Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Don't Buy the Snake Oil at the Dublin v Kerry Medicine Show

The nation should start digging its fallout shelters now. A mushroom cloud of hype, blather and nonsense is about to explode in the Irish sports media, rendering the sporting landscape uninhabitable until perhaps the next fortnight at least. It’s started already, with Paul Curran having his tummy tickled by Des Cahill on the wireless yesterday evening. The upcoming Meath v Cork semi-final will act as some sort of fire trench for this week, which the media will patronise in the manner of the punters at the Rolling Stones this weekend at Slaine trying not to be too mean to the support acts, but everybody knows where the their hearts – if that’s the right word – lie. They’re just killing time until they can see the Jumping Jacks Flash.

What’s especially sickening about this great Dublin v Kerry rivalry stuff is that there isn’t a great Dublin v Kerry rivalry. It’s a myth, a conspiracy invented by cynical journalists and cute Kerrymen that’s perpetuated a fraud on the plain people of Ireland for at least thirty years. And An Spailpín is sick of it.

Ironically, the one element of that great Dublin v Kerry myth with which An Spailpín has no argument is the only one that’s ever been questioned, and that’s whether or not the 1977 semi-final between the teams was the Greatest Game of All-Time. While An Spailpín has no interest in getting into an argument in trying to quantify the immeasurable, that game was repeated on TG4 a few Christmases ago and for your correspondent it was as if Santa had come back with another box of Lego. Those who talk about missed frees and dropped passes are those same people who, when you come back from climbing Everest, ask you why you didn’t climb the flagpole. We pray for them, and return to the tape with poor Micheál O’Hehir’s commentary for the ages. Epic, marvellous stuff.

But the rest of the myth is all baloney, quite frankly. The myth is this: the great rivals of Gaelic football since the time of the Tuatha DeDanann are Dublin and Kerry, who exist in complementary opposition in the same way that bacon and egg are the same but different, and neither is ever as good as when paired with the other. This rivalry reached its zenith in the 1970s, when the best Kerry team of all time met the best Dublin team of all time, and each was the equal of the other.

Up to a point, Lord Copper. The notion of there being some sort of equality between the teams in the 1970s or ever is not matched by the facts. In the 1970s, that so-called Golden Age, Dublin beat Kerry in 1976 and 1977, and deserved both wins. However, Kerry beat Dublin in 1975, and hammered them in 1978, '79, '84, '85 and '86. Dublin like to make faces about Brian Mullins’ car crash and how he was never the same and if he hadn’t had that crash yada yada yada – I often wonder what the faithful GAA men and women of Offaly think when they hear this whining.

Dublin haven’t beaten Kerry in the Championship – of “Champo,” if you must - since that semi-final in 1977. At all. The nearest they came to it was that quarter-final draw in Thurles in 2001, when Maurice Fitzgerald kicked his famous free. The last time the teams met in a quarter final in 2004, Kerry ate Dublin without salt. And even more interestingly, Dublin hadn’t beaten Kerry before the 1976 All-Ireland since 1934, according to a text message on Des Cahill’s show last night.

This means that Dublin have two victories to show for seventy-three years of this so-called greatest rivalry in Gaelic football. That’s not a rivalry by any definition of the word – as baseball historian Richard Johnson said about the relationship between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, it’s only a rivalry if you consider the hammer and the nail to have a rivalry.

It’s easy enough to see why Dublin and their apparatchiks play up this myth, as the Dublin support has rather inflated notions of worth, and are never bothered too much about knowing their onions. But it takes two to tango – why do the Kerrymen insist on playing along? All Kerrymen insist that they consider Dublin their greatest challenge – even Colm Cooper was saying during the week that he would love to play Dublin at Croker. Are Kerrymen unaware of history?

As they would say themselves, not at all boy. It’s not that Kerrymen tell lies – it’s just that they like to put a certain blás on the truth.

An Spailpín is not a psychologist, and, to be honest, he gets the queasy feeling that were Sigmund Freud himself to return to the mortal realm and be locked in a room for twenty-four hours with an average Kerryman, the Austrian would walk away the proud owner of eight acres of bog and scrub on the side of a hill in Ballyferriter, and a three legged puck goat called Charlie. Kerrymen are way ahead of you at all times.

Whatever they say among themselves, Kerrymen’s national statements on football are strictly for tourist consumption. All that old guff about the Kerry style of football is all my hat. If there is a Kerry style of football, why have there been so many hit-men in the green and gold down through the years? There’s only one style of football that they care about in the Kingdom, and that’s the one that brings home Sam in September. How the game is won doesn’t really bother them. I don’t recall them handing the cup back in 1997 or 1962 or lots of other years because their style of play was below their own high standards. If Kerry win 0-2 to 0-1, they’ll take it, don’t you worry.

And this is why Kerry love playing Dublin so. Dublin turn up with their swagger and Evening Herald supplements and 98FM outside broadcasts and their heads swelled from turning on the telly looking at Ó Cinnéide or The Bomber or someone else talking live from a picture postcard about how much they love, respect and honour the Dubs, and then they get savaged by Kerry. Wiped out. Again. Dara Ó Cinnéide is a fine journalist in either language, and a huge addition to the TV coverage, but don’t let that butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth demeanour fool you – Dara will toe the party line and keep a straight face but he’s just spinning, spinning, spinning all the time.

Are you having doubts that Kerry would be so devious? Isn’t it odd, so, that when they weren’t talking up Dublin during the summer Kerry were talking up Tyrone? Isn’t it odd that, while Kerry were poor mouthing the absence of Moynihan and McCarthy they didn’t seem to think the absences of Canavan, McGuigan and O’Neill would knock a stir out of Tyrone? It’s not because they’re still bitter as eleven acres of lemons about 2003 and fancied some handy payback? Surely not.

Down v Kerry is a rivalry. Offaly v Kerry is a rivalry. And here’s why – both Down and Offaly did what Dublin were never able to do, and that is make Kerry cry. Kerry are still bitter about Down in the 1960s and Seamus Darby in 1982. They couldn’t give a hoot about 1976 or '77 because that debt has been paid in full. Two losses in seventy years – they can live with that. But never to have beaten Down? To see the impossible dream of the five in a row go wallop in the last minute, the last minute when Kerry always triumph, like they did last Sunday? Now that hurts.

Not that you’ll be reading that anywhere in the national media. Tomorrow in the Irish Times, Tom Humphries, a Dub, will ghost-write the thoughts of Jack O’Connor, a Kerryman. It won’t be pretty. If you have holidays to take, take them now – it’s not like the outcome of that Dublin v Kerry game is in doubt, after all.

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