Closing the book on Conor — for now

A couple of years ago, a publisher asked your columnist about potential GAA books: what would be a hot property, and what would be interesting, that kind of thing.

I pointed out that the current incarnation of the Cork football team was a great narrative, all things considered, given their travails, their eventual victory in an All-Ireland final, the parallel issue of the hurlers within the county getting greater support...

The publisher stopped the conversation by pointing out that what would be interesting and what would a be hot property were attributes that weren’t mutually inclusive.

A gentle reminder about the Cork footballers’ box office performance even within their own county followed, and that was enough to send the conversation far, far away from any thoughts of a book about the Cork football team.

This was all in my mind watching Conor Counihan’s farewell performance as Cork football manager in Croke Park on Saturday night. It was in keeping with his six-year reign: measured and polite, even if he showed a neat side-step to the perennial question about whether Cork have underachieved, and it was characteristic of the man to make a plea for more balanced analysis of amateur players who have families.

The Aghada man has been a long time on the road — soon after he retired from the inter-county playing field, he joined the Cork senior football backroom team, and he’s been involved at the top level on and off ever since.

He told the press corps in Croke Park on Saturday evening that the energy generated by an inter-county set-up would power a multi-national, and a good portion of that energy would have come from Counihan himself, though he would never have said so.

The farewell performance was in keeping with his team: accomplished and low-key. Modest in the Christy Ring sense, of knowing exactly how good you are. When we asked if he’d go again, or maybe coach another county, he said never say never: “But not today.”

A pity about that book, because Never Say Never, But Not Today would have been a hell of a title.

A fleeting insight into living life in the zone

Whoever said Dublin isn’t a GAA town should have been with this writer on Saturday.

The setting: an on-trend hotel in the capital (for these purposes, an Asian-fusion theme to the bar food qualifies as on-trend) and yours truly is getting into the lift.

Enter a tall chap with pronounced jaw muscles, wearing official-issue Dublin gear, furiously consulting an iPhone or such-like device. Stephen Cluxton.

The time? About 3.30 pm.

The two of us are joined swiftly by another chap in sky and navy-blue with thick wrists and plenty of Dublin gear on him (don’t ask me, it could have been Brian Mullins for all I know).

Then the three of us are joined by an elderly couple, the man lugging a couple of large suitcases, the lady encumbered with a keen sense of curiosity.

“This man is going to Croke Park anyway,” she said to her husband, nodding towards Cluxton. “Sure the Cork boys are going to run a drag with ye, anyway.”

It wouldn’t be completely correct to say the Dublin goalkeeper ignored the sally utterly and totally. It would be more accurate to say that he was in the zone, or the particular place somewhere within that zone where people go to concentrate. In any event there were a few seconds of silence and then we all got out (it wasn’t awkward at all; it was the place beyond awkward, which I have rarely visited).

Concentration is an often-neglected attribute in an athlete, and the mental effort to keep your focus can take its toll.

Golf is full of stories of tournament winners who were able to shut out distracting noises to hole crucial putts, though we prefer to the old yarn about Ulysses S. Grant.

The great American Civil War general had hugely potent powers of concentration — if he were writing out orders in his tent before some bloodbath in that 19th century conflict and needed a map or note on another chair, he’d crab over, still hunched over in his writing pose, without straightening up, collect what he needed, and return to writing his order without once standing erect.

(This is all by way of introducing one of my favourite Grant stories: having seen his army barely survive a day of murderous fighting at the Battle of Shiloh, Grant was joined in the evening by another general, William Tecumseh Sherman, who ventured: “Well, Grant, we have had the devil’s own luck.” “Yes,” said Grant. “Lick ‘em tomorrow, though.” And they did).

Back to the Dublin keeper.

If Cluxton ever did interviews, it’d be interesting to ask him in the next week if he even remembered the lady’s comments. I doubt he would. And the way he played against Cork that evening showed his methods of preparation clearly work. In the same hotel I bumped into a former inter-county player and as we chatted several other Dublin players and backroom staff strolled past, all of them looking just about as tense as you might expect before an All-Ireland quarter-final.

“Do you miss that?” I asked. “The big game?”

“The game, maybe,” said my pal. “But the couple of hours beforehand? Not at all.”

Big screen shows Enda is far from pole position

As Cork and Dublin seethed and heaved on the field in HQ yesterday, the big screen was doing its usual job, offering quick recaps of the action.

That included Michael Shields’ deft lift and scrum-half pass in the first half, though in my bitter southern heart I don’t recall the same forensic attention to Cork’s stonewall penalty shout in the second half (let it go, Mike. Let it go — everyone).

In any event, the cameraman was clearly scanning the crowd for well-known faces in the breaks in play, and settled on An Taoiseach Enda Kenny (pictured) at one point, whose face flashed up on those big screens at either end of the ground.

The reaction was loud, a storm of booing ringing out, and by necessity quick: the face was on-screen for only a few seconds. It was the kind of vivid, instant poll that Red C or Millward Brown would have appreciated.

Brolly rant a cut above Mayo-Donegal sniping

‘Compliments pass when the quality meet’ is one of my favourite expressions — easy to remember and applicable in a vast array of social circumstances — and it came to mind very quickly on Saturday, when RTÉ pundit Joe Brolly got a little upset about Tyrone player Sean Cavanagh’s rugby tackle on Conor McManus of Monaghan in the second half of their All-Ireland quarter-final.

Brolly’s description of what Tyrone had achieved in the game as something “rotten”, and Harte’s returning volley about the Derry man’s “shallow interpretation” was all a bit storm-in-a-teacup for our tastes, though it is consistent with the recent poking of each other by Donegal and Mayo managers Jim McGuinness and James Horan.

At least Brolly is a pundit paid to entertain, and Harte a manager who feels he must defend his players, and there’s been a verbal richness to the exchanges.

McGuinness and Horan’s sniping at each other has been of the ‘I know you are but what am I’ variety, and though some observers may feel it’s brightened up the championship, from this vantage point it only looks as though it’s brightened up the corner of the schoolyard where the two sulkiest kids in the class finally start insulting each other.

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