Croke Park was the venue for the only International Rules game I attended. It was a miserable day, I remember, and that, plus my indifference to the hybrid game, made for a fairly ordinary experience.
I met a county team manager during one of the breaks, and he, too, was less than enthusiastic. “It does nothing for me,” he professed. Two years later he was on the line with the Ireland team, and though I’ve met him a few times since, I never bothered to ask him what caused his Pauline conversion.
One of the game’s pluses is that it rewards players, giving them the chance to play at an admittedly quasi international level. Better for them when the series is played in Australia.
Rules have been modified over the years, which is no harm. Some of those early matches had more thuggery – nearer brutality, maybe - than football, and how players came off without serious injury was nothing short of a miracle.
My interest in last Saturday night’s game in Cavan was fired by Ciaran Byrne’s inclusion on the Ireland team. The young Louth Villager, the first from this county since Paddy Keenan to gain such recognition, is destined for Aussie Rules, and, of course, he is wished all the very best.
But the hope is he keeps a return to Gaelic football in his plans, even if it’s later rather than sooner. As he showed this year, ‘Casey’ is the most gifted to emerge in these parts since the player he emulated at Breffni.
There was a crowd of 21,000, which must have pleased the game’s promoters no end. There’ll be more at Croker for Saturday’s second Test, and though I haven’t walked the Damascus Road, I might, just might, be among them.
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