Joe Brolly

JOE BROLLY: A PhD in Gaelic football

DUBLIN’S opening two boring defeats in the league prompted me to ask the question, “Why won’t they kick the ball in to Con O’Callaghan?” For those games, he was a peripheral presence, tracking back and tackling round the middle third, taking a hand-pass at the last minute in a crowded defence.

What a waste. Like hiring the prize stallion from the stud and using him to give children donkey rides on the beach. Or asking Maradona to go in nets.

I was chatting to his father and mother at a Gaza peace march in Dublin after the second league game and they were equally frustrated. “Why won’t they give him early ball?” I asked his dad. “No comment,” he said.

For the third game, against Roscommon, they sent him back to stud and the boy did what he does best. He rode Roscommon (seven points), then Kerry (3-4). No more donkey rides for Con.

Meanwhile, the ghosts of failures past are still haunting Mayo. Aidan O’Shea was dropped for the Tyrone game on Saturday night. Rob Henelly and Cillian O’Connor were brought in.

On RTÉ, Peter Canavan said, ” Aidan O’Shea hasn’t scored in three league games.” Damian Lawlor, like Paddy Kielty with Kneecap on Friday night, felt obliged to give the other position. “To be fair, he is a powerhouse for his club.”

Cora Staunton, with her four All-Irelands and six club All-Irelands, was not impressed. “I disagree. We expect scores from him. Our problem in Mayo is we have been blessed with defenders.” Cora does not tolerate bullshit.

What a difference a Y chromosome would have made.

Nothing happened in the first half. On Saturday morning at Congress, Jarlath Burns said, “The sight of endless passing across the half forward line, without any risks being taken, before the ball is channelled back and the process is repeated from the other side of the pitch is not what gaelic football should be. I think we can all agree on that.”

Peter and Cora certainly did. At half time, they bore the expressions of mourners at a wake saying, “I’m sorry for your troubles.”

Peter said, “We have reached the stage where the game needs to be tweaked to make it watchable.” Cora’s nose meanwhile was wrinkled in distaste at the performance of the Mayo forwards.

Like Peter she is a killer and cannot tolerate losers. More than that, she cannot understand them. It was left to Damien to pour the sugar.

For the second half, Tyrone brought in Darren McCurry and some six-county grit. That was the end of Mayo. Tyrone’s keeper Niall Morgan was catching points and delivering thrilling 50-yard passes. Darren McCurry, a PhD in the skills of Gaelic football, was kicking points from all angles off both feet (My late father used to describe one-footed players as ‘half a footballer’) and the Son of God caused the big crowd to genuflect and look away, reminded of their lack of worth.

Sam Callinane tried to get a hold of him but he was like a man with no hands. Darragh went left, right, rolled on the ground, darted forward, then u-turned, pirouetted, slithered out of the tackle until Callinane was befuddled.

His second-half solo goal was the decisive contribution. I was in Harrison’s bar in Ballina and roared with delight in a pub packed with Mayo men. Like Fine Gael, the southerners will never understand us.

This was a disaster for Mayo. Cillian O’Connor did not touch the ball from play. he scored an excellent penalty but what is the point?

Rob Hennelly did some brilliant things and some howlers. Tommy Conroy’s early promise has evaporated, the adventure and razzle dazzle replaced by fear and tension. Ryan O’Donoghue was dropped altogether and when he was finally brought on was Mayo’s only forward. They are doomed.

Jarlath Burns said that Jim Gavin’s new playing rules committee was put together with a view to making Gaelic football more enjoyable for the spectators to watch and a more enjoyable game for the players to play. It is a terrific first ploy by our new president. Jarlath is not just an embodiment of all our ideals.

He is a fine human being and the first GAA president to be congratulated on the PSNI’s Twitter account.

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