After quitting my job in London I had… no, I needed to get out of the city to gather myself after making the decision to return to Australia. I hated London and didn’t want to be in such a grey miserable city for a minute longer, but that left me in a predicament about where I could go. I had just enough money to last me until I went to Copenhagen so it had to be close and fairly cheap.
After spending hours Googling destinations and accommodation I found a site called Fanatics which arrange tours of international sporting events primarily for Australians in the UK. Low and behold the Aussies were descending upon Ireland to take part in the International Rules series. And that was how I ended standing in a city I’d never heard of before in my best mix of green and gold, and was being carried across the River Shannon to the Páirc na nGael.
As hawkers tried to stop ticket-holders, roping them in to sell team scarves, each vendor getting cheaper the closer to the grounds you were, there was singing and dancing from the people who had been pre-drinking, alcohol isn’t allowed in the Gaelic Grounds, and the air was filled with excitement for the first game of the series. The game where both teams come out strong, testing to see how much their opponent had improved in the last two-years.
Walking out of the city centre of Limerick towards the Gaelic Grounds all the eye could see was a stream of green and white. Even the fall foliage had decided to support the Irish team with not a gold leaf in site. The crowd was singing Irish songs and with no other Aussie supporters in site, except one drunk Irish girl declaring her love for the “fit” Aussie blokes, I decided I better not begin a round of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ amongst the crowd.
As I neared the stadium I recognised people from the group I was meant to be with; we were lost and every time we opened our mouths to talk our accents and slightly darker complexions would give us away to being members of the opposing clan and we’d be confronted by the Irish, “You’ll be supporting Ireland tonight won’t ye Miss?” always said with a wicked grin.
The seats that Fanatics had secured for the group, no more than 16 of us all cheering for an Australian win, were some of the best in the house. Row one and two, right in the middle of the pitch. Perfect.
As the first chords of the Australian national anthem began I was expecting some of the crowd to sing with our group of sixteen but there was nothing. You could barely hear the group of us singing our national song proudly over the din of the Irish shuffling in their seats, anxious for the game to begin.
There’s something about your national anthem being played that stirs emotions within you. Truth be told, I don’t particularly like our national anthem, and Australians joke that ‘Waltzing Matilda’ would be a better fit. As a child I always thought it was stupid that people would get so emotional over a song being played particularly ours when we just sing about our land being “girt by sea” but after spending time abroad, and standing there in a sea of green, I finally understood that it wasn’t stupid to sing a song but it was actually rather powerful.
Our group of strangers had never met before but singing our countries song, even the couple who hadn’t returned to Australia for 20-years, felt the mate-ship which comes with it. Placing our hands over each others shoulders and singing as loud as we could we became a unit.
“…Advancccce Australia Fair.”
Though our crowd was whooping and hollering, cheering the Australian team on, little impression was being made except in riling up the crowd around us.
But as Amhrán na bhFiann began, the stadium erupted.
I’ve been present in Australian crowds of 80,000 people singing our national anthem but perhaps it was because I didn’t understand it, Irelands national anthem being sung in Gaelic, or because it’s said the Irish people are a passionate people, or even because I was just so glad to be in this beautiful country, the sound of 50,000 voices singing gave me goosebumps.
As the game began it soon became clear that they weren’t playing Gaelic… nor were they playing AFL.
Instead, what I was confronted with was a weird hybrid. Mainly using Gaelic rules as a base but there were plenty of AFL rules included.
I was amazed at the skill that the Irish players had. The flexible rules of International Rules meant that the Irishmen could play a combination of gaelic and soccer, keeping the ball low knowing that the Australians would have more difficulty picking the ball up as AFL is traditionally played up high with the use of waist high handballs, marks and long kicks.
I took a quick video of the game when the Australia teams captain, Adam Goodes, got tackled.
It’s also interesting to note that professional Gaelic players, including the ones chosen as part of the International Rules matches, aren’t paid. They work day jobs before heading to training, and spend their weekends playing the game that they are so passionate about. In contrast being an AFL player in Australia is a day job. Sure some of them study University or have a day job, but with contracts reaching up to a million dollars many players don’t bother.
Whilst watching the International Rules game you could see the difference in attitudes towards the game. Sure, both sides were excited but Ireland played with a passion, wanting to please their home crowd. And the crowd was just as passionate as the players.
Sitting in the stands to our right was a group of Irish boys, about 10 of them, each of their heads topped with the crazy wigs the local newspaper and Irish TV station were giving away. Each time Australia scored they’d boo us and claim it was luck, but every time the Irish scored they’d go crazy and bounce up and down, taunting us that they were going to catch up to us in score. I even got a video capturing a little bit of their taunts.
The night was anything but eventful with a streaker at half time (which I managed to get on camera, full fishing tackle and all… not sure if that’s a good thing…), and being able to clamber onto the pitch when the game finished, something that is banned in Australia. All that was missing was the Australian tradition of a meat pie with sauce and a cold beer at half time.
And the final score? Exactly what an Australian wanted to see.
I figured one embarrassing picture of me is in order so here am I post-match decked out in my Australian finest (I even had an RM Williams jumper on!) I don’t even know those guys they just photo bombed me at the last second!
Have you ever been to an event which made you proud to be from your country? Or even proud to be visiting that country at that particular time?
Share the moment with us below!