The Universal Draw Of Sports

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It was just after 10 a.m. on Sunday morning when I walked into Carney’s in Amityville, hauling presents for my niece Caitlin’s bridal shower. Caitlin is the only girl between my brother’s children and mine, and her wedding this November will be the first. I wasn’t planning on staying long (if at all) because Sunday’s are reserved for NFL football.

There was an assortment of relatives and friends already gathered, waiting for the blushing bride to arrive. As I made my way through the growing throng, performing the Italian ritual of kissing and hugging everyone, I heard a roar coming from the bar area.
Looking through the glass partitions that separated the rooms, I discovered a crowd of more than 50 people gathered in front of a large TV screen. They were watching a soccer match, dressed in the garb of their favorite team and enjoying quite a few pints of Guinness Stout.

Enticed by the passion of the soccer fans, I made my way to the other room, only to find they weren’t watching soccer. The players kicked the ball like soccer, but they were also catching the ball and running with it, like rugby, but it wasn’t rugby. They were bouncing it, but it wasn’t team handball. There was a soccer goal and a goalkeeper, but there were also football-like goalposts above the goal cage. Players were trying to kick the ball into the net, but they were also kicking the ball through the uprights to score points.

What planet was I on?

The passion and intensity of the crowd assured me that this was no run of the mill soccer-rugby-football-whatever game, it was some sort of championship. Sure enough, it was the Super Bowl of Irish Football and I was immersed in the middle of it.
Here in this country, we like to think we’ve written the book on sports. When our professional athletes compete in the Olympics, they usually dominate, except for soccer. We still can’t figure that one out.

To the fans inside Carney’s, this was everything. It was no less intense than if the Yankees and Mets were playing the seventh game of the World Series. The fans were infectious as they cheered each score in the back-and-forth game. I was right there with them, even yelling, “rubbish,” when the referee missed a penalty call. Somehow, I had become a fan of the blue team from Derry, even though most of the patrons at Carney’s were for the green team from Kerry. Guess I always root for the underdog.

With the score tied 19-19 late in the game, Derry was awarded a free kick, causing many in Carney’s to hold their breath as the Derry player approached the ball. Next to me stood a tall man with a thick Irish brogue, wearing a blue “Dublin” jersey and sporting a large stove pipe hat with blue and white stripes. He was so emotional, he couldn’t watch, burying his head into his wife’s shoulder. To the dismay of the Carney faithful, the Derry player kicked it through the uprights, winning the Championship, 20-19.

The man was so overcome, he wept as he embraced his wife. It was touching to see someone so passionate about a sport I knew nothing about, even though I understood his emotional state completely. I still weep when I see Cleon Jones catch the last out of the 1969 World Series.

Before I knew it, the crowd had dissipated and it was just about time for the bridal shower to end. My foray into the world of Irish football was over and it was time to help my niece transport all her goodies back to the house. After that, I went home and watched the miserable Jets, but just couldn’t get my mind off that Irish fellow and my experience watching that strange sport.

It doesn’t matter what country you were born in, your race, religion or political affiliation. All that nonsense gets put on hold for a few hours when you are passionate about sports. America may be many things to many people, but we don’t own the patent on pride and passion when it comes to sports.

Later, I found out that Derry has won three straight Irish Football Championships. With the state of the Jets this year (and every year, for that matter), I think I may jump on the Derry bandwagon. “Come on ref, that call was complete rubbish.”

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