This rising tide of support for Kerry? Feels wrong.
Beyond the pale, even, if you’ll allow us that conceit. It’s anathema to everything we know. An affront to the natural order. You’d imagine even folk in the county itself must be miffed by this sudden upsurge in popularity among the neutrals.
It’s not that Kerry haven’t been underdogs before. Most of us will remember the 1990s when the Kingdom disappeared under Cork’s shadow. Hell, there were 10-year-olds born in Killarney and Tralee and Listowel who had never seen their county win a senior All-Ireland title for a while there.
But it’s hard to remember anyone actually rooting for Kerry through that barren 11-year spell before Páidi Ó Sé led them out of the desert and back to the Promised Land in 1997. And not just because it was Mayo — poor, suffering craturs that they are — who were opposing them in that decider.
No, supporting Kerry just wasn’t fathomable back then. How could it have been? “Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for US Steel,” said the American entertainer Joe E Lewis once upon a time.
Hands up: You may have read that line in this column once or twice before, but it strikes a helluva chord here.
Professional footballers can be heroes in one shirt and villains in another, WWE wrestlers can turn from face to heel and back again in the blink of an eye, and the movies routinely play around with preconceived notions of good and evil.
But backing Kerry in an All-Ireland final? You may as well hold a soft spot for the Galactic Empire just because the Death Star got blown to smithereens.
You can admire Kerry,obviously. You can drink in their footballing heritage,marvel at a roll call of players that changes in name through the generations but rarely in class.
But hold a torch for them? Ah, now.
And yet, here we are on the eve of the All-Ireland final and there is an undoubted stirring of support for Peter Keane’s men as they attempt to ward off the first-ever five in a row in GAA history. There really is nothing beyond this exceptional Dublin side if they can unite the rest of the country behind the Yerras.
Some of that will be an ABD (Anyone But Dublin) thing. The dividing line between Jackeen and culchie is an ancient one and, for some, it shall not be crossed or tampered with under any circumstances. But this isn’t the case for most of those who hold a handle for the Munster side on Sunday.
Barry Cahill touched on this earlier in the week when remarking how any dominant sports team invariably invites support for their opponent. The former Dublin player put that into context when pointing out how much goodwill there was swilling around for the capital side when they made a first final in 16 years back in 2011.
So this isn’t an anti-Dublin thing. Not really. It isn’t even a consequence of debates over skewed funding models and the home comforts enjoyed in Croke Park which have hovered around Jim Gavin’s team as they go about their business. Actually, some of it may be down to how they go about that very business.
That Dublin are an exceptional side is beyond argument but a county that once freewheeled with utter disregard for their own health and safety now goes about its work in the manner of a machine that eradicates all risk and cares not a jot for the traditional ebb and flow of games and the emotions that come with all of that.
Dublin are a team of exceptional individuals but not in the sense of their forebears in the ’70s or that great Kerry team. There is no Ciaran McDonald or Trevor Giles acting as pivot and pilot and playmaker. There is no single beating heart to the team, regardless of how central Brian Fenton may be or the fact that Stephen Cluxton is first among equals.
Even a talent as sublime as Diarmuid Connolly has been expendable.
You can blow your cheeks out in awe at the measly amount of wides they record. You can applaud the manner in which they squeeze the opposition on their kickouts and lead them down blind alleys. And you can marvel at the almost perfunctory way they move through the gears to blow sides away in a matter of minutes. But, as with Kerry, it is harder to open your hearts fully to them as a neutral.
None of this may be their fault. If there were more Mayos out there, it’s highly likely that Dublin would have been engaged in far more emotional and memorable encounters and, win or lose, we would likely have grown to love them more.
The hope is that Kerry can do something similar this weekend and draw Dublin into the sort of gunfight that leaves us rapt for the killer blow as the game enters the red. Do that and we can all live with a counter-intuitive grá for the game’s two evil empires, no matter what the result.