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Chasing Irish sports in New Jersey - trials and tribulations of being a GAA and soccer fan on the shore

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All-Ireland Kilkenny v Galway - watching from afar
All-Ireland Kilkenny v Galway - watching from afar

Rattigan, the Galway man, will give me an earful when we next meet.

“We come out and support Mayo,” he barked at me Saturday evening. “You can at least come out and support Galway in the morning.”

The wife, known here and elsewhere as Honey Badger, and I were out sampling the raw bar at the Blackthorn in Kenilworth when we ran into the pride of Dunmore.

He was of course referring to the All-Ireland Hurling Final against Kilkenny.

With some guilt I slept in Sunday morning, and then enjoyed a mug of black coffee on the back deck while reading the news in the fresh, cool weather after the night’s storms broke the humidity. I was mostly sure Galway could get along without me.

You can’t watch the Gaelic games on the internet outside of Ireland. Here you have to go to a pub with the signal if you want to see the action. Thankfully, The Irish Times does a brilliant job live blogging the GAA on its website if you are a bit lazy on a Sunday morning and not a massive hurling fan.

With four minutes left in the game, awake now with a third coffee on the deck, I was kicking myself for not making the effort to go back to Blackthorn and watch the match. Reading the play-by-play, I was missing a mighty experience. Galway, who I was sure would be easily beaten, were more than holding their own.

Then I read it was full time and a draw. They’d get to do it all over again in three weeks as if they never played at all.

Feeling a bit less guilty, I knew I only missed a bit of craic and all the lads shouting at the televisions.

After a summer of complaining to anyone who’d listen about the trouble of being an Irish sports fan on the Jersey Shore, I should have gone to watch the hurling simply out of general support.
Back in June, down on Long Beach Island, watching Ireland play Croatia in the Euro 2012 soccer tournament should have been easy enough. ESPN was airing it live.

As it turned out, the beach house only has sub-basic cable which does not included any sports channels. No worries, I thought. Some pub on the island had to be showing it.

Hoping to enjoy the match and a pint at the same time, I asked the wife to deposit me at one of the salty locals.

“And then I have to go back and collect you?”

Rightfully, Honey Badger dismissed me and walked up to the sand and surf for the afternoon.

The only place with televisions in walking distance was a boutique hotel at the bottom of the street. The joint is more Manhattan than Jersey Shore (and I don’t mean that eejit TV show) but there was little choice if I wanted to see the match.

The sleek square bar, all metal and modern, sat in the middle of a dimly lit lounge. A Phillies baseball game played on a big flat screen on the far wall. Only one lovey-dovey middle-aged couple and myself sat at the bar.

After ordering an overpriced beer, the kindly barman put the soccer on the smallest flat screen I had ever seen. It was as if someone had duct-taped a laptop over the bar in front of my chair.

I should have been happy enough but there was no sound from the televisions. The Phillies played in silence and I couldn’t hear a peep from the Ireland match. Only Top 40 radio hits from the 1960s and 70s flowed throughout the lounge.

Ireland scored their first and only goal of Euro 2012 and instead of a roar of cheers my ears were filled with Harry Belafonte singing “Day O” in my most surreal sports moment ever.

“Daylight come and he wan' go home.”

I should have gone home and left on a high note. But there were a couple more hopeful, expensive beers until the final minute of Ireland’s defeat. Maybe I should have just gone to the beach with Honey Badger.

Then there is the issue of watching Mayo football, or any GAA, down the shore. I’m a Jersey boy by birth but a Mayo man thanks to my mother.

We spend a fair bit of time year-round on Long Beach Island and sadly I discovered the 18-miles of barrier island doesn’t sport one proper Irish pub. And forget about watching GAA in the southern two-thirds of the Garden State.

You have to drive to Philly or nearly two hours back to North Jersey to catch a Gaelic game on a Sunday morning.

I did just that when Mayo met Dublin in the semifinal after a flying visit to the beach over Labor Day weekend.

That Friday night was a nightmare of overturned cars and massive backups on the Garden State Parkway. I have no time for roads like that. Honey Badger was already down, understanding and probably enjoying the quiet night on her own.

Soon after first light Saturday, Fletcher the dog and I were locked and loaded in the Chevy truck heading south. His snout was firm on my thigh when he wasn’t barking at toll collectors. The traffic moved well with only a shower of eejits here and there.

Arrived and unpacked, the three of us settled in front of the TV for the brilliant Notre Dame-Navy game live from Dublin.

That was the highlight of the day since the west wind delivered us biting black flies from the bay marshes and kept us indoors until evening.

Twenty hours after arriving, I had the Parkway to myself heading north.

Back in the Blackthorn, the collection of us cheered as Mayo defeated the Dubs and were on their way to the All-Ireland football final.

Rattigan was there too, of course.

“That was a great game,” he said. “Mayo deserved that.”

He’ll be there for the football final too, watching the game with a keen eye.

A week after that, when Galway plays Kilkenny again in the hurling, I’ll be there sitting with Rattigan and all the lads shouting at the televisions.

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