It was a magical day to be at Croke Park yesterday, not only to see two great teams go head to head in the Senior Final but to witness the full coming of age of the sport of Ladies Football as among our finest sporting spectacles.
The Ladies Finals Day lacks the tradition of its Hurling and Football brothers, the sport was only founded in full in 1972 but the average age of those who were there to cheer on Dublin and Cork, Limerick and Louth, Tyrone and Meath will have been substantially lower than for the Hurling and Football finals and the joy and noise was every bit at fever pitch if not beyond.
The senior game flowed backward and forwards and when Daithí O Sé stood in the crowd and appeared on the big screen to reveal the day’s attendance you could tell from a scan of the stands that it would be another record.
We forecast during last week that it could top 50,000 and so it was with 50,141 the final official figure. They came in groups and gangs from clubs all over. TG4’s distribution of flags in county colours added to the sense of a festive occasion and the games themselves were full of quality goals, end to end action and screams of delight from the stands.
Of course it helps that it was Dublin and Cork in the big game, the two most populous counties and the two with the greatest number of clubs. But this was the third weekend in a row at Croke Park for Dublin and Cork had enjoyed Camogie triumph only seven days earlier. On a sunny day there could, a while ago, have been an alternative demand on time.
Not any more, and hopefully not ever again. Yesterday’s attendance was the sixth biggest of the year across all Gaelic games. Only the Football and Hurling All Ireland Finals, the two hurling semi-finals, and Dublin’s football semi-final topped it.
More people showed up for this to see it and experience it live than did for the Leinster Football Final or any of the matches in the much vaunted Munster Hurling Championship all the way through to the final stage.
That is a remarkable achievement for the sport but it felt so natural.
At clubs, there was no need to push and pull interest from teams and young girls. They were demanding their place in the ground and looking for the right to follow the heroines that play in their clubs.
Sinead Aherne will return to Malahide, Lyndsey Davey to Skerries, Jennifer Dunne and Martha Byrne to Dalkey with the Brendan Martin Trophy and they will be hailed as winners and as role models for next generations.
The dreams and aspirations of scoring in Croke Park and winning an All Ireland are now every bit as valid for young girls as they are for young boys.
That’s the real magic of yesterday, and some magic it was.
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