Croke Park. It’s not just a stadium.

As Tim Carey, author of Croke Park: A History says, ‘More than perhaps any other sporting venue, Croke Park represents something that is beyond sport’.

The place has always had another agenda – one that’s intimately connected with the birth and evolution of a nation. ‘It is freighted with historical significance’, says Carey, ‘from the naming of the stands after various figures associated with the GAA to the momentous historical event of Bloody Sunday. Perhaps no other stadium in the world occupies such a central place in a nation’s psyche’. And perhaps no other stadium tells stories that are so in tune with the needs of that psyche.

Take Hill 16, the famous terrace that’s the spiritual home of the Dubs’ supporters. Until the 1930s it was called Hill 60. Why the name change, you might wonder? What happened to the missing 44? The original Hill 60 was the site of a bloody encounter between the 5th Battalion of the Connaught Rangers and the Turkish army in Gallipoli, in August 1915. The 5th Battalion had been raised in Dublin the previous year. Reports of its progress and eventual retreat were carried in the Dublin newspapers on a daily basis. In one week, The Connaughts sustained 198 casualties, including 90 deaths.

At the same time, work was underway to raise the level of one of the terraces at Croke Park. Dublin ironists couldn’t resist the temptation to call this new ‘hill’ after the famous one in Gallipoli. It stayed Hill 60 until the 1930s. At this stage it was decided that the number 16, date of the Easter rebellion, would be a more appropriate name for a terrace in a stadium that had become so involved in the forging of the national identity.

Disappointingly, the story that Hill 16 was built on the rubble of the rising – delivered by handcart from O’Connell Street – is another example of myth-making. Work on the Hill was actually already complete by the time of the 1915 All-Ireland finals. This is the sort of story that’s born of the rivalry between a newly emergent nation and an old empire. It’s a rivalry that’s embedded in the Irish psyche. But that same psyche has got plenty of room for inter-county rivalries too.

Sure we all get along well with each other most of the time. We can share a pint and exchange banter before the match. Or after the match. But step through the turnstiles into Croke Park and all bets are off. There are the great rivalries, of course: Cork and Kerry, Kilkenny and Tipperary, Donegal and Tyrone. But this weekend Croke Park will bear witness to a final that pushes an old rivalry back into the spot light: Dublin versus Kerry. The Dubs are attempting the unprecedented five in a row, whilst a young team from the Kingdom will be determined to stop them.

I’ll never forget standing on Hill 16 on the day of the All-Ireland Semi-Final 2006. Mayo ran out first and warmed up in front of The Hill. This seemed innocent enough on the face of it. But it flouted an unwritten rule: that it’s The Dubs who warm-up in front of The Hill.

All-Ireland Semi-Final 2006

Mayo & Dublin legends talk about their infamous 2006 All-Ireland semi final

The place erupted. Choruses of Come on you Boys in Blue rang so loud around the stands that the sound reverberated back at us. The Dublin team formed a line, walking arm-in-arm towards the Mayo players, riling up the crowd on The Hill and proceeding to warm-up in front of the same goal. But the damage was done. Mayo were out to rattle cages – and rattle them they did. After an initial Dublin onslaught, Mayo fought their way back from a seven-point deficit to win the day.

History, myth and rivalry all combine in Croke Park to create a seething cauldron of emotions. This year’s final between Dublin and Kerry will be no exception. But here at we allow ourselves to hope that, come full-time, the choruses of Come on you Boys in Blue will spill out of the stadium and be heard long into the night.

Amy Sergison works in the advertising industry, creating social and digital content for brands in Ireland and the UK. The child of inner-city parents, Dublin is in her blood. When not writing you can find Amy screaming at a rugby match, Instagramming her dinner, or searching for solace in the quiet spots of the city.

You might also like...

Dublin Uncovered: Crossing Harold’s Cross

Why do any of us choose what part of the city we live in? Budget usually dictates, as well as practicalities – Is it near a Luas stop? What are the local schools like? – or sometimes, well, it’s just for random reasons. Occasionally, we’ll get a yen to live somewhere in particular, because we’ve decided we like its village vibe. When I moved to Harold’s Cross six years ago, my motivation was less notional and more prosaic. We’re talking about a room in a very nice house, with people I liked and most importantly of all, it was only twenty minutes’ walk into Dublin’s city centre.

Read More

Dublin Voices: This Must Be The Place

After living in Jersey City for the first decade of my life, we moved to my mother's hometown, Dublin. My parents had divorced and the neighbourhood we were living in was starting to deteriorate rapidly. My father stayed on in his native city and we hopped on a plane to Ireland. It took a long time for me to find my peace with this place. The food here in the 80's was brutal and I quickly realised why. There was nobody here of any skin colour that wasn't lily white and freckled. Consequently, no proper New Jersey pizzas, bagels and barbecued chicken. These had been my dietary staples. And although I was well used to tough city kids, on my own I was no match for the lads from Charlemount street and Swan Grove, who on my first day of school beat me up because I asked the teacher if I could please use the "bathroom."

Read More