All Ireland Finals at Croke Park

more than a year ago
Every September Gaelic sports fans come together to shout themselves hoarse at the All Ireland Championship Finals.

These showcase events take place at the mighty Croke Park stadium where the victorious counties are proclaimed GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) All Ireland Senior Hurling and Senior Football Champions.

This hugely popular tournament encompasses three different sports - HurlingCamogie and Gaelic Football. For those of you unfamiliar with the sports here's a beginner's guide to Ireland's beautiful games.

At over 2000 years old, Hurling is Europe's oldest field game and one of the fastest sports in the world. Played by men (and we do mean men) each player has a curved wooden stick (hurley) which they use to hit a small leather ball with raised ridges (sliothar). The game is compelling and the players are extremely skilled. Even so, special helmets are worn to protect their skulls and faces from the sliothar flying through the air at over 130kms an hour. Camogie is the same as Hurling except played by women.

Gaelic Football is played with a round leather ball that can be kicked, carried, punched or palmed to another team member. It is not too different from Australian Rules Football and, indeed, each year the best of Ireland and Australia compete in the International Rules Series. 

Three Gaelic Games are played in each Championship; Gaelic FootballHurling andCamogie. All 32 counties in Ireland – both North and South - compete at Minor, U21 and Senior levels. Scoring is the same in all three games with one point awarded when the ball goes over the crossbar and three points given for every goal (when the ball goes under the crossbar between the posts). A score of 1-12 means one goal (3 points) and 12 points ie a total of 15 points.

From May to Sept the country is awash with flags, banners, bunting and good luck signs in every county colour as the All Ireland Championship grips the nation. Managers and players spend the season under constant scrutiny from supporters and the press as this knock-out tournament sorts the men from the boys. 

GAA is an amateur sport, players give up evenings and weekends for months at a time purely for the honour of playing. It is this aspect that makes the games so special and embeds a unique bond between players and supporters - many of whom could be friends or neighbours. These sports stars are not untouchable like in some other sports - passion is what drives the game.

Ireland’s 32 counties are divided into four Provinces. The Championship starts in each Province and culminates with the Provincial Final. Leinster, in the east, has 12 counties, of which Dublin is one. Munster, in the south, has six counties including Cork. Connacht, in the west, has five counties of which Galway is one. And Ulster encompasses NI’s six counties plus Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal in the south. The four Provincial winners are automatically entered into the All Ireland Finals and four other counties can get in via the All Ireland Qualifiers (also known as the 'back door'). 

Just like baseball or basketball in the USA, these sports are so popular that a player who captures the hearts and imaginations of their supporters becomes a national hero. People across the country talk about the great kick that Ger Spillane (Cork) or puck that Dan Shanahan (Waterford) made, or reminisce about that valiant save by Limerick’s Brian Murray. Greats from previous generations, like Nicky English of Tipperary or Kerry’s Eoin 'The Bomber' Liston, are still revered and talked about with the utmost respect and admiration. Many top players often go on to manage teams, passing their love and knowledge of the game onto future generations.

The Championship is all about September’s finals, the first of which is the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship. The spirit and excitement of this game lasts for weeks and the ones that follow usually have a thrilling and emotive match to beat. The third weekend sees the All Ireland Football Championship Final. And, finally, the Ladies All Ireland Football Final is usually held on the last Sunday in Sept..

The Sam Maguire Cup is named after one of GAA’s most prominent players and protagonists. The first county to win the Sam for Gaelic football was Kildare in 1928, and its most successful county is Kerry, who have now notched up a mighty 37 wins. 

The Senior Hurling All Ireland Champions lift the Liam McCarthy Cup. The first county to win the McCarthy Cup was Limerick in 1921, and the sport's most successful county is Kilkenny with 36 victories.

Admission to these colourful and vibrant matches is on a strictly ticket-only basis. Tickets can be purchased directly from the GAA or local clubs across the country. Demand usually outnumbers supply, so a top tip would be to check out these gripping and powerful displays of sporting prowess on the TV every weekend. Any pub worth its salted peanuts will be showing the live action, and RTE's Sunday night match analysis, on their big screen gogglebox.

If you do get a ticket – akin to discovering gold – you’ll find yourself in the company of 82,000 screaming supporters giving their teams all the passion and voice they can muster (and that’s a lot of noise). The Irish President will be in attendance, as well as the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) and other leading dignitaries and political leaders as sporting history is made.  

Wherever you are, enjoy the spectacle and sounds that make this one of the world's best sporting occasions.


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