It’s the first Sunday of October and you’ve just landed at JFK and, this being midday local time, a hundred county finals back home are into their closing stages. This you know because Pepsi Sister has Sunday Sport on the radio in – she being the successful one of the offspring - her fire-engine red Jeep, writes
(Pity our poor mother, who’s reading those last few words and cringing about conspicuous consumption.) Up north, deep amid the stony grey soil, Scotstown are holding on against Ballybay.
Coolderry and Ballgunner have won the Offaly and Waterford hurling deciders respectively. Dual All-Ireland champions Cuala have bitten the dust in the Dublin semi-final. Camross have beaten Rathdowney-Errill at O’Moore Park and I can’t resist muttering snidely to Pepsi Sister about how the Laois county final seems to have passed off without the need for the intervention of a UN peacekeeping force – snide, yes, but as I will discover over the next few days, premature.
And then there’s a report from Longford. Abbeylara, a place I’ve heard of, albeit not for sporting reasons, are going at it hammer and tongs with some crowd I’ve never heard of. It finishes 0-6 apiece. It does not sound like it was a repeat of Dublin/Kerry 1977.
I think no more on’t. I crack open a cold one and my holidays have truly begun.
Heaven knows why, I think a little more on it on my return. A passing curiosity impels me to google the result of the Longford county football final replay. Abbeylara, it transpires, succumbed to Mull… Mullina…. So that was how it’s spelled.
Two months later the nation knows how it’s spelled.
Mullinalaghta were not only one of the main stories of the past week, and heaven knows we needed a feelgood alternative to Brexit, they constitute one of the stories of 2018. Let’s face it, they had to be news when RTÉ rolled out the big guns on Monday, despatching Ciaran Mullooly, Eamon Horan and – of course – the heaviest artillery piece of them all to Ireland’s most famous half parish.
There’s a little known clause in Bunreacht na hEireann that makes it unconstitutional to hold a homecoming party anywhere in the jurisdiction or territorial waters without the presence of Marty, a man so famous that later that night he ended up being discussed by Podge, Rodge and a former Pussycat Doll. Don’t cha wish your boyfriend was Mor-ris-sey indeed.
It is not hard to imagine the slight disorientation among many readers of this paper on hearing the result the previous evening, of course.
Where exactlyLongford, boy? Is it a county? Can I pick it out on the map? (Here’s betting that a fair few of said readers wouldn’t have been 100% certain.) Do they eat their young there? Do they listen to TR Dallas and Declan Nerney all day?
Suffice it to say that were Norway ever to beat Longford, there won’t be an excited commentator in Oslo going: “Home of the giants! Albert Reynolds! Eddie Macken! RTÉ’s Sinead Hussey! The Blacksmith of Ballinalee, Sean Mac Eoin! Er, some Country ‘n’ Irish singers… Er… anyway, your boys took a hell of a beating!” Hence, naturally, the wholeaspect of it.
Sometimes a surprise provincial triumph is just a surprise provincial triumph. This was precisely that. An outlier, a once in a generation achievement. Bar the possibility of spurring obscure clubs around the country to greater things in 2019, Mullinalaghta’s triumph has no implications. It is not the shot heard around the midlands that foments the uprising that will unseat Dublin next summer.
But why should it be? And why should we fret if it doesn’t? Let’s no waste time trying to mine subtexts or cautionary lessons that do not exist. Great sporting moments like last Sunday’s are there to be treasured, not to be parsed to within an inch of their lives.
Indeed, if Mullinalaghta’s triumph proved anything, it proved that numbersmatter. We were told ad nauseam beforehand that the club possessed 155 members to the 4,800 in Kilmacud Crokes. We didn’t discover till later that they’d benefitted from a baby boy boom in the mid-1990s: hence the plethora of lads in the first half of their 20s on the panel, providing the team with its motor. That made all the difference.
So well done to Dan McElligott, who has five sons on the panel, a statistic that 50 years ago would have been unremarkable and unremarked on.
But not well done to RTÉ, who really should have drafted in the men in maroon as a late addition to the shortlist for Team of the Year, to be announced tonight. The award will be won by Limerick or Dundalk or Leinster or the Irish rugby team or the women’s hockey team, and that’s fair enough.
Really, though, it should be won by Mullinalaghta. Especially after the week that was in it. A week when we were all Mullinalaghta.
Whipping up a storm
Here’s a Ted Walsh story for you.
Back in the day, as an amateur rider, he took a pearler of a fall at Cheltenham in the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup. A couple of tonnes of horseflesh collapsed to the ground on the landing side of the fence. He was underneath the couple of tonnes of horseflesh.
“Poor horse,” lamented some plummy-voiced onlooker.
“What about me?” a bruised and battered Ted stormed in riposte after he’d managed eventually to drag himself to his feet. “I’ve a wife and three kids at home!”
The story came to mind the other day on foot of a Twitter debate arising from a British newspaper column written by a non-racing pundit that deplored the use of the whip and the manner in which horses are “being thrashed with whips up and down the country”.
Thrashed? By implements that are light and filled with foam?
Not long after the RSPCA agreed that no scientific evidence exists to prove the whip inflicts pain on a horse when properly used?
It would be no bad day’s work for the racing authorities to articulate the case for the whip to the racing public.
Not least because the Poor Horse brigade are loud and numerous. They shouldn’t be encouraged.
Heroes & villains
Ciarán Crowe and Joe Lyons: Authors of At Last, a gorgeous doorstep of a book celebrating Limerick’s MacCarthy Cup triumph.
Troy Parrott: The young Dubliner, pictured, did what Harry Kane failed to do by scoring in a Spurs victory in Barcelona last Tuesday.
Those Chelsea fans: Not Remain voters, one suspects.
Team Sky: The world of ethics will probably survive.