We met Joe Duffy and his young son, Gary in the Hogan Stand at Dublin’s Croke Park, one clear autumn afternoon in 1977.
The occasion was a Gaelic Football match between Dublin and Offaly, (and bloody offal it was too). No. I don’t mean that.
Croke Park is a shrine to the amateur Gaelic sports of football and hurling, with the All Ireland finals always playing to full houses. The footballers do battle for the Sam Maguire Trophy, which I have had the honor of drinking from. But that’s another story.
My wife, Marie and I were on a whirlwind, hire car trip around Ireland, as part of what we hoped would be a 12 month British/European adventure.
We had already visited parts of northern and southern England, as well as having embarked on an 18 day Trafalgar Euro under-30 trip, starting in London, and heading as far south as Rome, before returning to the English capital.
The only sporting events we had seen, prior to our attendance at Croke Park, was an international tug-of-war carnival in Dorset and a rugby league match between Warrington and Leeds at Warrington’s (now demolished) Wilderspool Stadium.
Marie and I had met Joe Duffy for the first time, on Friday night, November 19 in a Malahide pub (the name of which now escapes me) after dining upstairs in their Lambay Restaurant, named after an island just off the coast.
We had stayed at Buncrana in County Donegal the night before, and had driven into Ulster, to see the Giant’s Causeway, before heading back into the Republic, at the urging of Marie, who had been traumatised by a couple of border crossing meetings with the British soldiers. (see ‘Not So Merry in Derry’ on this site).
Our accommodation at Malahide was with Mrs Fitzsimons at Sea Park. After dining, we ventured downstairs, where there was a great sing-along.
We were made feel so welcome by Joe Duffy and his wife, Eileen, and even more so when everyone started singing Waltzing Matilda. It transpired there were other Australians in the room, and the song had been arranged for their benefit, long before we arrived.
The Duffys invited us back to their place for drinks, and a date was made to watch the Gaelic football the next day, given I had bored Joe senseless with tales of rugby league, the game I played back in Australia.
It was overcast when Marie and I drove into Dublin, following the Coast Road (and an Army truck), via Howth Headland and Howth Castle and Gardens. We saw quite a bit of Dublin, just driving around trying to find the railway station and Croke Park.
Dublin won a disappointing match 23-3, with veteran, Jimmy Keaveney the star. To me, he looked quite skilful, but every bit a veteran, if you get my drift.
Lining up for a halftime snack, Joe introduced me to some of his mates, and when they heard I was a rugby league man, they commented: ‘Oh. that’s just a North of England game, isnt it?’ True. But your point? Oh. Yes. To remind me what a tiny game is rugby league compared with the monolith of Gaelic football.
I also think they all the had idea that Aussie rules was about the only sport played in Australia, with our Wallabies the only representative of the two rugby codes.
Anyway. Don’t like to be sarcastic. (I do, actually).
On a serious note. I love the history of Gaelic sports, and hearing about legends like Neil Tierney, Enda Colleran, John Donnellan, Cyrille Dunne and Matty McDonough.
But I was brought up on rugby league, and to me Gaelic football is a tame version of Aussie rules, which I like to call cross country netball.
Anyway, Joe Duffy was a great host, and I often wonder what happened to him and his son. I tried to telephone the day after the Croke Park match, from Bray where Marie and I stayed the night, but, ringing from a public box I couldn’t get through. No mobiles then.
Now my wife’s niece, Kellie is married to an Irishman (Alan Kelly) and they live in Tipperary. He played hurling and their youngest, daughter Emma plays Camogie. Go ‘Tipp’.
1 Gaelic football action from Croke Park in 1966. County Down in red, Meath in Green.
2 That bloody North of England game, rugby league, being played at Twickenham, of all places. That’s Tommy Martyn (a man of Irish heritage) scoring for St Helens against Bradford, with Kiwi, Henry Paul failing to prevent the try. (Photo Varley Picture Agencies).