Summer just gets better and better, doesn’t it? Endless rain isn’t enough, we have to have a monsoon on top of it and, if that wasn’t bad enough, those pesky Kerrymen keep marching relentlessly on towards the three-in-a-row. But, hey, it could be worse – at least the minors won on Saturday and now get to play … why, of course, none other than Kerry in the semi-finals in two weeks time.
Because we were in Kerry at the weekend, we missed Saturday’s metropolitan monsoon – it rained down there as well, of course, but it didn’t fall in torrents like it did up here – and, due to the wedding festivities, we only caught some of the football action. But, having spent more than nine hours on the road getting down to and coming back from Killarney, I have a better appreciation as to why the Kerry supporters don’t grace Croke Park more often than they do. To paraphrase that old Kerryman joke, some people do indeed live awful far away. Mind you, if our lads played the near-perfect way that Kerry did on Saturday, you’d never want to miss a single minute of the action.
But leave the Kerrymen to one side for the moment. The minors were in action on Saturday as well and their quarter-final with Monaghan up in Longford was a tough, tight affair that finished all square after the hour. Our lads stepped on the gas in extra-time, however, and won comfortably enough, by 1-12 to 0-9, in the finish. Sixty minutes of football against Kerry’s U18s now stand between them and a first minor All-Ireland appearance since 2005 and so the dream of a Connacht three-in-a-row at minor level continues to live on.
At senior level, Kerry are now looking simply unstoppable. It’s not just because I was breathing in Kerry air all weekend that I’m saying this – their performance, particularly in that bizarre afternoon twilight in the second half, was simply awesome. The way they moved the ball with purpose – never once panicking, always offloading to a well-placed teammate – was a lesson to the rest of us mere mortals. Their point shooting was, given the conditions, simply out of this world: the lights were switched on for them at half-time and, in that second half, they proceeded to shoot them out.
Galway battled gamely, with the excellent Michael Meehan taking full advantage of Kerry’s failings at full-back but such was the brilliance of the Kerry attack that they could afford to adopt a Brazilian attitude, knowing that regardless of how much they’d concede at their own end, they were certain to score more. Meehan surely won his All-Star on Saturday (he’s never cut loose like that against us – it’s just as well, he’d beat us on his own if he did) but he didn’t have the kind of attacking options alongside him that the Kerrymen had. When was the last time someone scored ten points in a championship match in Croker and still saw his side end up losing by five? Galway’s 1-16 would, on any other day, have been a winning score at this time of year in Croke Park but, clearly, Saturday wasn’t just any old day.
As you can imagine, the Kerry crowd at the wedding were fairly cooing after that performance and even they were finding it difficult to come up with reasons as to why they won’t now go on and complete the three-in-a-row. In one sense, by getting over the Monaghan and Galway hurdles in little over a week, they’ve done the hard work already and it’s almost impossible to see anyone stopping them now. You can be certain that they’ll take atavistic pleasure in kicking Cork’s holes all around Croke Park in two week’s time and then in the final, with Paul Gal-a-vin waiting in the wings, they’ll tear into the Dubs (if the Dubs it is and you’d have to think it will be) with such ferocity that the three-in-a-row could be in the bag before half-time on September 21st.
I only saw the highlights of the other two matches on The Sunday Game last night. Wexford’s win over Armagh looked thoroughly deserved but it probably said more about how poor the Ulster champions were than it did about Wexford’s ability to influence matters from here on in. That said, the Yella Bellies have done superbly well to get as far as they now have, not least in light of the pasting they took from the Dubs in the Leinster final. Given that hiding, Dublin are the last team Wexford would want to meet again this summer but I can’t see Tyrone stopping the Dubs next weekend. Incidentally, if Tyrone do lose, then it’ll be the third year in a row that Ulster will have no representative in the penultimate stage of the championship and, of course, Galway’s defeat on Saturday meant that (a) this is the second year in a row and the third in four that a Connacht side hasn’t made it to the last four and (b) we’re still the only Connacht champions to have progressed past the quarters since 2001.
Cork flattered to deceive yesterday, I thought, and if their second goal had been disallowed – as Kevin McStay’s analysis on The Sunday Game showed that it should – Kildare might have got closer to them. As it was, Cork came out on top by three in a game they should have won at a canter and the fact that they knew in advance that they were playing for the right, once again, to meet Kerry wouldn’t have helped their general well-being. By the way, yesterday was the second time in three years that Cork took the field in an All-Ireland quarter-final playing for the right to face Kerry in the semis but having, in their previous match, beaten the Kingdom. As that Kildare sage, Ray D’Arcy says, how mad is that?
In the final analysis, however, the Kerrymen will be happy to oblige in the area of madness. Despite Saturday’s silken performance, you can be sure they’re still as mad as hell over that Munster final defeat and their non-travelling fans will, no doubt, be aching for restitution in a fortnight’s time. Croker could be quite empty that day as I can’t see too many Donkey Ayters turning up for their now annual Croke Park humiliation at the hands of their next-door neighbours. What odds, then, on our minors drawing the biggest number of supporters to HQ on the 24th?