Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Seventy Summer Minutes

If a week is a long time in politics, seventy minutes is a long time in the All-Ireland Championship.

Because the Championship is a knockout and not a league competition, it’s a mistake to assess form the way you can assess form a league. In a knockout Championship, there is no form. There really isn’t.

Everybody knows now that Tyrone have got old. But very few knew it before the ball was thrown in on Sunday. Darragh Ó Sé told us in the Irish Times how he knew that Tyrone were shot because Kerry beat Roscommon in a challenge game. He didn’t tell us before the game though, when it might have been some use.

Mayo have been written off all season, but there is no basis for that, other than history and piseoga. To correctly analyse Mayo’s form, to find hints of what was happening, would take deeper study than a national journalist has time for. And he or she could still miss it.

At half-time in the Galway game the signs weren’t good. They weren’t. And then Mayo beat Galway and then Mayo beat Roscommon and by golly, Mayo went and beat Cork. But that’s not a smooth line of progression. That’s a series of evolutionary jumps.

Have Mayo jumped higher than their actual ability, and are now in for a fall? Or have Kerry flattered to deceive, just Tyrone did? Reader, your Spailpín doesn’t know. But I am eager to find out.

There are no teams named at time of writing, but it doesn’t take too much insight to see the battle ground. Midfield and breaks for both teams. Advantage Kerry upfront, advantage Mayo – maybe – in the backs.

There is no reason for Mayo to quake before the green and gold. Footballers are like mayflies – their lives are brief. 2006 is five years ago. It might as well be a lifetime.

There is a theory abroad that Mayo have nothing to lose in this game. It’s certainly true that all the pressure to deliver is on the Kingdom. If Mayo get beat, what harm? It’s been a better summer than any Mayo person could have hoped for when it looked like Tommy Lyons was going to be given the keys to the car back in October.

But Kerry. Kerry can’t lose a semi-final to Mayo. Jack O’Connor, genius that he is, has patched and minded and cajoled and coaxed his team but he has to wonder, as they all have to wonder, if time will claim them just as it claimed Tyrone.

Mayo are young and hungry with nothing to fear. Kerry are old and battle-hardened and have the best forwards in the country, but sometimes it’s Waterloo. It just can’t go on forever.

Does anyone remember Francie Bellew’s last game in Croke Park? Bellew was the full back of his generation. He was feared, which is what you want from someone back there. He was never fast, but he was able to, ahem, compensate.

And then Armagh played Wexford when Mattie Forde was in his pomp. Bellew called on his powers, but they didn’t answer. He was gone, and Forde buried him. It was a sad end, but then, all endings are sad. Very few ride away into the sunset, as Darragh Ó Sé himself did.

Darragh remarked in the Times last week that the presence of young lads in the team made him stay longer than he wanted to, because he wanted to pick up a few more medals and knew the young lads could carry him. Does the fact he has retired now mean his medal appetite is sated? Or is there something else he’d like to tell us next week, when it’s all over?

Seventy minutes isn’t very long, but it’s a short time to grow old in this current wet summer.