Monday, September 21, 2009

Kerry Do That Thing They Do

Kerry 0-16
Cork 1-09

There is a running joke in the much-beloved Peanuts cartoon strip. Lucy promises Charlie Brown that she will hold the football for him to kick it. She’s pulled it away in the past, but each time Charlie, God love him, believes the best of her. So Charlie runs in and kicks with all his might, Lucy pulls the ball away at the last second, like she always does, Charlie goes whoosh! through the air and ends up on the flat of his back, and Lucy’s girlish laughter rings in Charlie's ears. Again.

Cork must have felt very much like Charlie Brown when they woke up this morning. This year was the year when it was going to be all different. This was the New Jack Cork, the biggest, baddest football team every seen on Leeside. They crushed Kerry in Munster, and destroyed Tyrone in Croke Park. They were going to show Kerry once and for all who was boss. They weren’t afraid of Kerry any more.

Turns out Kerry weren’t afraid of them either. And that proved a crucial point.

Every other county in Ireland looks at the Championship one game at a time, and takes it piece by piece. Not Kerry. Kerry start in September and work back. Is this arrogant? Well, not really. Arrogance is misplaced self-confidence. Those thirty-six titles give Kerry something to be self-confident about.

Nobody does football as Kerry do football. There is Kerry, and there is the rest. Kerry's own football culture is fantastic, with levels of competition and excellence unparalleled elsewhere in the country. And then there is the fact that nobody understands the nature of the senior inter-county Championship better than Kerry do.

One of the reasons that the Romans conquered the world was that they learned from their enemies. When Rome was under threat from the Carthaginian navy for control of the Mediterranean, the Romans taught themselves to become sailors. There was no marine tradition in Rome prior to that.

Equally, every time a team has threatened Kerry – Down in the sixties, Dublin in the seventies, Tyrone in this decade – Kerry have added characteristics of the opponent to their own arsenal, making themselves stronger while remaining true to their own fundamental philosophies.

Mick O’Dwyer’s teams abandoned catch-and-kick after Down exposed it in the sixties, and then matched the athleticism of Kevin Heffernan’s Dublin. Pat Spillane held his nose about “puke football” when Tyrone first unleashed the swarm defence, but Kerry gave Cork a masterclass in defending yesterday.

I don’t know who got the Sunday Game man of the match, but I would think seriously about giving it to Tommy Griffin at fullback. It was uncanny to see perfect ball delivered to Colm O’Neill’s chest while O’Neill was in front of Griffin and then see Griffin coming away with the ball and setting up another attack.

The other thing that has made Kerry great in recent times is that nobody understands the true nature of the Championship better than they do. For Kerry, and for Kerry alone, a provincial medal now ranks lower in esteem than the National League.

Other counties may be afraid of taking their chances in the thickets of the qualifiers, or else consider it beneath their dignity. Not Kerry. Kerry realise that everybody whom they could meet in the qualifiers will fear them, while they themselves fear nobody.

Kerry would not fancy a trip to Healy Park, but what are the chances of them being drawn against Tyrone, and losing home advantage as well? Not as high as they were for Mike McCarthy for to slot back into the team like he’d never been away. When you are talking about Kerry, you have to formulate an entirely different set of rules.

Nobody should be more away of this now than Cork, for whom this defeat has to sting. It casts a pall over everything they’ve done this year, as what failed for Cork this year was what fails for them every year.

One of the reasons for introducing the back door in the first place (because nobody likes to say m-o-n-e-y out loud) was this theory that Cork had a great team in the 1970s and, if only they hadn’t played in Munster, they could have won All-Irelands. On the evidence of today, maybe the simpler Championship just saved Dinny Allen and the boys some serious heartbreak further on down the line.

FOCAL SCÓIR: Congratulations to Armagh on a fine win over Mayo in the minor final. Ray Dempsey’s charges played their hearts out but Armagh were a superior outfit and class told in the end. Good luck to them.

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