So on Saturday we’re heading to HQ for a championship match for the first time since the disastrous All-Ireland final of 2006. We have, of course, played there twice since then: in last year’s league, where we beat Galway in the semi-final and then the following weekend where we lost to Donegal in the final. But the league isn’t the same (even if our loss in the final was) and so, for the first time in The Second Coming, this weekend we’ll get to see the lads in action in Croke Park in high summer.
I have a good amount of sympathy with those who say that Croker is a poor choice for this weekend’s action. For our match with Tyrone, Sligo, Carrick-on-Shannon or maybe even Ballyshannon (though I’m not sure what the capacity of the latter is) could have been fine and would have meant that most of the support wouldn’t have had that far to travel. It would also have guaranteed a near-capacity attendance for the fixture whereas at HQ the very most we can hope for is that the place will come close to being half-full (if that). I know the players and management always prefer to play in Croker and it’s good experience for them to be able to do so (especially with the Dubs being one of our potential opponents in the quarter-finals should we clear Saturday’s hurdle) but you do wonder what’s the point of spending good money on grounds such as Carrick – where they now have excellent facilities and could easily cater for this tie – and then leaving it idle on days such as this.
I have another argument for not playing the four qualifier ties at HQ and this one is an ABK one. As I see it, the Kerrymen are well attuned to (a) playing Munster finals in Cork or Killarney and then (b) heading for Jones’ Road in August and September. They are not used to slumming it in early August in somewhere like Portlaoise or Tullamore and were Monaghan to get their hands on them at such a venue, the Kerrymen wouldn’t know which way to turn. However, once they trot out onto the hallowed sod on Sunday, the lights will start to come on in their cunning little heads and, as a result, we’re likely to see a very different Kerry to the one that threw away the Munster final a few weeks ago. Regardless of where that match is held, Kerry would, it’s true, be well up for it but playing it in their home-from-home at Croker has got to be worth at least three extra points to them. It could be enough to make the difference in that one.
But I do have to admit that with HQ no more than a gentle 30 minute stroll from here, it’s the easiest option by far for me personally and, having used up all my carbon credits to get to all those “home” matches I’ve been at so far this year, it’ll be quite nice to have a long lie-in this Saturday before heading off down the road in the middle of the afternoon. It’s going to be an active service day Chez Willie Joe on Saturday with only Mrs WJ absenting herself from the front: all three of my little Jackeens – with the small lad making his debut at HQ at the tender age of three and a bit – have declared their intention to shout for The Cause at Croker the next day. And, boy, can they shout …