Joe Brolly

JOE BROLLY: Oakleaf crossroads

WHAT a hateful day. Derry had to lose it as Kerry were not going to win it. And we obliged. Conor Glass was anonymous again in Croke Park. Just like the club final and the semi-final last year against Galway. Didn’t track the wing-back for Kerry’s goal. Kicked a simple footpass over the sideline at a crucial time in the game. He needs to think about what he wants to be on the field. Does he want to be Aidan O’Shea or James McCarthy? Reputation or reality? Does he want to hide, hand-passing the ball backwards and sideways, blending in? Or does he want to be something to be proud of? A James McCarthy bringing it to the opposition, refusing to accept defeat. Glory not safety.

Chris McKaigue was a disaster on Clifford, as he had been on young Gallen a month ago. Fouling him needlessly, getting into the wrong position, letting him kick off his left foot from the right wing. This however was only one part of the problem. The main one was that management decided not to double mark him, with a sweeper playing in front. This is a one man forward line and if Clifford had been held to four or five points Kerry were doomed. Ethan Doherty would have been perfect as the sweeper. It would have shut the door on Kerry who aside from Clifford had no answer to us. Instead, he was allowed do what he liked.

In spite of that, we were the better team and should have won it. By the 63rd minute, I was confident that we would. Then, McFaul hurried a straightforward point opportunity. Wide. Then, Loughlin kicked another wide. Lynch, who is ponderous, slows the game down, does not kick out well and was blocked down twice when he went for points in slow motion, kicked away the last four crucial kick-outs. We do not have a failsafe short kick-out? A kick-out for when we must retain possession?

Joe McQuillan will not get another big game. He allowed the Kerry ’keeper away with a serious head high challenge on McGuigan. This was a red card. Mystifyingly, he gave a free to Stephen O’Brien at a crucial time. The referee’s review will not be a pleasant experience for him. I like Joe but there are limits. He is however not an excuse for our defeat.

I was sorry for the group. McKinless was sensational. As were Brendan Rogers and Conor McCloskey. McGrogan was a big loss. As Alex Ferguson is wont to say, “The game is about character” and in this department, we have a number of players who need to have a serious look at themselves.

I have heard it said that this was a great performance and we were nearly there and how can you deal with Clifford and Derry are surely on the verge of an All-Ireland. All bollocks. All the talk of losers. Do we want to be Mayo? Or do we want to be Tyrone? It was there for us. When it came right down to it, we had some players who either lacked the character or the ability.

If management pats itself on the back, then we will never win an All-Ireland. But if they are ruthless, look behind reputations and pick the right players, then we might – and I emphasise might – get an opportunity to put right what happened on Sunday. If this seems angry, then it is. I know that these chances must be taken. Life has a way of drifting away from us. The day after the All-Ireland in 1993, Kerry legend John O’Keefe writing in the Irish Times, said, “This Derry team looks set to dominate Gaelic football for a decade.”

I am gutted for the group, for Derry Gaels and myself. Rogers, McKinless and McCloskey will win All-Stars. The management’s job is to ensure that next year, the entire squad reflects their honesty and character.

Meanwhile, the previous day, an elated Colm O’Rourke managed his county to Tailtean Cup triumph and in doing so, became the first GAA person in history to conduct part of their post match interview in Latin. “Nunc est bibendum” (Now is the time for boozing) he said, when asked how they would celebrate their win, which would have put a smile on dear old Horace’s face. The Roman poet was a devotee of wine and like myself, had no time for teetotalers. He wrote, “Wine brings to light the hidden secrets of the soul / gives being to our hope / bids the coward flight / drives dull care away / and teaches new means for the accomplishment of our wishes.” You could replace the first word of that poem with the words ‘Colm O’Rourke.’

A team is the embodiment of their leader. I have toured the corridors of St Pat’s, Navan in the company of Colm and enjoyed his easy, mischievous relationship with the kids and staff, and their obvious affection and respect for him. He has broad shoulders. Very broad. Like Brian Cody, he trusts his players and treats them as adults. The endless rehearsal and constant instruction which creates fear is replaced with an encouragement to go out and give life a bloody go. So, in this second half, they played thrilling football, all adventure and long kicking and dramatic high catching and points from distance. Jack Flynn kicked four monstrous points, high up over the block, reminiscent of a young Colm O’Rourke. No greater compliment will ever be paid to the boy.

It was said beforehand that this was a mismatch of managers. Conor Laverty, a thoroughly modern coach, expert in the blanket defensive/counter-attacking system, against Colm, a dinosaur, hopelessly lost in the helter skelter of the 80s and 90s. Nunc est bibendum indeed, although having taken drink with Colm many times in the past, he is a cheap date. The merest whiff of alcohol is enough to wobble his knees.

In the second game, my cousin Vinny Corey has done the job we knew he would with this Monaghan team. They are happy in their underdog world. No pretensions. No big notions about themselves. They fight furiously because this is what they have always done. As Colm O’Rourke is wont to say, “aut cum scuto, aut in scuto.”

They survived Dublin’s early press by playing donkey with Rory Beggan. It is a maddening thing to watch and prevents teams from pressing up and fighting for the ball high up the pitch. What’s the point when they can handpass it back to the goalie? Monaghan used it to great effect and after ten minutes, Dublin went to passive mode. It was left to Cormac Costello to keep them in the game. Costello was brilliant. Unplayable. Adventurous. Meanwhile his team-mates faltered. When Stephen Cluxton nearly dropping a high ball into his own net in the 32nd minute, like Chicken Licken, we feared the skies might be about to fall on our heads.

In the 60th minute, Monaghan drew level at 0-12 to 0-12. Briefly, the biggest shock since My cousin Vinnie got his nephew off for murder was on the cards. It was at this moment in the BBC commentary box that Tommy Niblock uttered the most unfortunate double entendre of the year. “Suddenly, the blue machine opens her legs.” We giggled, but we knew what he meant.

The Dubs went to battle speed for the first time. Immediately, they looked as though they had 18 men on the field. Rory Beggan, whose kicking game had been extraordinary, suddenly had nowhere to kick to. His next kick-out was overturned and Fenton scored a point. 0-13 to 0-12. He got the next one off short but the Dubs forced the defender to go back to Beggan. Three Dubs surrounded him. He got the ball away but it was turned over again, the ball was fouled and Paul Mannion kicked the free. 0-14 to 0-12. The next two kick-outs were won by the Dubs. When Brian Fenton scored again to make it 0-16 to 0-13 the game was over. There was only time for Dean Rock to kick a free, then score a goal that only an expert could score. Suddenly, the scoreline was 1-17 to 0-13.

The Dubs played below their best for most of this game. They looked ordinary at times, dull and lethargic. Most of them will be annoyed by how they played. They underestimated Monaghan. They disrespected them. They will be bristling over the next fortnight. As Mickey Harte said on the Beeb, it is the perfect way for them to reach the final.

Finally, in case we do not see Conor McManus in the white and blue again, he left the stage in the manner he arrived, exemplified by two brilliant points back to back in the 58th and 60th minutes to bring Monaghan level. What a player. And what a man.

“Aliquid pulchritudinis est gaudium in aeternum” as they say in Navan.

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