Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Reflections on the Revolution in Croker

Glacann Seán Ó Flannagáin Corrán Mhig Uidhir - is fada an lá uainnIt is now forty-eight or seventy-two hours ago since I first saw Mayo, then 9/4 underdogs, beat Dublin in Croke Park, and surely never lighted on this orb, which they hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw them just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere they just began to move in, glittering like the morning-star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. Let’s hope it works out better for Mayo in three weeks than it did for Marie Antoinette, eh?

An Spailpín Fánach remarked to a friend of his yesterday that this crack about the greatest game in the history of humanity will ring more than a little bit hollow if Mayo take the pipe against Kerry. She said no, that beating Dublin made the year worthwhile, because Dublin are Dublin. We shan’t be buying that one just yet, I think. Dublin are one of thirty-two counties. No better, no worse. We’ve had to listen to other theories all summer (hang your head, Vincent Hogan!), and that one’s been put to bed. But the summer belongs to whoever takes home Sam – if it’s Mayo, then the win over Dublin becomes a thrilling preview of the glory to come; if it’s Kerry then the game on Sunday is a footnote.

Someone else remarked to An Spailpín that this was too negative an attitude. Yesterday’s win should be enjoyed for what it was, in and of itself, he argued, like Galway’s thrilling win over Kilkenny in the hurling last year. And that’s true as far as it goes, but the pursuit of Sam hangs over all of County Mayo like the grail quest of the Arthurian knights. No matter how many dragons you slay along the way, you have to take home the cup. It’s been too long now.

And the analysis has been over the top. Whatever passes for shame among hackery settled on the press box at six o’clock yesterday and the result was paeans to Mayo across all media on Monday morning. Paper doesn’t refuse ink. These people that are stunned by Mayo coming back from seven points down don’t seem to remember Mayo coming back from six down against Galway in 2004, and or four down with about twenty minutes to go this summer. Pat Spillane was bigging up the amount of All-Ireland winners on the Mayo team, between Crossmolina, Ballina and the Under-21s. Well it wasn’t during this past week those medals were won Pateen, when you were advising punters to put their houses on Dublin to win. So the honest men of Mayo might be better off channelling the spirit of Dr Johnson’s famous letter when they’re listening to some Lord Chesterfields on the telly.

The game itself has been analysed all over at the this stage, and there’s not much An Spailpín has to add. It is interesting to note, however, the influence of Kevin O’Neill and David Brady, two men who had been hurled from the light in the past, but for whom the green and red remains all. Those two, and Ciarán McDonald, Jimmy Nallen and David Heaney, Mayo’s Chief of Men, know that there is very little sand left in the glass now for them, and are making a stand the likes of which has seldom been made in the county Mayo before. This was clear from watching the Sunday Game, when Mickey Moran came out to urge his team back from the Hill, only for Brady and Heaney to shake their heads and say no; there will be no more backing down in the County Mayo. An Spailpín still thinks about Brady being dropped in 2004, and still shakes his sad old head at the memory.

The All-Ireland Final might not be “the Dublin Kerry final that the public demands,” but please God the Mayo boys will try and keep it kicked out to them. Please God also that in this Donaghy era they don’t forget keep an eye on C Cooper also. Alan Brogan did to Keith Higgins on Sunday what the blowtorch does to the ice-cream cone, and if Cooper gets the same leeway, Mayo are dead men walking. Higgins’ roasting was an interesting test of management actually – was the management’s persistence with Higgins, who had been in All-Star contention before Sunday, a mark of faith or an act of reckless folly for which Mayo could have paid dearly in the end? It doesn’t matter now of course, but watching Brogan dip his shoulders, spin Higgins like a top and then thunder towards goal was a terrifying sight on Sunday. Brogan will get an All-Star this year, and deserve it.

Ciarán Whelan will not. It would be nice to hope that somebody spiked Whelan’s lucozade sport – Whelo’s beverage of choice if the city billboards are to be believed – before the game, resulting in his shocking and cowardly attack on Ronan McGarrity, but it would also be naïve. This is the same Whelo who boxed Nigel Crawford right in the face on the throw-in of the Dublin Meath game last year, and who punched a Westmeath man the year before. If Whelo doesn’t cool his jets and quick, he’ll be spending most of his time about half a mile directly East of Croker, rattling his tin cup against the bars for company.

And now, the Final to anticipate. Mayo are 3/1 with Paddy Power, which is about right. When Kerry used travel home by train, they used to set off sirens once they crossed the border into the Kingdom, one for every All-Ireland won. You take on that tradition at your extreme peril. But for all the to-ing and fro-ing, An Spailpín believes the game comes down to one particular battle, which is the confrontation between Ciarán McDonald and his marker. If the Kerryman – O’Mahony, maybe? One of the Ó Sés? – can bottle up McDonald à la Geezer McGeeney or Galway’s Paul Clancy, Mayo are in trouble. If not, then who knows? Anybody with a good line on tickets, drop me a line, eh?

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