Friday, June 01, 2007

Set Phasers for Slaps - It's Dublin v Meath!

Stitch that, Gladstone!An Spailpín Fánach is normally loath to shine further spotlights on Dublin football games, as they seem quite sufficiently spotlit in conventional media, but I must confess I am looking forward to this weekend’s joust between and Meath and Dublin hugely.

There’s going to be so much in the game, not least as Meath are on the rise one more, while Dublin are very much there to be had. Shane Ryan was outstanding for Dublin in midfield all last year, so Pillar Caffrey has, quite naturally, moved him out of there to fill in for the injured Jason Sherlock at centre-forward. Good old Pillar. With tactical acumen like that, let’s thank God he’s a guard and not in army, eh? The wheezing Ciarán Whelan remains at midfield – don’t Dublin ever drop that fella? Even Mayo drop Brady you know.

The loss of Brian Farrell is a big loss for Meath of course, but they’re in luck as they have parliamentarian Graham Geraghty to put in there instead. Unaccustomed as Geraghty is to this signal honour, and desirous of no personal glory, he has heard his people’s cry and is prepared to serve. Your Spailpín suspects there’s life in the old dog yet, and his wily old head might be a bit much for a gasúr playing fullback on his Championship debut.

Of course, all these things are incidental to the main point of Sunday, which is how the referee, Mr Jimmy McKee of Armagh, will react once the slaps start. There is considerable pressure on the unfortunate referee at the best of times; this is doubled in high profile games involving Dublin, as the Powers that Be like to see Dublin in Croker when there’s no rugger or soccer alternative, but the antics of Clare and Cork last Sunday in Thurles mean that the pressure is now tripled on the unfortunate Mr McKee, torn as he will be by injunctions to let the game flow while also being sternly told that we don’t want the childer frightened as they were in Thurles by “joults,” “dunts,” and other scurrilous acts.

An Spailpín Fánach can only hope that Mr McKee has a notebook the size of the Bible with him. This one is going to feature timber, and plenty of it. Your correspondent still can’t get over the same fixture two years ago when Whelo punched Meath’s Nigel Crawford at the throw-in and only got a yellow card for it. So what is Mr McKee, Fear na Feadóige, to do on Sunday if Whelo once more mistakes Crawford for Mr George Foreman? Of if, Heaven forbid, Crawford’s memory is as good as An Spailpín Fánach’s and he has his eye on the point of Whelo’s impressive chin from the parade on? Crash, bang and wallop, methinks.

Luke Dempsey – rightly – had a cut at RTÉ’s Colm O’Rourke during the week for O’Rourke complaining about games that lacked “passion” and “commitment,” which Dempsey took as synonymous with “timber” and “slaps.” Dempsey had a point of course – you could line up the top philosophers of the ages, from Aristotle and Plato to Thomas Aquinas and Martin Heidigger, and not one of them would be able to tell you what exactly fellas like O’Rourke mean when they draw a distinction between dirty and “manly” play.

An Spailpín Fánach is unsure of what Mr McKee’s philosophical background is, but if Martin Heidigger would be sweating trying to figure out when a punch was actually only a “joult” there isn’t much hope for a civilian. Both these teams are steeped in a hard man culture that stretches back for four or five football generations. When Kevin Heffernan took over as Dublin manager in the 1970s he realised that Dublin were getting pushed around by the country teams, and he put a stop to that. Ten years later, O’Rourke’s own generation of Meathmen realized that they were getting pushed around by Dubs and they had to put a stop to that. And so it escalates until now you have players who don’t know that hitting someone a dirty puck when they’re not looking isn’t the same as being brave, or tough, or hard. And you’ll get that in spades on Sunday.

An Spailpín hopes that it’ll be a good game on Sunday, but he’s far from convinced. It’s my opinion that the first digs will go in early, the referee will bottle it because it’s such a high profile game, and the teams will take their que from that. Investors, prepare for a bull market in bandages by half-five on Sunday. And then we’ll have more fun next week listening to Des Cahill on the radio tsk-tsk-tsk-ing indeterminably, and more old blather all around. The Championship – you have to love it.

FOCAL SCOIR: What sort of hammerheads are running The Sunday Game? We all know that you can get stiffed on any particular weekend and end up with a less than appealing game, but to waste the nation’s time by forcing us to endure Waterford v Kerry is perverse at best. Kerry people will tell you straight out that they don’t give a toss about the game, and I’m not even sure anyone in Waterford even knows it’s on. Why put the nation through it? Not least as the Louth-Wicklow saga is getting so fascinating – why not show that instead? It’s not like they won’t have cameras at the ground, after all. And as for any old blather about equal exposure for the humbler counties, pull the other one Jack, it’s got bells on. When RTÉ show Roscommon v Sligo live on June 17th, as part of their commitment to sharing the limelight, you can all come round to my house and watch me eat my hat. But until then, I say RTÉ are fools for showing Kerry v Waterford when they could show Louth v Wicklow III instead.

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