Oct 3, 2016

For one Canadian Student, Finding Fans of the Sports From Home all Over Dublin

Will Heseltine on bonding with people from all over the world in Dublin through sport, and the challenges that come with watching hockey in a different timezone.

Will HeseltineContributing Writer

We’re officially at the end of summer. With the end of September, we’re promised a return to the grind of classes, a time with a distinct feel and flavour. The wind cuts through your jacket a little faster, the nights get a little colder and you still hold the unrealistically optimistic belief that this semester you will make all your 9am classes – even in the rain.

I didn’t fly halfway across the world to talk about the weather. I couldn’t care less about that thing because, as a North American, the change in season is a sign that we’re in best months of sport, with the World Cup of Hockey camps, the NFL kickoff and the Major League Baseball playoffs. Things get real time time of year. While being over here, away from the action, does tend to dull the excitement of these events, my two years in Ireland have thrown me some gems. Pockets of pure sporting gold and random moments of fandom with people from all over the world are out there. All you have to do is look.

Last year, the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team made the playoffs for the first time since 1993. As a diehard fan born in 1995, I’m sure you can understand my plight. With the Jays embarking on this epic run, discovering any slight connection to Canada with someone would almost always lead to a conversation about our pitching or batting order. Locations such as the Porterhouse and Dicey’s became places where running into someone from Ontario just sort of happened.


In that moment as strangers jumped from booth to booth hugging each other and yelling, we were all home

I distinctly remember being late for a tutorial last year because I was in the Arts Block discussing the merits of AstroTurf over natural grass on ball diamonds with a fellow Trinity student from Toronto. We were both wearing our Blue Jays hats.

The Woolshed graciously allowed us to watch the games, and folks from all over Dublin started flocking to the bar, hours in advance of every match up. Whether they were from Trinity, RCSI, UCD or on Erasmus, student or professional, it didn’t matter. We cheered every run and yelled about every bad call. If you get the chance to, go on YouTube and watch the video titled, “Jose Bautista Epic 3 Run Home Run in The 7th Inning”. Even if you’ve never watched baseball before, you’ll appreciate how the hysteria from the crowd in that video was matched over here in the front section of the Woolshed. In that moment as strangers jumped from booth to booth hugging each other and yelling, we were all home.

With afternoon baseball, the time difference means you can catch an Eastern Time Zone game in the evening here, but ice hockey is a different animal. As a Canadian kid, hockey is my sport. It may sound exaggerated but we live for hockey over there. I am from the Western province of Alberta and my local team is the Calgary Flames. Typically, their games start at about 3am Dublin time. This means that on game nights, my brother and I get to bed at about 8pm, sleep for seven hours, wake up, make coffee, watch the game till 6am, and sleep till it’s time to get up for class. If that sounds crazy that’s because it is, but it does offer an explanation to my classmates as to why I usually look like grim death for morning lectures. However, it’s not just watching the games that is challenging. Growing up and playing at a competitive level it was not uncommon to only have one day off a month. The ice rink was a second home for us. To go from that type of commitment to here, a nation with sadly no ice hockey infrastructure, was jarring to say the least. Thankfully, I discovered The Canadian Irish Medical Students Association. I am not a medical student, but don’t tell them that because every Saturday for two years I’ve played indoor hockey with a group of about fifteen other students in the tiny RCSI basketball court. Canadians are often stereotyped as being easygoing, and for the most part that is true.

It’s that feeling of unity and the knowledge that these colors represent something bigger than ourselves. Separated from the sports we love, we begin to see how they are part of our identities and our cultures

However, on that cramped basement court sweating out Guinness from the night before there is one main rule, we don’t lose. While we’re mostly estranged North Americans, the past two years have seen an increase of Irish students coming out to play and falling in love with the game as well. My roommate from Cork has quickly become a huge Calgary Flames fan due to the fact that one of their star players has the last name Monahan. While it is an Irish name, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that this Monahan is very much from Brampton, Ontario. Much like I have learnt the game of rugby from my classmates and friends, it appears that we have converted a few of our Irish friends into hockey fans, an outcome I was not expecting. With the year starting up once more we will return to the court every Saturday and our sleep cycles will once again start to take hits. In the chaos of a new year we, the chosen ones, find sanctuary in September’s dramatic moments and epic wins. Each night brings a new hero to the forefront of our imaginations.

These rituals and activities may seem like the desperate actions of homesick students wishing they were somewhere else, but I love Dublin. The power of sport is that it brings people together and gives one something to get excited about. It’s that feeling of unity and the knowledge that these colours represent something bigger than ourselves. Separated from the sports we love, we begin to see how they are part of our identities and our cultures. I wear my support with pride, a lone outpost of fandom in a foreign land.

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