Croke Park- Caroline Dudeck

1 Nov

           On Friday November 1, 2013, our Irish Life and Cultures class ventured to Croke Park, in the morning to learn about the history of the Gaelic Games. Croke Park is the fourth largest stadium in Europe and seats about 82,000 fans. The stadium is located just a quick DART ride outside the city. At first I was in awe of its size, and though it’s not as large as some of the stadiums I’ve visited (Ohio Stadium at Ohio State University), I still thought the space was quite impressive.

            We started out our tour with an extremely well produced video, which gave us a quick intro of what Croke Park was about, and I quickly learned that Croke Park is not just a national stadium, it’s a community. Sports in Ireland are treated very differently than in America. American athletes are deemed “professionals,” and are thus paid thousands of dollars annually, making American athletes some of the wealthiest people in the country. In Ireland this is not the case. The athletes are not paid, they have jobs and families, and if they want to play competitively and be successful, then they have to make time for training and practice in their already busy schedules. I really like this aspect of Irish sport culture because at home; an athlete’s paycheck is almost a sore subject. It’s understood that they work hard and practice hard to offer Americans entertainment, but at the same time, it’s hard to swallow the fact that a professional athlete makes more money than a police officer or fire fighter. In Ireland, the athletes play because they love the game and want to share their talent and skill with their country and county. The whole experience seems somewhat more authentic and meaningful in Ireland, it’s not just about the money and the profit, it’s about the love of the game and the sense of community the county’s and Ireland has as a country.

            With this in mind our tour began in the Croke Park museum. There we saw jerseys from decades ago that players wore in the most memorable matches, the Sam Maguire cup, and were able to participate in agility tests that measured one’s height, speed, and hand eye coordination. We learned during our tour another big difference between the American and Irish sports. In the U.S. most stadiums are a “home” to one specific team, and the dressing rooms for the home team are usually of much better quality than that of the away team as a way to intimidate and irritate the other team before the game even begins. At Croke Park this is not the case. Croke Park is not the home of one specific team; it’s the home of all of Ireland’s hurling, football, Gaelic football, and rugby teams. All dressing rooms and amenities are identical, as no one team has precedence over another. I thought this was really interesting because it’s such a foreign idea when compared to American sports.

            After our fun and education inside the museum, we actually went out to the stadium to see what all the fuss was about. The stadium was impressive in size and structure. We took our seats in the VIP section where the president and Taoiseach normally sit during the championship games, took photos in the famous spot where the winning teams hold the Sam Maguire cup, and even got to sit in the comfy couches of the elite boxes. Businesses purchase a box of 32 seats for 10 years for about a half a million euros. Our tour guide told us that a lot of people don’t like the idea of having box seating, but that the sale of the boxes before the construction of Croke park essentially funded the stadium, and without them, there would not be a place to celebrate Irish sports. The overall cost to build Croke Park was about 260 million euros.

            Our tour guide also took us to the players lounge which houses an Irish original chandelier created of 32 hanging footballs and 70 sliotars, representing the 32 counties and the 70 minutes in each final championship game. The chandelier changes its colors to that of the winning team after the championship match. He also shared a lot of personal stories about how he grew up going to Croke Park to watch a good match starting in his childhood and then into his adulthood. He really showed us how personal and important Croke Park and the Gaelic games and culture are to Ireland, and he made our tour so much more enjoyable. I truly enjoyed my time at Croke Park learning the differences between Irish and American sports, and the history/importance of Croke Park in the Irish culture. I hope to attend a match there because I depart for the U.S. in December. 

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