Shoulder Charge: "Donegal are gonna win the Super Bowl"

An American visitor rested upon the ledge of the jumbo sized burger van that had just fed him his jumbo sized chicken box.

“Golly, you Irish sure know how to throw a party,” offers the jumbo sized Yank named Steve.

Steve hails from Indiana and was one of 35,000 Americans who landed in Ireland for an American football game last weekend that was the first advance sell-out at the Aviva Stadium.

Much has been made in Donegal this last fortnight about hype.

The All-Ireland final looms and the county has gone football crazy.

You ain’t seen hype ’til you sample the American way of a ‘regular’ ball game.

Pre-match hype, hysteria, pageantry and parties were the order of the day last weekend in Dublin – three weeks out from the Gaelic Football’s big day.

American Football rode into town for one game only – the ‘Emerald Isle Classic’, a College ball game between Notre Dame and Navy.

Steve, my new American friend, was enjoying the pre-game tailgate party. Get this: the Americans throw a great big party, called a tailgate party, which is basically a good, old-fashioned knees-up.

But there’s more. Much more. You see, the average American Football game isn’t just like your Ulster preliminary round game against Cavan on a breezy Sunday in mid-May.

In Temple Bar last Saturday, amazed Irish journalists – this one included – watched a guy march around aimlessly pushing a cart he convinced some poor trans-Atlantic visitors was actually Molloy Malone’s.

It was an odd throwback to some ancient time as the smell of turf filled the usually smog-filled Dublin air.

The match itself was pretty much a non-event – a one-sided contest won by Notre Dame – but the sideshow seemed much more intriguing.

On the weekend that Dublin played Mayo in an All-Ireland semi-final, it was interesting that the word ‘hype’ was used quite a bit.

The American way was hyped before the big show at The Aviva, which gave some of us a first live taste of our favourite American games. American football lasts three hours and a little more – during the breaks in play, of which there are many, the natives head for the shop, stock up on some cold beer and food.

Always lots of food. And always lots of chicken dippers and nuggets it seemed.

Anyway, hype? Oh, yeah well the Dubs were worried last weekend. The city sensed the Mayo ambush that duly arrived.

The Hill didn’t sway its usual swagger; there was a deep-set worry around the Liffey that their reign as kings was drawing to a close.

And so it proved. Yet, it had nothing really to do with ‘hype’ – though there were some sociable stories floating on Saturday.

Jim McGuinness has had to take the hype question a fair bit this week. Donegal has gone into overdrive since last week, though the manager and other senior GAA figures called for an end to some of the bizarre discussions that had developed.

Hype, if not managed correctly, can be a distraction. If it wasn’t in American football, there’d be bedlam.

Last weekend, Notre Dame and Navy were oblivious to Steve and his ilk partying like hell, and put on an impressive display that had Steve and his ilk dancing into the night again.

Donegal’s press night was held on Tuesday night and the country’s media was in Ballybofey.

“Jim, there is a lot of hype in Donegal – do you see that as a distraction?” one journalist ventured.

McGuinness’s eyes narrowed. “Not really no. Supporters are entitled to go absolutely bonkers if they so wish.

“It is a great time for the county, but we as a group have a job to do. Our sole focus will be on that job.

“Nothing must distract us from that job.

“The players haven’t let it get to them until now and I’m confident it won’t have a bearing this time either, even if it is the All-Ireland final.”

Steve went on a tour of our little island last week before his beloved Notre Dame took to the Aviva.

“I was in crazy county in the week,” says he.

“Really,” says I, subconsciously knowing exactly what was coming next.

“Yeah,” he smiled. “Like, Donegal – it’s so remote some way.

“Heck, it don’t even have a motorway…but gosh is that one hell of a festival going on in there.”

“Donegal,” says the Yank, chewing upon the greasy leg of chicken, “they’re like, gonna win the Super Bowl.”

Indeed, Steve. Indeed.

The hype is well documented – a myth seems to have reached Mayo that we’re on a month of Bank Holidays up here – but there’s one key point to be made.

It won’t deflect the focus of a group of players and management who have the ultimate honour within their grasp.

Shielded from the mayhem, the party will go on in the backrgound. In his foreground, McGuinness has just one thing in mind.

The rest of us though might, as Jim has suggested we do, go just a little crazy as September 23rd draws closer.

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