Looking Back

'You're thinking, 'This is where Michael Collins was interned. I felt I could hear the echoes'

A new sports documentary on TG4 will take a look at different sports stadiums around the world.

FORMER KERRY FOOTBALLER Dara Ó Cinnéide didn’t think he would ever visit Mexico again after taking a trip there to celebrate an All-Ireland victory some 20 years ago.

unnamed (1) Dara Ó Cinnéide standing in Croke Park.

Ó Cinnéide was always fascinated by the country and its place in sports history. The writings of the incomparable Con Houlihan helped the An Gaeltacht man form an impression of the place, particularly Houlihan’s recollections of the 1986 World Cup. Ó Cinnéide thought that was as close as he would get to another journey down to that neck of the woods.

And then Cormac Hargaden of Loosehorse Productions came to the Gaeilgeoir with an idea for a sports documentary, one that would showcase some of the most fascinating sports arenas around the world.

From there, the plans for ‘Na Goirt Órga’ were conceived. That translates to ‘Fields Of Gold,’ and the series will run over three episodes on TG4 starting tonight at 9.30pm.

Ó Cinnéide’s return to Mexico will come up in episode three, where he visits the Azteca in Mexico City. And in tonight’s opening installment, viewers will see the familiar surroundings of venues like Croke Park, Anfield and Fitzgerald Stadium.

“The lads in Loosehorse came to me to get involved in this international co-production with a Welsh production company and another one in Korea and Chinese,” Ó Cinnéide explains about the origins of ‘Na Goirt Órga’ which is also a collaboration project with other TV stations around the world. The Cwmni Da and S4C TV stations in Wales are also involved, along with JTV and KCA (Korea) and LIC (China).

“They wanted to do something about these places that we call our sporting venues that have stories to tell in terms of architecture, history, and what they do when people come together there.

“I said we’d go for it, and that was the genesis of it, really. I’m in a WhatsApp group of about 40 ex-UL lads. They saw the blurb for the new series and said, ‘Nice work if you can get it,’ and I was pretending that I was over in South Korea and China. But the line I was spinning to them — and I’d believe it — is that Croke Park is as good as any of them. We have it right here. And [for] any stadium, it’s what memories it holds for you, or what it evokes for you.”

The programme will take viewers to stadiums in different places around the world including China, and South Korea. The grounds in Liverpool’s Anfield and Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium are covered too. Ó Cinnéide didn’t get the chance to visit every arena that is featured in the show but of the places he did get to see, he came home reassured that the GAA headquarters in Croke Park is the equal of them all.

“The new Croke Park is around 20 years old, and people say that it has started to age. But it has aged very well. In terms of facilities and what I’ve seen, Croke Park is as good as what’s there in terms of scale. It’s still a very impressive sporting venue.

“Tottenham Hotspur is shiny, new and beautiful. The corporate facilities are amazing, and the new seats, and the new chairs, but to me, it just doesn’t hold the same water as Croke Park would because I’m a GAA man. We had to tailor it to our own audience as well, so we did a feature on Fitzgerald Stadium because that has a storied history. It’s where I would have played a lot of my football, and I had a nice chat with Tomás Ó Sé going down memory lane as part of the documentary.”

The history behind the pitches is crucial to the documentary. Croke Park has a strong connection with Ireland’s past, and was the setting for the violent events of Bloody Sunday in 1920. That naturally has its place in the documentary, as does the Hillsborough tragedy which is commemorated by a monument outside Anfield.

liverpool-file-photo Liverpool's Anfield. PA PA

Wrexham FC also appears in episode two and there’s an important story attached there too. The club was famously purchased by Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney in recent years, and their home ground in the Racecourse stadium is one of the oldest football venues in the world.

The comedic acting duo weren’t present for Ó Cinnéide’s visit but, even in their absence, the three-time All-Ireland winner still had a worthwhile visit. He was able to visit the village of Frongoch, which has a unique link with Ireland’s military history.

This was where important Irish figures including Michael Collins and Kerry footballer Dick Fitzgerald were interned there in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. The Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney was named after Dick, who also won five All-Irelands with his county.

“The most spine-tingling moment was standing in the middle of a field in Frongoch in North Wales,” says Ó Cinnéide.

“I remember it was a fine, frosty morning before Christmas and I was standing in the field and the mist was starting to rise. You’re looking up around the mountains and the sheep are grazing. You’re thinking, ‘Jesus, this is where Michael Collins, Dick Fitzgerald and these lads were interned. This is the pitch that had the famous barbed wire All-Ireland final in 1916.’ That was more or less between Kerry and Louth who were the teams of the time.

“Just to visualise that detail and be standing in the middle of that field. It’s just being grazed now by sheep and cattle. There’s a natural slope on it where the descriptions of the barbed wire final are, where fellow prisoners were watching the games. I would be fascinated by Dick Fitzgerald as a kind of personality, and the construction of Fitzgerald Stadium.

“I was standing there [in Frongoch] and I felt like I could hear the echoes. It was a big privilege of the documentary to be able to stand in that field, and interview someone about what happened in Frongoch in 1916, and what sporting activities were there.”

The architecture of these stadia is another key feature of the episodes, as ‘Na Goirt Órga’ aims to give viewers a more rounded understanding of the places where fans go to consume sport.

“When you sit in Croke Park, it’s just nice to know [the history],” Ó Cinnéide says in a parting note about why a programme like this is important for sports fans who are familiar with these places.

“It gives an extra layer to the experience of sitting there. And it doesn’t have to be a Bloody Sunday commemoration, but that you know you’re sitting in a place where Bloody Sunday happened. It’s another story that adds to the layer of stories that are unfolding in front of you out on the pitch.

“You hear about stadiums when things go wrong, and that Hillsborough was designed and lessons were learnt. There’s a monument in Anfield emanating from that disaster. The game is what it’s all about but these are the places that people gather to share communal experiences. We share them in different ways, vocally or otherwise. If I see Fitzgerald Stadium and a commentator says that it’s resplendent of Fitzgerald Stadium, that will immediately transport me back to Frongoch and Dick Fitzgerald’s internment.”

Get instant updates on the Allianz Football and Hurling Leagues on The42 app. Brought to you by Allianz Insurance, proud sponsors of the Allianz Leagues for over 30 years.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel