Sunday, September 30, 2007

Our own Kerry

It's like having our very own Kerry, only this time inside the county boundaries. In fact, today's county championship success by Ballina Stephenites - where they beat Charlestown by 3-6 to 0-13 - was their 36th county title, which is one more Moclair cup victory than Kerry have Sam Maguires. And, of course, now they get to have a shot at a national title, where they'll be aiming to repeat their All-Ireland heroics of 2005.

A decent run by the Stephenites could well shorten the yawning closed season for inter-county action that lies ahead and the fact that they also sport the Green and Red, as well as the fact that they have a number of the county panel within their ranks, make them a passable proxy for the county team over the next few months.

Friday, September 28, 2007

No All-Star nominations for us this year

Well, it's hardly a surprise is it? We underperformed badly in the championship this year and All-Star nominations are rarely forthcoming for a good league run. Realistically, we didn't have a single player that was close to a nomination this year (David Heaney and Andy Moran were probably our best performers in 2007) and this contrasts greatly with how we fared last year.

The full list is available here. Kerry - predictably - dominate the list with ten nominations and they're sure to do likewise when the final fifteen are announced before Christmas. It's good to see Sligo getting two nominees and the nomination of Louth's Paddy Keenan is also welcome. Galway's Nicky Joyce and Derry's Paddy Bradley - two forwards who inflicted plenty of damage on us in the championship - are also on the list, although neither will be fancied to make it onto the team itself.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Death of Mayo legend Eamon Mongey

It was sad to hear the news that Eamon Mongey, one of the key members of Mayo's All-Ireland senior football triumphs in 1950 and 1951, has died. He was one of the real leaders of that remarkable team and away from the football field his career encompassed a lifetime of public service, as well as decades as a popular sports columnist and the obtaining of a doctorate in law. More on Eamon and his life and times can be seen in this article in the Mayo News. Eamon died on Sunday morning in Dublin, aged 82. May he rest in peace.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Yet another one

There’s this wonderful moment in David Lean’s 1965 classic film Doctor Zhivago when Ralph Richardson, playing Omar Sharif’s father-in-law, gives a side-splitting Home Counties interpretation of his Russian bourgeois character. As one of the local lads bursts through the door of the Siberian dacha to deliver the news about the Tsar’s demise, Richardson throws his eyes up to Heaven and, in splendid retired colonel fashion, mutters “Not another purge!”

For some reason, that line kept coming back to me at Croker yesterday as yet another All-Ireland final loss for Mayo began to unfold before our already defeat-laden eyes. Although we weren't favourites for the title, the Mayo girls have - unlike their males counterparts - a very good track record at All-Ireland level and so we had reasonable hopes of seeing some silverware coming in our direction. The Mayo supporters were also in good form before the off, as this video clip of the pre-match parade shows.

But it wasn't to be: Mayo were swept aside by a very determined Cork side who were hell-bent on clinching three All-Ireland football titles in a row. Our girls were aiming to inflict a different three-in-a-row on Cork – the loss of three All-Ireland finals in as many weeks – but the
Rebelettes were having none of it. They led from the off, kept our attack under wraps until the last minute (when we got two goals that brought a sheen of respectability to the final score), dominated midfield and passed the ball around in a very slick and efficient manner.

Our girls simply weren’t at the races yesterday, though their cause wasn’t helped by a dreadful refereeing performance, in particular the award of a penalty to Cork just before the break for an incident which replays showed was never a foul. Cork goaled from that to lead by six at the break but the real killer blow came just after the restart when a well-worked second Cork goal put nine points between the teams. There was no way back from there.

And so it was, once again, our lot to traipse out of Croke Park having witnessed yet another All-Ireland final defeat for the county. However, at least the girls have won a few in their time and a good number of yesterday’s starting lineup already hold All-Ireland medals. Still, it would be nice – just the once, like – to be the ones celebrating at the end. There’s always next year, I suppose.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kerry’s success explained . . . well, sort of

Sean Moran had a good piece in yesterday’s Irish Times (I know, yesterday’s paper equals today’s fish ‘n chips wrapper or, at least, was until the health ‘n safety lads got on the case) where he discusses the various reasons why Kerry have enjoyed enduring success at All-Ireland level. He makes the interesting point that it’s not, as was the case with Dublin’s Heffo era, down to the promptings of an exceptional manager – Kerry have won five All-Irelands in the past 11 years with three different bainisteoirs. Nor is it that, as happened with Kerry themselves in the Seventies and Eighties, the same group of driven individuals have remained there year after year – 39 different players have started for the county in these five All-Irelands.

Moran also pooh-paws the notion that the new championship structure has much relevance to Kerry’s renewed domination at All-Ireland level, pointing to the fact that only one (only one – hah! What we poor sods wouldn’t do for only one Sam Maguire) title was won via the backdoor (Mayo fans don’t need any reminders as to which one that was), whereas a front-door Kerry were beaten by back-door Tyrone in 2005.

In the final analysis, Moran comes up with three reasons as to why Kerry have been - and are once again - very much the dominant force in championship football: players, coaches and tradition. Clearly, Kerry produce more exceptional footballers on an incredibly consistent basis compared to every other county and it does appear as if the notion of “playin forr de jursey, like” has had the conveyor-belt effect of spawning generation after generation of gifted footballers. Coaching is obviously relevant too, as it was back in Micko's time.

Success, of the ongoing and continual variety, is obviously critical in keeping the assembly line of emerging talent in place, otherwise the pride resulting from pulling on the fabled jursey would be diminished. It’s here where I think Moran’s analysis came up a little short because an enormous factor in Kerry’s ongoing success has got to be the easy run they get every year into the business end of the championship.

It was bad in the old days - in 1997, after their first round victory over somebody like Waterford or Tipp (I can’t for now confirm who it was), Kerry beat, Clare, Cavan and Mayo to win the Sam – but it’s arguably worse now. Dish ear, Kerry had just to negotiate their way past Waterford to clinch their place in the last twelve and, had they then lost their subsequent match (the Munster final against Cork), they’d only have had the inconvenience of dispatching the likes of Louth to make it to the All-Ireland series. Under the new structure, Kerry are effectively guaranteed a place in the All-Ireland series and it’s little surprise that they’re the only county to reach the quarter-finals every year since 2001. (A related question is why Cork have failed to do so but that’s one for another day).

Under the old structure, Kerry only had to worry about three games every year – the Munster final against Cork, then the All-Ireland semi and final. They were able to prepare themselves with this in mind every year and, in the Mick O’Dwyer era, this became a kind of fine art. The old structure did, however, have its dangers, as Tadhg Murphy’s 1983 thunderbolt proved but, by and large, it served Kerry well and gave them a far easier run at the All-Ireland than their major rivals enjoyed.

Under the new system, the threat of the thunderbolt is gone. Last year proved that it’s of absolutely no advantage to Cork to beat Kerry in Munster. Indeed, last year showed just how warped the structure is when Cork took the field in the quarter-final to play for the right to meet in the semi the team they’d just beaten in Munster. It takes a strange form of genius to come up with a championship structure like that.

The only place to get Kerry now is in the quarters and even that’s difficult. Either Kerry will arrive at this stage as Munster champions, in which case they’ll face a team that has lost already and so would be hotly fancied to lose again (although Monaghan went a long way this year towards helping to disprove that one) or else they’ll be, like last year, on the rebound from a Munster defeat to Cork and so hell bent on redeeming their reputation. Either way, they’re still the team to avoid.

It all comes back to the issue of the championship structure which just sucks. Sporting competitions should be about everyone starting from the same position and facing the same number of hurdles between them and ultimate success. Imagine, for example, if Real Madrid were allowed, every single year, to skip the Champions League group stages. How often would they win it? On that basis, there is not, perhaps, any great mystery about Kerry’s enduring domination at All-Ireland level.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ritual suicide, Cork-style

If it's ritual self-immolation you're into, guv'nor, then Yukio Mishima is the chap for you. However, earlier today at Croke Park in what was supposed to be an All-Ireland final, Cork's footballers ran the controversial (and, needless to say, dead) Japanese author/playwright a close second with a display of suicidal defending that simply beggared belief. They gave away three of the worst goals you're ever likely to see conceded on Gaelic football's biggest stage and, in doing so, ensured that Kerry would canter unchallenged to their second All-Ireland in a row and their 35th in all.

But, what of Mayo last year, I hear you howl? Wasn't that rock bottom in terms of competitiveness in an All-Ireland final? Yes it was but what happened to us last year (and, indeed, in 2004) was what occurs when a middling team that finds itself almost by mistake in a final comes up against the real deal. We had Heaney, they had Donaghy. But at least we didn't have a goalie that twice came charging out like a madman, neither time coming close to getting the ball and leaving his line undefended. (By the way, where was he for the second - after Donaghy robbed Spillane - out walking the frigging dog?) We didn't have to endure the sight of Donaghy lashing the ball into a gaping empty goal (he at least had to beat Clarke to score last year). We were crushed like the innocents to the slaughter that we were, today Cork did all the damage to themselves.

