Monday, September 17, 2007

Land of Coop and Glory

The nation turned up or tuned in for an All-Munster All-Ireland Final yesterday, and got an All-Ulster one instead. Pucking, dragging, joulting and general sleeveenism as far as the eye could see yesterday. Nearly broke this Mayo’s aesthete’s heart – I thought someone could get hurt out there.

Before An Spailpín Fánach’s good friends from the North leap to their keyboards in defense of the Red Hand, to let me know I’m a soft Free Stater and the rest of it – relax fellas, I come to praise Ulster, not to bury her.

While Armagh and Tyrone beat Kerry on the field in 2002 and 2005, they still lost the propaganda war, and are still losing it. Pat Spillane came up with the puke football phrase in 2003, and it stuck. Rank hypocrisy on Spillane’s part of course, because anybody that hasn’t noticed by now that Kerrymen speak with bifurcated tongues hasn’t really been paying attention.

If you listen to the Kerry propaganda machine, you’d think that football in the Kingdom involves no contact at all, and simply involves a panel of judges giving marks out of six according to how one’s style matches Micko or Maurice. This is not the case. Kerry get down in the trenches with the best of them, and have done all through their history. It’s a little more obvious with this current generation, with the misfortunate Paul Galvin as the poster-boy of that approach, but trust your Spailpín on this one – they always knew how to take or land belts in the Kingdom. You don’t thirty-five All-Irelands simply executing fouettés en tournant and glissades en arrière in the shadow of the Hogan Stand you know.

And that’s all fine by An Spailpín Fánach. Certainly yesterday’s All-Ireland didn’t measure up with the great games of the past, but whatever chance of the that happening disappeared with the second Kerry goal. That doesn’t make Kerry bums and, equally, Kerry don’t give a rooty-toot-toot what the rest of the nation thinks. Football discussion in Kerry takes place strictly on their own terms among themselves, terms to which we, as strangers, can scarely comprehend. Thirty-five All-Irelands gives them the right to look on football in a manner different to the rest of the country. Paul Galvin himself said in 2004 that there’s always something special about winning your first All-Ireland; it’s only a Kerryman that would choose that particular adjective, first, because it’s only a Kerryman that can reasonably expect a second All-Ireland as a matter of course.

Equally, while Galvin is a lazy target for sanctimonious sports commentators, I’m pretty sure that he’s not barred from too many homes in his own spot. And if An Spailpín Fánach was picking a team in the morning, he would by golly have Galvin on it. And Dara Ó Sé too, whose failure to make the Sunday Game team of the year tells you more about the Sunday Game than it does about Ó Sé. Above anyone else, Ó Sé seems aware that the day to turn on the good stuff is the third Sunday in September. He was magisterial yesterday, just like always, and a real contender for man of the match, along with Donaghy and Aidan O’Mahony.

That Colm Cooper got man of the match after his magnificent 1-5 was the highlight of the game, and the feat for which the game will be remembered. Dara Ó Cinnéide, writing in Foinse the week before last, remarked on how odd it is that Cooper doesn’t have a higher profile, considering just now gosh-darned good he is – something of which Dara himself was all too aware, having been dropped himself for the precocious Gooch in 2002 or so.

Cooper has it all – Noel Walsh and your humble correspondent were discussing just how one would attempt to stop him if one were unfortunate enough to have to mark Cooper when Noel and I spoke on Shannonside / Northern Sound this lunchtime. I didn’t like to say it on air as I hate giving bad example to young people but it stuck me the only way to stop Cooper would be to have a lead pipe half-filled with concrete concealed in one’s sock, and to boff him with it every now and again when the ref isn’t looking and it’s been ensured that the umps aren’t squealers. Even then, as your correspondent recalls a despairing Cork back leaping on Cooper’s shoulders in the first half, only to slide off as Cooper charged for the Canal End goal, a lead pipe mightn’t do it. It might only get him riled, and in the mood to make a right show of you.

All thoughts in Kerry as the winter draws in will be on their three-in-a-row prospects for next year, and it will seem especially delicious to them down in their Kingdom now their great rivals of the century, Armagh and Tyrone, are in the doldrums. But when Dublin declined in the 1970s a power arose from a totally unexpected source to put the Kingdom crying, which is part of the sheer magic of the Championship. It’s only over, and I can’t wait for it to roll around again. In the meantime, hats off once more to Kerry, who are masters of the game in all its facets. Deserving and worthy champions.

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