender.

I for one look forward to that day. I can’t wait to hate Dublin again!

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