Goals win games, goes the old chestnut. Kerry's first, from the Carrot-headed Assassin, midway through the first half, made a Kerry victory - with Cork's forwards visibly labouring every time they managed to get past the halfway line - very likely. Their comical second just after the restart made it a racing certainty that Cork would take a hammering, one every bit as bad as the one we endured twelve months ago. Their third, equally scalding from an ABK point of view, was, well, unnecessary and ever so slightly gratuitous.

Pity the poor Cork supporters - that's two All-Ireland finals they've lost on successive Sundays, following last weekend's camogie final defeat. (It's also the second All-Ireland title in a week for the Herrin Chokers, with their minors winning in truly gutsy fashion today in a match where - unlike their U21 hurling counterparts last weekend - they really had to work to dig out the win). But let's not pity them too much - after all, we'll be looking to inflict a third weekend of misery on them next weekend when we square up to them in the ladies final.

Pity every other county, such as ourselves, who harbour half-baked notions of All-Ireland success. Kerry have already, in this decade, won as many All-Irelands as they did in the Seventies and, if they win the next two (which they could, the hoors) then the decade will prove as successful as the feted (or should that be fetid?) Eighties. If this happens it would also be another four-in-a-row but, as I've already mentioned in a comment in response to the previous post (can't be arsed to link it, it's too late in the evening), the really chilling fact is that, but for Tyrone in 2005, Kerry would today have already completed their four-in-a-row.

But also, finally, pity the poor Kerrymen. But for Canavan, Mulligan and the lads two years ago they would now be celebrating a four-in-a-row. That must hurt, right? I mean REALLY hurt. And that's not all. The poor bastards now have to wait a whole year - yes, twelve long mournful months - before they get the chance to relive the experience next September of rushing out of Croker before the Sam Maguire is presented to them. It must be tough to be a Kerry supporter, even on days like today.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


I've had very little time (and even less inclination) to write anything about tomorrow's final but a few brief words are in order, I suppose. Words like Up Cork, Come On The Rebels, that sort of thing. I hope they'll do it, not least cos I tipped them for Sam way back before the Summer we didn't have but, in truth, no such self-important kind of reasoning is required. It's Kerry they're playing for feck's sake and everyone outside of Kerry will (or at least should) be rooting for the opposition.

Kerry do not, of course, need another All-Ireland title to flaunt around the place but, of course, they've already plenty of reasons lined up as to why their "hunger" for victory is as strong as ever dish ear. You don't need me to repeat them here. The bottom line is that Kerry want to win it every year, they want it so bad every year that they'd like to play the All-Ireland twice every year. Kerry, every year, Kerry, every year, Kerrrrrrrraaaggghhhhhh! Come On The Rebels!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Maltese connection

I'm currently in Malta, unfortunately only for work reasons as it's very pleasantly hot here - like the hottest day you'd get in high Summer at home - and I'm only here for two days so I'm not going to get too much opportunity to enjoy the weather. But, hey, it's sunny and warm and it's not raining, which is a result in itself.

All very interesting you might say but what has all this got to do with football and the like? Well, in my case, it does because the last time I was here was in August 2005 (when it was seriously fucking hot, I might add). I flew out early on the morning of the Sunday on which Mayo were playing Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final, feeling a little pissed off as (a) I didn't want to miss the match and (b) it was screamingly obvious to me that I was the only poor sap on the plane (an Air Malta one, that was before the Mad Mick Express started up on the route causing the Maltese flag carrier to beat a hasty retreat) for work reasons but work was work and so off I had to go.

There's a dearth of Irish pubs in this odd little cultural mix of an island in the Med (where everyone speaks flawless English but widda da funny accent and where the local lingo and place-names sound more than a little vaguely of Arabic origin), a state of affairs that I would normally feel adds to its desirability but which, just this once, I would have happily embraced in order to see the action from Croker. Instead, I had to do with ringing on my mobile this Dublin number I have (I have it so long I can't recall where I got it) that provides a direct feed to RTE Radio 1 and so, as I wandered around Valletta for the afternoon, in the baking Med afternoon heat, I kept ringing in to see how the lads were doing.

Beforehand, I got the news that the Herrin Chokers had bombed against Cork but that was of little interest to me as I wondered if we were going to have a serious cut at avenging the humiliating loss we'd suffered to Kerry the previous September. I remember thinking in advance that there was no way we'd win this one, which, in retrospect, might (although correct) be termed a bit odd given that (a) delusional hopes of victory have never been slow to hit me when we're in the final and (b) as Monaghan showed this year, if you want to ambush Kerry then the quarters were when you really want to do it. Maybe I was just being realistic - we'd lost the Connacht final a few weeks previously to a poor Galway side and then had performed alarmingly badly in the subsequent qualifier clash with Cavan. And it was Kerry and it was also, as events transpired, John Maughan's final throw of the dice.

