Thursday, May 10, 2007

Championship 2007

Kerryman Lifts Sam Shock!An Spailpín Fánach was very disappointed to read Eugene McGee’s Championship preview in Monday’s Independent. It was hard not to feel the great man had let himself down a little, in producing a somewhat splenetic article about how only a very limited pool of counties could entertain any hopes whatsoever of winning the football All-Ireland this year, and the rest would want to cop themselves on a bit.

The brutal reality about the All-Ireland football championship is that the vast majority of the 33 county units that take part have not got a snowball’s chance in hell of winning it,” thundered Eugene. “In the past 40 years just ELEVEN counties have taken Sam Maguire home.

The tone of the great Eugene’s remarks reminded your faithful quillsman of certain Dickensian ogres, like Mr Thomas Gradgrind of Hard Times or the monstrous Mr Edward Murdstone, stepfather to David Copperfield, who, were they canvassed on their opinions of the Championship, would doubtless remark that we are put on this earth for one purpose and one purpose only sir, and to sit in fields on lengthening summers evenings dreaming of impossible September glory is rank folly that can only lead to the shame, the debtor’s prison and a lonesome splash into the Thames on a dank November night. Pshaw!, and good day to you sir!

An Spailpín does not agree with Mr Thos. Gradgrind or Mr Ed. Murdstone. An Spailpín thinks that once we give up on our dreams we give up on our souls, and your Spailpín Fánach cannot sign off on that idea. The disgraceful introduction of the back door system, which protects the strong and exposes the weak, has made the road ahead rockier, and more fraught with danger, but the shining path is there to be seen still, and the right to dream of Sam arriving at your old or indeed current school is the birthright of every Gael. Not least in year like this one, when the shining stars of the modern era – Armagh, Tyrone and Kerry – are displaying feet of clay as the first Championship weekend looms.

Were An Spailpín a betting man, he would open an account with Ladbrokes (have you seen the acres and acres of GAA specials they have up there? Support them straightaway, as all GAA men and women should stick together) and take a piece of the action on a Kilkenny / Kerry double, just like last year. However, I would by no means fill my boots on the proposition, and believe - blessedly – that this coming Championship could be the best for years, one filled with heroic deeds and legends forged in the white heat of an Irish summer.

Kerry are the best team in the country, by right of history and the fact that they are reigning Champions. A certain poor mouthing is drifting up from the Kingdom, as their highnesses wonder what they will do without the retired Mike McCarthy and the immortal Séamus Moynihan, leaving a big gaping hole in the middle of their defence. An Spailpín counsels patience; a team with the three Ó Sés, Aidan O’Mahony, Paul Galvin and Cooper aren’t quite mugs you know. There will be beating on them, but the Championship will not be a coronation.

Not least if Kerry’s nearest neighbours to the South have anything to say about it. Cork are Kerry’s greatest rivals of course, and under the returned stewardship of Billy Morgan are always eager to put down the Kingdom. Armagh, Cork and Tyrone are the only counties that have beaten Kerry in the Championship in the past five years, you know. A Corkman was kind enough to take your correspondent aside one boozy night in Mulligan’s Bar, Poolbeg Street, Dublin 2, and explain why it is that Billy Morgan gets the most from Cork. It seems Billy hates Kerry more than he wishes to draw his next breath, and that provides quare motivation. The poet John Milton is not noted as a follower of Gaelic Games – he was a big Cromwell man himself, you know – but when Milton’s Satan thrashes about on a sea of burning fire in Hell in Book I of Paradise Lost, yakking about

“ …the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield

he could very easily be quoting Billy Morgan in the dressing rooms of Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Munster Final Day. Billy hates Kerry; Billy is short a scoring forward or two, but hate brings a man a long way, not least when the rest of the team is so big and strong. Write off the Rebels at your absolute peril.

In the other end of the country, the graph(oe – geddit?) of Donegal’s rise exists in contrast to the fall of Armagh and Tyrone. In theory. In reality, Ulster is such a bearpit that whoever, or what-ever, emerges from the faction fight will be a force to be reckoned with. To say nothing of how Mickey Harte might rebuild Tyrone yet, given breaks other than of bones, such as have blighted them for the past year or so.

In Leinster, it’s wide open. Meath are said to be at their lowest in twenty years but, as Monaghan recently found out to their cost, if you don’t put the stake through their hearts as quick as ever you can they can still beat you, just like they do. Louth are a team on a the bubble, Kildare are probably better now than they were under Micko (the same man was telling Eamon Dunphy at Easter about how Kildare ’98 were the best team in Ireland at the time. Isn’t he a holy terror?), Laois are banging on drums and, having learned from PJ McGrath’s mistake in 1982, your faithful correspondent will not write off the Biffo Nation until they’re safely dead and buried.

Finally, under Western skies, sap is rising in the Ros as hasn’t risen among the primroses in quite some time. Leitrim need a scalp after promising, promising, promising under the Old Man Dolan managership and as for Mayo and Galway – well, I think that’s so tricky we’ll leave it ‘til next week. One thing I am sure off – even if the teams I’ve just talked up do actually have the mark of Cain on them, and Kerry do go through the motions again in the summer, how infinitely better that than to settle for the game of crooks, con-men, cowards and spivs that our friends and neighbours across the Irish Sea have to settle for? Eugene ought to take a few Rennies for himself, and start licking his lips at the prospect of Down and Cavan this weekend. Sleeping giants they may be, but there are giants nonetheless, with ten All-Irelands between them and the rich weight of history and tradition that begins. Let the games commence; I can’t wait.

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