Monday, April 17, 2006

Kismet, Brady

À bientôt, mon vieuxEven from his lonesome exile in the Pale, An Spailpín Fánach has heard the weeping and rending of garments back home in Mayo. Several chickens came home to roost when Galway put Mayo to the sword on Sunday in Castlebar; now the Mayo psyche, fragile at the best of times, faces another send-for-Oscar-Goldman job on the Eve of Championship.

It wasn't that surprising, really. The early league form has dissipated in recent times as the ground got harder and things came a little more into focus for teams. Cracks that were visible against Cork and Dublin split wide open in Castlebar as midfield was over-run and the Mayo finishing left a little something to be desired.

Mickey Moran's media cheerleaders were silent on the implosion this morning, apart from hints that Mickey was off his bonce to take on those Mayo loopers in the first place. The argument has been made before that Mickey is only manager by default anyway, so there's no real need to go there. It's old news, and there's not a lot to be done about it now.

What concerns An Spailpín tonight is this notion that Mayo fans are somehow greedy for wanting to win All-Irelands, and the question of how much of a difference a coach makes in the first place.

The Mayo fans should apologise to no-one for wanting to win All-Irelands. Isn't that the idea of entering the competition in the first place? As for expectation being out of proportion to capability, one of the reasons that the Mayo support have found the past ten years so frustrating is just how close the team has been. If you think of any of the teams that have been in the shake-up over the past ten years, you can't look past Mayo for consistency over those ten years. Certainly they're higher on the tree than certain media darlings, whom An Spailpín (Kil)dares not mention. Meath have gone beneath the waves, Armagh have risen and are toppling now again, even Tyrone too could be one good beating away from being kaput. But still Mayo are there, or thereabouts, scutchings such as the last day's notwithstanding.

The reason that Mayo have been, and are still, despite the horrors and reverses and internecine squabbling, there or thereabouts is down to players, not managers. During a heated argument with a Boy of the Old Brigade last week, An Spailpín was rather taken aback when said B of the OB remarked that, for his two cents, the Tyrone revolution has nothing to do with blanket defences or different training methods or anything like that. As far as he's concerned, All-Ireland winning Tyrone began and ended with Peter Canavan and now that Peter the Great has abdicated, Tyrone will find themselves just somehow that little step off the pace that makes all the difference at five o'clock on the fourth Sunday in September.

Equally, the reason that Mayo have been in All-Ireland contention for the past ten or so years has been down to three men - James Nallen, David Brady and Ciarán McDonald. These men have consistently been the difference-makers for Mayo in Mayo's greatest years since the 'fifties, and they are the reason why the desperation is so acute in the county. Because the whole county can hear the clock ticking down on their careers, and the thoughts of them having to take their places with Liam McHale and Willie Joe and Joe Corcoran and Willie Casey and the rest in the Greatest Never to Win... Hall is distressing in the extreme.

That's why there is rending of garments. There is no shame in losing to Galway - this Galway team, that was forged in the fire of a hot day in Castlebar in May 1998, is one of the finest that the game has seen, and an example to all in how the ancient game should be played. If anything, Galway, rather than Mayo, should be grinding their teeth that they haven't won more All-Irelands than they have with the incandescent talents at their disposal. But, because Galway closed the deal first time out in 1998 the old warriors like Joyce and Donnellan do not have the psychological burden that Nallen, Brady and McDonald must carry as they pass the torch to the coming generation.

There is a coming generation in Mayo, thank God. Mayo has never wanted for footballers, and long may that continue. But good and all as the next generation are - and An Spailpín hopes to be spared to see more talent blooming in the Under-21 semi against Tyrone in Cavan on Saturday - the likes of Nallen, Brady and McDonald will not be easily replaced. That is why their talents must be maximised while they are still around, and that is why An Spailpín is keeping his head held up.

That, and the remarkable picture of Niall Coleman and David Brady above from Castlebar, which was in at least three national papers this morning. Mayo are back at Square One with, from this remove, a team likely to start in the Championship that is distressingly similar to the one coursed out of Jones' Road by Kerry last summer. But there is still a Mayo, and there is still a David Brady dressed in green above the red. When An Spailpín first saw the picture of Brady and Niall Coleman sharing a moment I thought it was a little too far back Brokeback Mountain for comfort; now, An Spailpín realises that it is simply David Brady displaying his Ballina heritage.

For this is a kiss that is supremely gallic in intention and execution, and a stirring echo of General Jean Sarrazin's spontaneous gesture towards Patrick Walsh, whom the French found hanging from a gibbet in Ballina when France liberated the town on August 24th, 1798, the year of liberty. Walsh, a Crossmolinaman, had been caught and summarily hanged as a spy by the Prince of Wales Fencibles and Yeomen, then in command of the town, and General Sarrazin paid an elegant, and so exquisitely French, tribute to his fallen freeman by kissing Walsh's corpse as it swung from the gallows. So history transmits down the ley-lines. For what else can David Brady be whispering in Niall Coleman's ear but "À bientôt, mon vieux"? Maigh Eo abú.

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