Valletta is an interesting place, with a honeycomb of tightly-knit streets on this finger of land that juts out into the Med and which is ringed by these fuck-off fortified walls and battlements. The old city has lots of nice little squares and churches and I meandered along down towards the sea, checking in every few minutes to see how we were doing. I reached the battlements by half-time and was then cursing myself for not being there to witness what sounded like a stirring first-half performance, one where we'd lived with the champions and were going in level (it was level, wasn't it?)

My walk then took on an uphill gradient and, with the relentless sun beating down on me, the going became tougher. Back home I discovered it was getting tougher too, as Michael O Muircheartaigh's melodious radio commentary streamed from my mobile telling me that his countymen had taken a decisive lead. Five, six, seven points to the good, all of a sudden it was all over. I never saw the last ten minutes when the legend of Austie was born but the match was over by then, all Austie did was to restore a respectable veneer to the losing scoreline.

The only sound now ricocheting around my head was that of Fuck, Fuck, Fuck and the epiphany hit me that I needed a beer, then another one and then the best part of a bottle of Maltese red wine with some truly forgettable food. But at least the sun was still shining and while we'd lost, we hadn't, like the previous year, been hammered by Kerry (although we wouldn't have long to wait for that to happen again). Falling into bed at the hotel some time later that evening, however, yours truly felt well hammered.

So that's the Maltese connection. No matches to worry about missing this time (Stan's latest fine mess doesn't count, I reckon) and less chance of a hangover tomorrow morning. I'm here for work, after all.

By the way, I never mentioned my trip to Croker last Sunday with my Dubettes, mainly because I'd no time to post yesterday. They were resplendently turned out in their jerseys and all ready to sing their Come on Yew Boyz in Blew for the U21 Dubs when the Herrin Chokers hit said Boys in Blew with three hammer blows in the opening fifteen minutes. A valiant fightback by the Dubs was then terminated when Galway rattled in their fourth goal before the break. Not even Tumescent Tom, perched behind his laptop up in the press box in the Hogan, could clutch too many comforting straws from that performance.

Strangely, the Dubettes didn't seem too put out. Maybe it was that godawful pink candyfloss that they'd been salivating about all week beforehand or else it was the cornettos that followed it down the hatch. Whatever it was, before half-time in the camogie final - when their adopted Cork seemed (correctly as it turned out) also to be heading for defeat - they both decided they'd had enough and were back at home bouncing on the trampoline in the garden by the time the Yella Bellies completed their first All-Ireland camogie success for all of 33 years. It was a day of high emotion at Croker but, in our case, more a day for a high intake of E numbers.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Managerial merry go-round in the West now over

Galway yesterday announced that, after nearly a decade under foreign (i.e. Mayo) domination, their new manager will be a bona fide Herrin Choker. And not any old Herrin Choker either: they've given the job to Liam Sammon, a man with both a distinguished playing career for the county - one All-Ireland medal (1966) and three losing final appearances (1971, 1973 and 1974), the latter of which was against Heffo's Army where he missed a penalty. The new man has also a strong track record in coaching, where apparently he has a particular interest in the skills of the game. Well, that'll make a difference from Ford training them to belt the bejaysus out of anyone in a red and green jersey!

With that vacancy filled, Tommy Breheny still at the helm in Sligo, John Maughan's decision to stay with the Sheepstealers for another year and our own county's move to break with tradition by having a management team that stays in place for more than one year, it looks as if the managerial merry go-round west of the Shannon is over for this year. (I'm not sure what's the story with Leitrim - is Dessie Dolan still there?) Roll on the FBD League!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

It's ladies' night and the feeling's right

It looks like it might be time to dust down and reuse that old "What do you call a Mayoman with an All-Ireland medal?" joke as the ladies are, once again, back in the final, where they'll face reigning champions Cork in Croker later this month. Tonight up in Breffni Park, they overcame Tyrone by 2-13 to 2-8 in the semis to set up their first final appearance since 2003. Cora was, once more, our star turn, contributing 1-8 to the winning total.

I now have a bit of a dilemma to resolve. I previously gave the girls' All-Ireland appearances a wide berth, not wanting to put a male loser's hex on them but I'd already promised my Dubettes (whom I'll be taking to Croker next weekend for the camogie final, where they'll also get to shout for De Boyz En Blew in the U21 hurling decider) that we'd go to the final if Mayo made it that far. A promise made must be kept, I guess . . .