General Footy Writing: An Irishman’s thoughts on footy, such as they are

By Cormac McCormack

Big wages. Big muscles. Big city clubs shipping 6000 kilometres to play at big stadia …

Everything about the AFL should make anyone from a GAA background skulk around in anxious compunction, waiting for the inevitable comparisons. It doesn’t, though. The bottom line – that Gaelic games are amateur sports, played and supported locally, from the parish pitch to Croke Park herself – is severely vexing to any Australian football fan contemplating the hard-fought victories and defeats in recent international Tests.

So it has been something of a challenge for me to pop this paradigm and squint through the prism of an Australian football diehard. It’s been difficult to look afresh at a game the point of which has at times escaped me: franchised, clichéd, poorly supported at the grassroots level, booed on, star-heavy, leavened by merchandise, consumed rather than breathed, myopically dismissive of other codes, banefully derisive of any other teams’ fans in a reflexive, bored way. Wherein was the craic? Where reposed the soul of this game?

What, now, has given me such an impression? I’ve watched plenty of footy. Back home we held the AFL in awe. Those who occasionally travelled too far from home fell into the mystic. They returned as giant warrior-men to the skinny-legged teams they had left as boys, nothing but rumours being heard of what had happened in Oz. Australian football was a game played by professionals that had much to teach us and, sure enough, ideas filtered across to our undisputed advantage: the seeds from which grew the modern GAA’s fluidity, physicality and highly evolved tactical play were all ferreted, via Dubai, in the back pockets of intrepid explorers who set out to study the Australian game. Our game became better. Played by real men, hard and fair, it became better than AFL football.

In spite of the parallels, there remains an inexplicable gulf between my experience of these two games. Why so many one-sided matches in the AFL? Why do the stands only murmur between scores? The weird, Edwardian, unsung club anthems? Why the boring criticism and the dull abuse hurled at one’s own team? Where be the wit of the crowd? The ecstasy of a goal, so hard to score, that denies defeat? Where the crying of tears?

Where the deafening roar of thirty thousand sardined men on a soaking bank around a bogged, sloped pitch? Where being high upon shoulders, passively inhaling the smoke of a legion with each roar, as an entirely ignored British Army helicopter swoops to photograph every face in the crowd. Where is bucking with your Da’s mighty jigs as you, along with everyone else, claw at the clouds and drink up the King’s Pardon, a last-minute escape into the next round of the All-Ireland?

You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it felt here, in Australia – or felt it myself. I know boys who play and boys who have played and they tell me, Sure, it’s there.  I have felt the spur of easy comradeship and the encouragement of a slapped back at my Pilbara footy training session. I know it’s got to be there somewhere.

So I’m going from Perth to Melbourne with Mapo, your Almanac man Dave Mapleston, to find out where the Passion is. We’ll be there mid-August.


  1. Cormac – you’re not trying if you can’t feel the passion. But maybe I’m being harsh. Footy (at least in Melbourne, but I suspect all over Australia) is tribal. It requires a sense of belonging. I mean, really belonging, like the boys on the park wearing the colours you love are YOUR boys.

    Perhaps you need to adopt a team and take in its culture and feel a part of the tribe. Then let the passion flow.

    Good luck to you, but I say to you that our game may have its faults, it may not be all things to all people, but it has all the life and turmoils attached to it that any game has – plus some.

    Your memories of the game you describe are memories of (obviously a very happy) childhood, not memories of the game you watched. Don’t get confused between the two.

    Viva le Republic.

    PS – boring criticism and dull abuse of one’s own team – you were obviously watching Collingwood.

  2. Matt Connell says

    Great article. So good to get an outside perspective.

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