It may well be three full weeks away but already the tension and buzz is beginning to build in and around Athlone ahead of the eagerly awaited clash of neighbouring greats St Brigid’s and Garrycastle in the All-Ireland club semi-final.
The game which is fixed for Pearse Park, Longford on Saturday February 18 is certain to be one of the biggest crowd-pullers ever from the general Athlone area. Both clubs have sizable followings built up in recent years and their numbers will be swollen by significant additional support from within their respective counties.
Make no mistake about it - this is a match of a lifetime. Not only will victory here book a place in the All-Ireland club decider on March 17, but whoever wins will have the bragging rights for many a long year to come. The chances of both sides meeting at this stage of the competition again must be a million to one - so everyone is making the most of the hype.
With both sides traditionally sporting an almost identical green and red strip the flags, bunting, and number of cars with ‘Mayo’ flags at present make Athlone resemble Castlebar on Connacht final day. People who know little or nothing about GAA are asking about tickets and booking a seat on one of the many busses being organised by local watering holes around the town.
Of course both sides will be changing from their normal jersey for the day with the new jersey being kept under wraps for another while at least. With a limited number of these special edition jerseys being made they are sure to become something of a collector’s item. Rumour has it that the Garrycastle jersey is mainly red while St Brigid’s is a cross between their club and county colours.
While the build up is something to savour for those connected with each club the next three weeks can’t go quickly enough for the players themselves. In the meantime their main aim is to avoid injury and cold and flus which are rampant at present.
Speaking to a number of players at a press night held in AIT last week, both sides have a number of players on the sick list at present and they will be hoping to have these cleared up well before February 18. Luckily neither side has any major injury concern at this stage and with each side planning one last challenge game this weekend they will be hoping to come through those unscathed.
St Brigid’s, who are the bookies favourites, have been impressive in recent challenges, running a fairly strong Donegal side to three points. They are taking on Kildare this weekend in their final outing ahead of the big game.
Garrycastle tasted defeat against Galway and Laois but both outings will have given Anthony Cunningham food for thought.
It is a huge credit to both clubs to have made it this far and a unique occasion for a town like Athlone to have two neighbouring clubs vying for a place in the All-Ireland club decider. In what is so often described as a soccer town it can only be good for the promotion of gaelic football in the region to have two neighbouring clubs dominate both the local and indeed national media for the coming weeks.
While I don’t expect the game itself to be a classic given the amount at stake, it promises to be one hell of an occasion. February 1 is St Brigid’s Day. Garrycastle will be hoping February 18 is theirs. Time will tell. In the meantime enjoy the build-up.