It was good to meet up for a quick chat with John Cuffe on the way out of McHale Park last Saturday evening and it’s equally good to welcome him back into the guest slot to provide some thoughts on that evening’s fogbound encounter with the Dubs.
From my vantage point high in the new stand in McHale Park I watched the evening sun drop behind Croagh Patrick, its rays momentarily blinding my view of the pitch. To my right standing guard was Nephin with its peak shrouded in mist. Blissful calm and beauty filled the skyline.
Dublin players strolled on the pitch beneath me, getting a feel of the sod and atmosphere. One, possibly James McCarthy, looked like a member of Linkin Park with his headphones, baseball hat and baggy trousers, all the while flicking a ball up and down. Dublin are not just All-Ireland champions, Kerry’s Paul Galvin has a new challenger in the fashion stakes.
After the bile, bitterness and rancour of Messrs Suarez and Evra, it was a breath of fresh air to watch both sets of supporters sit and exchange banter and crack whilst we awaited the combatants. Both teams warmed up. Mayo players developed a new drill where on receiving the ball the player immediately hit the turf as if shot at from the nearby tower. Whilst it fascinated me it also gave my stomach the type of feeling that bodes ill.
Dublin seemed to be more intense. Ger Brennan took off his top and the steam rose from his body into the evening air. As it rose into the sky Ger resembled a bison who was after running a mile. During the National Anthem as both teams stood to attention the entire Dublin outfit looked as if they were standing in a sauna. We on the other hand emitted only a hint of smoke.
Two points up and set fair, I started to relax. We looked fine. The tackles were going in, we got the benefit of the type of frees normally awarded against us and all looked rosy. Then the efforts exerted in the warm-ups started to pay dividends. Tackles were broken, backs were taken on and beaten and Dublin made the ball do the work. We looked naive and seemed to shrink.
Kevin McManamon drew applause from both sides with a fantastic point from the outside of his boot just beneath us. Connolly was tormenting us and every foot pass found its man. We reverted to type and our DNA. Why kick a ball fifty or sixty yards when we can solo there instead, risking life and limb? Once there why not trip over the damn ball or lose it? Glitches that we thought were part of Christmases past came back to haunt us. Take the ball into the tackle, and then get swamped. Better, slow the play down and look around as if we were operating a Libero Italian style, nothing like that to allow Dublin to regroup.
Balls dropped into Cluxton’s chest, frees lacked conviction and the ability to kick with the weaker foot stood out like a red nose. For good measure Stephen the keeper came up and rammed a long range free from the ground right between our posts. Then McCarthy went and got himself red carded.
I hate when this happens for a variety of reasons. If we won it was because they were down a man. Worse, if we lost ….well figure that one yourself. Add in the referee’s instinct to award every doubtful free to the depleted in order to soothe them and then hold your breath as you await for one of your men to walk for the mildest challenge in order to even things up. It’s like walking a tightrope.
Richie Feeney added a bit of bite to our lot. Big Barry and Aidan actually were winning anything up the middle; the problem was Dublin were not allowing us to channel that route too often.
The fog that enveloped Nephin appeared at the back of the Dublin goal on the 35th minute. Slowly it inched its way across the pitch until finally we were in pea-soup land. Marty Duffy and his cohorts of white suited men were just about visible from where I sat. Then the guillotine was brought down. Match abandoned due to fog.
How apt, saved by the pea soup. This was akin to sitting an honours Leaving Certificate maths paper and finding out that you knew none of the answers. Fortune however smiles on you, the exam is cancelled and a resit is ordered. James’s pupils get to resit the exam again. Lucky them, let’s hope they have their homework done. No more of the bad stuff that has caused some of us to go grey and bald far too early. Let’s remember Cork last summer as the template. Passing Athlone the fog swept in again. My headlights picked up a sign that indicated Longford next left. We have been there once…never again…ok!!