Donegal become All Ireland champions for 2012

Long Island: I doubt if there has ever been a bigger crowd at the Irish Center in Mineola, New Yorkfor an Irish football game as there was on Sunday.

From early morning hundreds came streaming in from all over Long Islandand Queens to see the novel final pairing between Mayo and Donegal in the All Ireland football final. It was a scene duplicated all over America and the world in Irish centers, bars and restaurants as well as online.

It was a beautiful September day, but the Irish Center crowd was much more interested to hear that the wind was blowing strongly in Ireland, which would affect the flow of the game.

By the time of the national anthem played live from Dublin’s Croke Park there was nowhere to sit and a deep sense of quiet pride was felt.

For emigrants to see Dublin’s Croke Parkpacked with fellow Irish, to see the Tricolor fluttering, to feel the same identity that crosses oceans and continents is always a profound moment.

Young and old, Donegal and Mayo fans as well as many neutrals came to see the Irish Super Bowl, the major game of the year between two counties who have endured massive emigration and were considered long shots to make it to the final at the beginning of the year.

The crowds at the Irish Center and elsewhere are dictated by which teams are playing, Kilkenny, hurling kingpins, will not draw any large numbers as relatively few have emigrated to the U.S. from the Leinster county.

On the other hand, Cork, Kerry, Mayo and Donegal bring out massive numbers, successive generations having left their far-flung homes in those counties to come to America.

For Mayo people, the All Ireland has become a trail of tears. Since they won their last one in 1951 they have contested six finals, including yesterday, and lost them all.

They are the Chicago Cubs of Gaelic football, lovable but always no cigar. Yet their fans continue to turn out in massive numbers as they did on Sunday, undeterred and bruised but not broken by the final result, which saw Donegal win deservedly.

Donegal are now 2 for 2 in all Ireland final appearances, their last appearance and win was twenty years ago. Like Mayo they are a county wracked by emigration and unemployment and their football team has become an emotional touchstone for Ireland’s most isolated county.

Remember, these are amateur players playing for the pride of their county and no money and a few dollars in expenses.

I spent some time in Donegala few weeks ago and every available public space was plastered with Donegal team slogans.

Their victory will be more important to them than a Super Bowl for New York.

Donegal won, but the Irish love of sports and unique identity was the biggest winner of all. Despite all the bad news out of Ireland, the final proved once again that some Irish institutions will stand forever.

The GAA and the All Ireland football final are paramount among them.

Read more: Hills of Donegal to welcome Sam Maguire back home after stunning Croke Park victory