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17th Aug 2018

“What It’s Like To Be In ‘Hill 16’ As A Fan Of The Opposing Team”

Darragh Berry

The main image of this article is from Diarmuid Connolly’s Twitter post from the 28 August 2016.

Dublin had just won their Semi-Final game and would now face Mayo in the final. Connolly said “Hill 16 was Dublin Only” and us Westerners thought ‘fuck him’, we’ll show him.

It’s a blessing to get an All-Ireland Final ticket at the best of times. I received mine at 2am, 13 hours before the final.

A scatter of us in Green and Red had obtained tickets for the Hill and we were buzzing.

From my memory it was maybe 60:40 in favour of the Dubs in the hill that day and the same for the replay.

It was 140 minutes of extremely entertaining football where sadly, my football team came out on the losing side, again.

But, I’m not here to talk about that experience in the hill, no. It’s easy to go into battle when you know you’ve thousands by your side, but Hill 16 is a very lonely place otherwise.

My girlfriend is from Galway and was obviously delighted to see her county reach their first football semi-final since 2001, the last time they won Sam Maguire.

I get the phone call on Bank Holiday Monday, ‘where do you wanna go for the Galway game’ and I said, ‘feck it get the Hill’, thinking that Galway fans would travel as strongly as Mayo.

I was wrong.

And that’s not a dig at my neighbouring county. Unlike Mayo, they’ve a successful hurling team and if you’re a follower of both, you’ll have clocked up so amount of mileage supporting the Maroon and White.

So you could understand why watching it on television would be the easiest option.

No joke, there was 17 Galway fans in Hill 16, including herself and me. Majority of them had made the excellent decision of bunching together. Us, like eejits, decided to stand towards the left of the Hill while it was empty, only for it to fill up and for us to be consumed by the blue sea.

No chance I was wearing a Galway jersey, let’s get that straight but I did throw on an NUIG GAA jersey which had enough maroon in it to satisfy herself.

As it filled up, we were met with comments like; “It’s going to be a long day”, “Did you get lost?” and “You’re brave” and we laughed it off until one Dub supporter, in a jersey from what looked to be the early 90s said to me:

“Hill 16 Is Fucking Dublin Only.”

I turned to herself and said, “I’d love if ye hammered in an early goal here, we’ll lose the plot”. And that’s what happened, Damo Comer shoots into the sky, gets the fist to the ball and bang into the goal, Dublin are on the ropes, kind of.

I celebrated it like it was my first born taking its first steps.

The Dubs were silent, Galway got a penalty, the Dubs were silent still. Galway miss the penalty and the atmosphere changed.

A chorus of ‘Come On You Boys In Blue’ takes off like the Concorde heading to America and myself and herself are the main target. Fists closed, hands high, our heads are now covered like a marquee from the fans beside us and behind us.

The slow bit of the chant that takes a pause after every word put the fear of god in me. There was a lad behind me with a hoarse voice and I could almost swear that he was roaring it in my ear solely so I’d get that message.

And most of it was friendly banter, the fans around us complimented us on Galway scores and we did likewise.

But there was one die-hard in the crowd that cursed out of us from minute dot until the end.

To the point, that his own squad were telling him to shut up and watch the game in peace.

“I won’t shut up, I paid my €30 same as yous and I’ll say whatever the fuck I want. I’ll apologise to everyone after the game but for the moment, I’ll say what I want.”

I’m not going to paint him in a bad light because every county has that fan, and some of his comments were comical. But nearly 90% of his insults were directed at us.

At one stage he said something along the lines of “how about this; We’ll take two Galwegians out of it and you can take two of us out of it, how’s that?” I looked at him, shook my head and didn’t answer. The girl behind us said: “don’t worry, he’ll tire himself out soon enough” as if she was kind of used to him.

And she was right. Half-time came and he sat down with his Tayto and home-made sandwiches and turned to us and said, “fair play to ye, ye’re sticking with us.” I didn’t answer him, I just didn’t want to have any association with him.

Being in the Hill with Mayo had me excited, buzzed, hyped but being there with Galway and no support behind left me anxious, a little on edge.

I started thinking about how this might go down if Galway grabbed a win, Dublin’s first loss since their league defeat to Kerry in 2016. You choose to enter the Hill, you knew the chaos that came with it, there’d be no sympathy if we got a rough time in there.

We didn’t have to worry about that though, because Dublin upped the gears and put Galway to the sword in the second half. In the end, the hostility died down and we started getting those looks.

Those, “aw poor ye, sure ye tried didn’t ye, ye got a day out” fecking looks.

I get it with Mayo all the time and I got it yesterday and it made me mad and frustrated and I’m not even from Galway!

We stayed until the final whistle and experienced the Molly Malone and Auld Triangle sing alongs that just bring back memories of hurt.

I wished those around me luck in the final knowing that they didn’t need any and they shared their commiserations with us.

Being in Hill 16 as an opposing fan is intimidating, it’s good craic, it’s intense, it’s a buzz but when you lose, and nowadays playing Dublin that’s a regular occurance, it’s a very lonely feeling.

And one of the first people to console you in the Hill, is normally a Dub.

I’d love for once for it to be the other way around.

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