RORY Beggan kicked a three in-a-row of gravity-defying points on Sunday to slay Kilcoo and didn’t get the Man of the Match. It was the most extraordinary display of long-range kicking I have ever seen. Add to that the fact that all of the kicks were under the most tremendous pressure with the outcome at stake, it is something we will probably never see again. His leg appears to be made of solid led. It swings slowly towards the ball like some enormous pendulum.
When it gently brushes against the size 5, it takes off like a golf ball struck by Rory McIlroy. The second of his three late game-winning points on Sunday was the most improbable. He took possession on the mid-line, strolled forward a few paces, then gently struck the ball off the outside of his foot. I have watched it several times, mesmerised by the physics that allows him to do this. Sixty metres from goal I reckon. Yet it sailed over the bar with plenty to spare. He is like a freakish fairgound attraction. “Roll up, roll up, watch Rory the giant kick a ball up to the moon.”
It was an epic finale. An unbelievable finale. Some relief after the boredom of the live game on Saturday, where RTÉ showed a dog running onto the pitch as one of the half-time highlights. We should have more dogs at games to entertain the crowd. It was the best thing about the game. If you could call it a game.
This Saturday, I am going for a counselling session with the country’s foremost wellness experts Corofin. They are playing Ballina Stephenites in the Connacht semi-final. Watching them is like coming in from the pub in a good mood after a few Saturday evening jars, then settling down to enjoy Goal of the Month on the BBC, smiling and chuckling at the overhead kicks and lobs. Watching their opponents labouring against them is like watching a very old man making love. He tries hard but it never ends well.
For a decade, they have been showing us how to save the game. Only no one is paying attention. In the Galway final two weeks ago, their u-19s seamlessly merged with what is left of their magical All-Ireland winning teams, and they duly corofined the favourites Moycullen. On countless occasions, Moycullen’s normally fearsome defence was in position, or so they thought. Within seconds, the ball was over the bar or in the net.
Their goal exemplified Corofin football. Liam Silke picked up Moycullen’s dangerous corner-forward Dessie Conneely from the throw in. Dessie had been the top scorer in Galway up until then. Conneely’s head was light chasing Silke up the pitch. Silke scored two points from play. Conneely was scoreless. When Silke took off soloing upfield again with 15 minutes to go, there didn’t seem to be any danger. He slalomed past one defender, then another. As he broke through, three Corofin men formed an attack squadron and ran through at different angles towards goal, pulling the defence every which way. Then, an inch-perfect handpass to Tony Gill, who passed it calmly to the net.
They did not stick, even when they were six points up. Instead, as they always do, they continued to twist. In Corofin, they do not bore their way to victory, holding possession endlessly, going backwards, time wasting and all of the other pre requisites of “modern football.” In Corofin, they abide by the sacred principle that the game is about entertainment and glory. That they owe a duty to their players, spectators and community to play the game the right way. That unlike the vast majority of teams nowadays, who could play behind closed doors for all anyone really cares, that the game is owned by all of us.
So, when every other team I can think of would have dawdled through the last ten minutes, working it back to the keeper, playing donkey with the opposition, holding the ball and running the clock down (which Corofin’s expert skills are made for), they kept attacking and expressing themselves. This allowed Moycullen to score a goal in the 60th minute and come within three. Even then, Corofin kept playing. What is the point in winning if it isn’t fun? If you don’t express yourselves and lift your community? So, their six-point lead with ten minutes to go ended up only two points. Glory, not boredom.
None of this is by accident. The culture of this club is one of entertainment and adventure. A rule of thumb is that the kids need to be two-footed by the age of 14. Kicking with both feet is sewn into the training. It cannot and is not avoided or glossed over. The reason most kids don’t kick with their weaker foot is because they are self-conscious. But when everybody is doing it, and being encouraged and applauded for doing it, there is nothing to be self-conscious about. This gives the kids an awareness of time and space and a culture which mandates self expression. This explains why Corofin’s boys can play in almost any position. A fortnight ago, their wing-back Kieran Molloy ended up at right corner-forward, from where he scored a wonderful point and caused havoc.
With Corofin, we see the peak of Gaelic football. Their underage nursery ensures that they keep big numbers. Who doesn’t want to play football when it is played like this? Because they work so much on kicking and are encouraged to kick long when they see an opportunity, they do it automatically. They did things last Sunday that would enrage most coaches and prompt substitutions. Things that makes the rest of us smile and clap our hands.
Their movement last Sunday was a thing of beauty. Again, this comes from an awareness of time and space, with each player switched on at all times, monitoring everything that is going on around them. Because they have grown up in a learning culture where risk is compulsory, they have learned the art of Gaelic football. The inside forwards watch each other, make dummy runs, move sideways and backwards, anticipate the second and even third pass. The effect of their movement and chemistry was that there was nothing Moycullen could do about them. The favourites were overwhelmed by a brand of football played only in this extraordinary parish.
Watch their pre-match drills. All of this is in it. All of it is a pleasure to watch and therefore a pleasure to play. There are many other aspects to their play that make them what they are, but the culture is what allows them to perfect each of these. I was honoured to have been invited to their club several months ago to present their last two sets of All-Ireland Club medals, which they had forgotten to present (as you do). Kieran Fitzgerald, their legendary full-back, is now coaching the kids, concentrating on skills and spatial awareness. One of the things he works on constantly is the positioning of the defenders in front of their opponents and how they should modify their position as the attack advances. This is a small example of the learning culture that pervades the club.
Nothing they do is a miracle. Coaches can do this, or they can decide not to play football, and teach their players how to play in the third row of the blanket defence, how not to take risks, how to solo and how to hand-pass backwards. It is much easier to do the latter, which is why the game has fallen into boredom and disrepute.
If you are a very old man, do yourself a favour. Watch them on RTÉ this Saturday before the main event….