The white and blue begins before you even cross Youghal Bridge. 

Head for Waterford east along the N25, and the bunting and flags and colours are coming against you, establishing a small bridgehead in the most eastern part of East Cork.

Even in the age of , reaching an All-Ireland final must be celebrated. 

Some of the long-established rituals are being observed in the southeast for the last week or two — including that hardy staple, the elaborate field-based decoration.

Drivers passing the service station in Kinsalebeg will see a large poster wishing local hero Tadhg de Burca well, but this pales in comparison to what’s on offer a few miles along in Grange.

A standout exhibition in the middle of a field just past the church shows the Waterford team — all 15 of them — represented in a line as though waiting to shake hands with President Michael D Higgins.

Social distancing means this year’s anticipation comes with a different tone, however.

In the square in Dungarvan, business premises are festooned with white and blue, with a few putting on terrific window displays, but the tell-tale signs of a big game on the horizon, those knots of two and three people at a street corner mulling over the prospects, or the likely line-out on the day, are absent.

The enormous white and blue bear wielding a hurley and a candy cane in the middle of the square is a pretty accurate representation of this season in general and this weekend in particular: splendid, alone, and somehow combining Christmas and Gaelic games accessories at the same time. Like all the rest of us.

Still, there is a safe space where people can come together in numbers to share the sense of anticipation: the primary school.

Hence the attention paid to outposts like Garranbane NS, an explosion of colour on your right as you take the climbing lane east out of Dungarvan.

Some things never change as pupils turn Waterford blue and white

Pictured at Garranbane National School, Dungarvan Co Waterford, are Ella Conroy, Odhran Walsh, Harry Rather, Eric Reade and Reece Fitzgerald Kennedy. Picture: Patrick Browne

A screening row of trees isn’t enough to hide the riot of white and blue, and teacher Clare Byrne says the build-up has been a welcome diversion for the kids after a long, strange year: “For the last few weeks, we’d have been focusing on keeping the school safe for the children, but this has been a great distraction for them.

“They’re all involved in it, and even if they’re not into sport, they’re happy to be making up songs about the team, all of that.

“A lot of them play with Abbeyside or Stradbally, so they’re into the games and go to the Waterford matches. 

“They can barely wait until Sunday, like the rest of us; they have paintings done of every one of the 36 players on the panel, for instance.” 

Some things never change as pupils turn Waterford blue and white

Charlotte Whelan and Aaron Lacey at Garranbane National School. Picture: Patrick Browne

Roll on eastwards into Waterford City, and the sense of excitement is equally high in one of the most historic schools in Ireland, Mount Sion Primary School.

Some things never change as pupils turn Waterford blue and white

Fifth Class pupils at Mount Sion Primary School, Waterford: Jamie Power, James McGrath, Cian O’Farrell, Cley McGrath and Sam O’Regan. Picture: Mary Browne

“Normally at this time of the year we’d be buzzing ahead of Christmas,” says principal Michael Walsh.

“We’d have concerts, carol services, Little Red Kettle would be doing their show — that’s all off the agenda, unfortunately.

“So this is a welcome substitute. 

“The build-up has given some sense of normality to the school — we’ve had a blue and white day in the run-up to every game.

“We were one of the schools chosen for the ‘Fans in the Stands’ initiative, which has turned out to be great. We only had one day, but it created a great buzz in the school. 

“The children worked in groups on them and in its own way it replaced the Christmas artwork they’d normally be doing around this time of the year.” 

The school’s murals, by Saoirse Walsh, show hurlers in action and add to the overall effect, with the low winter sun picking out the detail.

The Mount Sion name is synonymous with hurling in Waterford, of course, both the school and GAA club.

Some things never change as pupils turn Waterford blue and white

“I’m a member of the club myself,” says Walsh. “Our club is unusual in that we don’t have a parish, we’re based purely on the school, but the bond with the club is as strong as ever.

“Austin Gleeson is in with us as often as we need him, coaching, giving displays and talks to the boys. Likewise Ken, Eoin, and Roy McGrath, Iggy O’Regan, Tony Browne and Stephen Roche.

“We have children from 44 different countries in the school, and a lot of them would have no connection with the GAA, but between the club and the build-up, it’s given them a link with the school — and the community as well. They become part of the culture then.” 

Some things never change as pupils turn Waterford blue and white

Third Class Mount Sion pupils Dino Hassan, Bright Mbala, Quin Power, Adam Cleere, Alfie O’Mahony, and Jayden Grace. Picture: Mary Browne

Garranbane, half an hour back the road towards Dungarvan, have a strong link to the side taking the field on Sunday as well.

Conor Prunty, the man who’ll lead Waterford out, once occupied a desk in Garranbane himself, but the connections don’t end with him.

“Yes, Conor is a past pupil,” says Clare Byrne. “He played on the Cumann na mBunscoil team in 2009.

“But the brother of one our learning support teachers is on the panel, Patrick Curran is in subbing with us, so we have a good link to the team.

“Conor’s brother Robert isn’t long gone out of the school, and a lot of the kids would have known him, so the Pruntys would be well known in the school.” 

There you have the closeness of the celebration: the child in fourth or fifth class who knows the brother of the man who plays full-back for the county.

True in Waterford. True in Limerick. True everywhere the GAA is played.

Read original article here.