Monday, May 17, 2010

The Garrison Game

Began to wonder about the origins of my addiction with football and the Waterford team as I travelled back last Friday evening from a 1-0 defeat to Wexford Youths at Ferrycarrig Park, the only goal coming in injury time.

It simply isn’t enough to explain it by saying it’s because my father was from Waterford and he took me to games as a kid. Like everything else in Ireland, it’s a lot deeper than that.

In the early 1900’s, John Redmond was a prominent figure in Irish politics, both serving as MP for Waterford City from 1891 and leading the Irish Nationalist Party until his death in 1918. My father came from a staunch family of Redmondites and, knowing one man and reading of the other, I can see where the attraction lay. Wikipedia’s narrative describes Redmond as a moderate, constitutional and conciliatory politician who was deeply opposed to the use of physical force and was committed to political change by constitutional means.

The Irish Nationalist Party, in the immediate lead-up to the 1916 rising, found itself at odds with the new power in Irish politics, a party diametrically opposed to them in terms of strategy – Sinn Fein. Griffith’s new party, with strong links to the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence, believed in more radical tactics to achieve the (commonly-held) aspiration of Irish independence. The fundamental difference between the parties which ultimately led to the divide in Irish politics that we have today was less related to degrees of commitment to nationalism than it was to the manner in which independence could be achieved.

My father moved to Dublin in 1936 and at this stage he had inherited or developed a deep-rooted distaste for Sinn Fein and its’ “bully-boy” tactics. This aversion spread to all parties or associations who were spawned from, or who allied themselves closely with the cause of aggressive Irish Republicanism. Included in this band was the Fianna Fail party, and the GAA, whose rules regarding foreign sports and participation in their code right through to the new millennium, were as repugnant as those rules which discriminated against the Catholics in the Six Counties.

Waterford won the FAI Cup for the first time in 1937 (team pictured below) and my father recounted the story of celebrating the victory with the team in a Dublin hotel prior to their trip back south.

A consequence of my father's views was that as a family we grew up in a household where soccer was automatically preferred to GAA and where the watching of the All-Ireland Final on television was very much secondary to a trip to Milltown or Tolka Park, if the Waterford soccer team were scheduled for a Dublin visit. Maintaining a consistent philosophy, my father did not encourage any of us to bring the Irish Press in the house as it was a “De Valera rag”. He stopped short of banning it entirely.

Those early trips to Glenmalure, Tolka, Dalyer and Richmond are still vividly etched upon my mind. With very few exceptions (obviously the birth of my three children) nothing in life that I have experienced can replicate the boyhood feeling of excitement and anticipation that I felt as I saw the Blues take the field in those games in the sixties and early seventies. Sadly, and hopelessly, the feeling substantially remains the same even now.

Alfie Hale's headed winning goal with five minutes to go against Rovers at Milltown, Gerry Chester's resilience for St Pat's at Richmond in the title decider in 1969, the trauma of Cup final drubbings at the hands of the Hoops and Hibs, eleven straight wins ending with a 2-2 draw against Drums and towards the end, the League Cup Final victory against Harps without a recognised goalkeeper. Magic memories each and every one.

And that explains it all. An Irish Nationalist, given limited credit for the evolution of our Republic, followed by a few twists of fate, lead to me driving the N11 at 11:30 on a Friday evening having watched 90 minutes (plus 3) of very average League of Ireland football.

If only we hadn’t conceded that goal in the dying minutes in Wexford, I wouldn’t have had to go through this revealing self-analysis again.

Still, what the hell it's only a game and we’ve got Cork at home next weekend.