By Joe Brolly
MODERN Gaelic football is a masterpiece, a complex symphony that can only be understood by people of great intellect. Our eyes are lying to us. Our boredom is a source of hilarity for the experts. We are watching something epic and extraordinary. We are just too stupid to understand it. Too ignorant to appreciate it. The game is not doomed to irrelevance. On the contrary, it has never been better. The GPA man Paul Flynn said on telly at the weekend that some people “might find it hard to watch” but the skill level and understanding of tactics has never been better and the game has evolved into something special. Me? I go to be entertained. To be thrilled. To get the heart racing. To cheer and groan and come away afterwards buzzing. If I want to watch chess, I will go to a chess tournament.
I watched the game in Eamonn’s in Kenmare in the heart of the Kingdom. “Who will win Derryman?” “Whoever has David Clifford.” Big Darren Goldrick, whose grand uncle Brian Reilly played wing back on the great Cavan team that beat Kerry in the 1952 final, sat down beside me. “Joe, the best thing that ever happened Kerry was Dessie Farrell getting the Dublin job.” Which provoked a great roar of laughter in the packed bar. “Is Clifford the best you have ever seen?” The bar went silent. “He is.” “Better than The Bomber?” “The Bomber didn’t have to contend with blanket defences.” “He scored 3-2 from play in his first All-Ireland final.” “He did, but you can’t throw the ball into the net anymore.’ Which brought a great laugh from the punters. “And Clifford doesn’t have John Egan, Mikey Sheehy, Ger Power, Ogie Moran and Pat Spillane as his assistants.”
Donal McCarthy came over to say hello. “I’ll tell you a good one Joe. I was playing corner back for Kerry in 1989. We went up to Derry to play ye in the league. The night before, I was sharing a room with Ambrose O’Donovan. Mickey Ned was in the next room and had an early to bed rule. Ambrose was dying for a pint. He said, “We’ll climb out the window and slide down the drainpipe.” We slid down three floors and had five pints each. The next day, we got a heroes welcome at Celtic Park. We couldn’t believe it. The first high ball came in and Ambrose missed it entirely and the Derry man put it over the bar. Ambrose roared at me “Would you rouse yourself McCarthy?”
Arriving into Kenmare village, I saw something I had never seen before. The Kerry flag flying from the Garda Station. The Garda van had a Kerry sticker on it. Welcome to the Kingdom.
Everywhere I went, it was, “What do you think of that Joe Brolly?” We went to Helen’s Bar in Kilmackillogue. The parish bulletin had invited the locals to come to the bar at six o’clock on friday to watch Patie O’Sullivan (Green) appearing on The People’s Angelus on RTÉ. Afterwards, a round of applause and a drink on the house. Here, the Quiet Man is non-fiction.
We went to Sailors with Rosari and Pat Spillane, who must be the world’s happiest couple. “What are you doing these days Pat?” “Nothing.” (pronounced nutting). Rosari said, “He swims across the bay every day.” “Can he cook?” I said. Rosari had a good laugh at that. “If I go away he lives on cheese and crackers. It’s like living with a baby. Pat nodded in agreement. “To be fair, I go to the steam room at the Kenmare Bay.” “He does” said Rosari. Eight All-Irelands. Ten All-Stars. Why should he have to do anything?
Kerry could be doing with him. Without Clifford they are nothing much. Seanie O’Shea is a beautiful free taker and kicked three delicate points in the first half, but when it came to the business end, it was Clifford, as always, who was the difference. Kerry’s mediocrity is shocking. Without him there would have been no All-Ireland. Without him, they would have lost here to an awful Cork team. It is exhausting watching Cork. Solo, handpass, solo, handpass, solo, handpass. Repeat. With two minutes of injury time to go at the end of the first half, they soloed and handpassed and didn’t get a shot off. With ten seconds of injury time left at the end of the game, the clock showing 74:50, they opted for a point when they were three down. Pascal McConnell, the great Tyrone All-Ireland winning keeper, said last week that Tyrone were “a dying dog, looking to be put out of their misery.” If Tyrone are a dying dog, what are Cork?
The game was thoroughly modern. The game has “evolved” is what the coaches and GPA say (this is code for “crap”). Critics “don’t understand modern tactics.” We are watching a highly sophisticated masterpiece. We just don’t understand it. The big crowd of football lovers in Eamonn’s called it “dead” and “shit” and “boring” and “hard to watch.” Ignoramuses.
I was with our Uachtarain Larry McCarthy at the Corofin All-Ireland presentation night last weekend. For the umpteenth time, I badgered him to put me on the Rules Committee. Four rules: Kickouts beyond the 45. The goalkeeper cannot accept a pass from an outfield player. The ball cannot be played back over the 45s or the halfway line once it has crossed them. No sweeper. Simple stuff that enforces contests and prevents coaches from choking the life out of the game.
There is a bottom line here. Unless the rules are changed, the spectacle will get worse and worse. Our only hope is a nationwide drive-thru artificial insemination program, with David Clifford as the volunteer. Or Peter Canavan.