Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Connacht Final: Nobody Knows Anything

McDonald: And for my next trick...NOBODY knows anything. William Goldman said it of Hollywood, and it's equally true of Gaelic football. Let's play you bet your life: what would you bet your life on happening - Mayo winning pulling up against Galway last year in Castlebar after spotting Galway a six point start in the first five minutes, or Colm Coyle pointing on the half-volley from seventy yards plus to save the Royal bacon in 1996? Nobody knows anything.

As the Connacht Final looms by the seaside nobody knows even less. Galway have been doing the béal bocht all year, but their keening has reached even more heart-rending heights following the announcement of the Galway team, which you can see here. If my sources are to be believed, the only reason Galway are fulfilling the fixture in the first place, instead of just conceding the walk-over and being done with it, is because they need the gate money after only twenty-seven people turned up at Pearse Stadium to see Mayo get another scutching from Kerry, this time in the Christy Ring Cup.

An Spailpín Fánach has seen enough Championship days come and go to beware the heron choker with the bifurcated tongue. It is a mistake to say that the Mayo are Galway's great rivals - Kerry are Galway's great rivals, for while Connacht may be the great Mayo stage, Galway operate at the National Level. Galway do not field teams of bums, and they do not produce teams of bums when they are managed by a Mayoman whose desire to stick it to a Mayo County Board who will never forgive him for his role in the mutiny of 1992 can only be biblical in proportions. Peter Ford was a tough hombre when he patrolled the square for Mayo, and he is likely cast Galway 2005 in his own image. Those who expect Galway to turn up to simply tickle Mayo's belly are mistaken, whatever other impression might be given by the constant grinding of teeth and rending of maroon garments currently going on amongst the Galway support.

The absence of both Joe Bergin and young Armstrong is surprising, of course. If Bergin is crocked then there's not a lot that can be done except to break the seal on Plan B and see where that takes you. Messers Coleman and Cullinnane did not look like barefoot boys buying shoes in their outings against Leitrim and at Under-21, so it's unlikely that they'll roll over and say uncle for the likely Mayo pairing of Ronan McGarrity and Shane Fitzmaurice. And Mayo's cup of delight will surely run over if, as predicted, Ford calls Kieran Comer from the isolation of the corner to the heat of crowded midfield battle. As Shane Fitzmaurice is a guard by profession, he'll be well able to direct traffic, and it'd be nice to know that there was one thing that he could be relied to do, other than fulfil a criterium that seems a sine qua non of current Mayo football philosophy, that the ideal footballer is first and foremost broad in the beam.

The Mayo team hasn't been announced, but it's reasonable to expect that there will be few changes from the outing in the Hyde. Dermot Geraghty will probably start ahead of the injured Keith Higgins, while Trevor Mortimer is likely to edge the misfortunate Stephen Carolan in the corner. Trevor came on like a ball of lightning against Roscommon - it was good to see after a lonesome day for him in Croke Park in September.

Ciarán McDonald's critics were muttering into their weak and milky tea after the game against Roscommon, complaining that McDonald didn't do this or didn't do that. He was too deep, he wasn't involved, we preferred his hair long. Let them away. There are some men who won't be happy even if McDonald did a Prospero, and set roaring war 'twixt the green (and red) sea and the azured vault. You're not going to get that in every game, and it's ridiculous to expect it. If McDonald can play a mortal's game at centre-half forward and maybe launch a lively one fizzing and spitting into his full-forwards every now and again, just for the howl, he'll have done a fine day's work, and be fit and rested for the greater battles ahead.

An Spailpín knows nothing about this child Hanley that Ford has cast into the flames on the edge of the square for Galway, other than some remarks on the GAA Posting Board that he's very young. But there was a hint on one post that Hanley and Billy Joe Padden have a bit of history, at what I presume is Siegerson level. Ford was a full-back himself - what does he see?

If he sees the reflection of himself, then Mayo are in trouble. Mayo have been looking for a full-forward ever since Jimmy Burke hung up the boots in 1989. Ray Dempsey and John Casey both performed well at times, but neither was able to claim the Green and Red 14 for his own. But Billy Joe didn't do a half-bad impersonation of a full-forward in the Hyde, so much so that it was a pity a few more heat-seekers weren't bombed up to where they could do the most damage.

If the child in swaddling clothes Hanley has a good game on Billy Joe then it could be time for Mayo to reach for Plan B, and John Maughan's Mayo are not noted for the calibre of their Plan Bs. Georgie Golden won't be turning into Irwin Rommel anytime soon. But if the royal blood that courses through young Padden's veins pays off and he lords it in front of goal, then it's hello, baby for the rest of the summer. Padden will become an tIolar Breá Iorrais, Mayo will have one more string to their lyre and the bandwagon will rumbling down the Salthill promenade by half-past four on Sunday evening.

Or else Galway's young men will come of age in a spectacular and simultaneous flowering of hope, talent and ambition, McGarrity will get the buffeting he got from the Rosseroos with bells on, the Guard Fitzmaurice will be exposed and John Maughan will be run out of town on rail while Peter Ford rings John O'Mahoney to sing selections from Annie Get Your Gun down the phone at him - specifically, Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better. Who can say? Nobody knows anything.