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.