Joe Brolly

JOE BROLLY: Masterclass

ALMOST passed out last week when one of the contestants on the Rose of Tralee said that for her party piece, she was going to perform chest compressions on a doll accompanied by Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ (a song about a violent stranger attack on a woman in her apartment).

First, Smooth Criminal started booming out:

‘As he came in through the window

It was the sound of a crescendo

He came into her apartment

He left the bloodstains on the carpet

She ran underneath the table

He could see she was unable

So she ran into the bedroom

She was struck down

It was her doom..’

Then, the young woman in her ball gown started counting, “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10..” along with the beat, pressing two fingers onto the doll’s chest. When the song reached the chorus refrain “Annie are you ok?” she stopped the compressions, announced, “Annie is doing fabulous” and triumphantly held the doll aloft like a Sam Maguire winning captain. At which point Kathryn Thomas the host began clapping, prompting the bemused crowd to applaud. The comedian David McSavage did a skit once about the Rose of Tralee, where the contestant assembled a table and chairs from Ikea as her party piece. In Ireland, fact and fantasy tends to mingle.

Which brings me to the All-Ireland Masters semi-final. Ronan Rocks manages Derry and when he invited me to their All-Ireland semi-final v Cork at the weekend, I couldn’t resist. Masters football, after all, is real football. So, on Saturday I arrived in Swinford in Co Mayo, jovial, even excited.

Because the GAA won’t sanction Masters football, the game was played on Swinford’s magnificent community pitch, which even has a stand for spectators. What fun it was. In the pre-match team talk, captain Jimmy O’Connor (who was outstanding throughout the game) puffed on his cigarette and only threw it down for the team photo, reminding me of the great Tony Scullion who used to be “gasping for a fag” come half time in Croke Park.

From the whistle, the game was rip-roaring entertainment. After ten minutes, Derry were 0-3 to 0-2 up. Tommy Niblock scored his second point from play prompting the referee to stop the game to check that it was actually Tommy Niblock. Even the Derry spectators had begun to wonder to be fair. By the 20th minute it was 0-6 to 0-4 with Ballinderry’s Kevin McGuckin running the show from midfield, looking as though he could still be playing at the highest level. Meanwhile, Stephen ‘Banty’ McGuigan from Dungiven had arrived back from the Tescos that overlooks the pitch with a box of donuts and the Derry subs were getting stuck in. On the field, the two teams were getting ripped into each other in the old fashion. Whenever a man won the ball he braced himself for the belt across the chest, then burst through. Just before halftime, the Cork full-forward came charging out for a ball and pulled his hamstring, breaking two of Barry McGowan’s Golden Rules for Masters – No Sprinting and Don’t get injured.

The McGowan Rules are vital at this level and should never be ignored in the absence of medical advice. They are as follows:

1. No warming up

2. No training

3. No sprinting

4. Do not get injured.

With their full-forward limping to the line, there was nothing for it: The Cork bus driver was forced into action. He togged out on the line and after a quick reshuffle, took his spot at corner-forward.

After halftime, Derry dominated, playing some genuinely superb football. They hit and tackled hard, moved the ball quickly and long to the inside forwards who played with invention and craft. Paddy Bradley may be portly now, but his skills are undimmed and he gave a masterclass in forward play, kicking half a dozen superb scores under pressure, including one from what looked an impossible angle on the right touchline. The best bit though was when he sent wee Jimmy through on goal and the Glack man went for the lob. As he touched it over the goalie’s head, we held our breaths and got ready to celebrate. Alas, it came gently the crossbar and we were left to laugh out loud at his audacity.

By that stage, Tommy Niblock had been substituted and was doing a podcast on the sideline with the Cork manager. At the final whistle, Wee Jimmy was handed a lit cigarette by one of the Derry subs before Ronan Rocks said a few words to the group. When I congratulated Ronan, he said, “Tactical masterclass Brolly.”

The funniest thing was that the referee gave Derry absolutely nothing. At one stage, Paddy Bradley was dragged down by two Corkmen as he was clean through on goal, and the ref gave a free out for overcarrying.

I tweeted about the incident and the following day, Cork full-back Sean Buckley replied to me, saying, “I can neither confirm nor deny I was one of the two Corkmen involved in that incident. I can however confirm that listening to Enda McNulty’s motivational tape on the way up did not help our cause.”

I met the referee on my way out of the game. I said to him, “I can only assume you are opposed to the reunification of Ireland.” He said, “I hope you are not going to write that in the paper.”

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