JOHN FOGARTY: Roll up, roll up, for the faceless final

Maybe it’s because we’re so used to seeing Kilkenny front and centre after most games but it seemed they spent an inordinate amount of time behind their dressing room door on Sunday.

Whether Brian Cody was reading his players the riot act is unclear but it was easy to picture the disconsolate faces behind the door. TJ Reid’s as he contemplated the fine individual shift he had just put in but ultimately in vain. The fixed frustration on Richie Hogan’s as he began the process of harnessing the pain of this rare loss.

Eoin Murphy’s as he quietly promised himself he would never experience a first-half like that again.

Kilkenny will soon return to our attention stoked with vengeance and anger. We know this because they are winners. We know this because we know them. We don’t know Clare to the same degree. At the other end of the long corridor underneath the Kinane Stand, they would have deservedly laughed and cheered but imagining their smiles was an entirely more onerous exercise.

It’s only two years and five months since they were hurling’s darlings but aside from little more than a handful who were helped Clare beat Cork on that occasion as they contributed to Kilkenny’s demise on Sunday – Brendan Bugler, Podge Collins, John Conlo,n Darach Honan, Tony Kelly, Conor McGrath — the duty of putting faces to names was steeped in uncertainty. Watching them filter from the pitch back to their dressing room was in large a case of who’s that rather than who’s who.

Before Sunday, we readily admit to not knowing what Aaron Cunningham looked like despite having seen him play numerous times. We would have struggled to pick All-Ireland winning half-back Patrick O’Connor out of a line-up. For all our supposed diligent scanning of pen pics and Sportsfile and Inpho sports photography websites, it came to nothing and we resorted to recognising several by number rather than face.

Perhaps our professionalism leaves something to be desired but faceguards haven’t helped, making strangers of the sport’s leading lights. If we struggle to familiarise ourselves with them then we can only imagine how the general public must feel. Gaelic football suffers from its own identity crisis in the zealot way managers and the players themselves have deprived supporters of revealing what makes them tick.

If Clare continue the way they are going, complete the perfect season and extend their winning run to 16 on September 4, their mugs will be known around the country. Something that extraordinary would leave an indelible mark on people. Winning a first league title in 38 years would at least go some way to affording them fame in their own county. Last year’s winners and their final opponents Waterford made an impression on people even if they didn’t add to their number of household names – Noelie Connors, Kevin Moran, Maurice Shanahan, and Michael “Brick” Walsh. Austin Gleeson will soon join them but the rest are relatively anonymous. Tadhg de Búrca, for one, remains a red- helmeted Willo the Wisp sort of figure.

People need time to acquaint themselves with their sportsmen and so many of Waterford and Clare are in their early 20s. Of Waterford’s 10 scorers against Limerick on Sunday, seven were 21 or younger. Davy Fitzgerald has regularly referenced how difficult it was for “a bunch of 20-year-olds” to deal with winning an All-Ireland at such a tender age.

Derek McGrath has devised his squad number policy for a number of reasons, among them the players’ support for it. As a by-product, supporters have grown to associate them with the numbers they have been assigned for the season. It has certainly helped the identity process but then other factors militate against it. Like Clare, the idea of uniformity lends itself to how Waterford line themselves out on a field. Altruism is the core value. Players are cogs with characters rather than characters wearing cogs. Industries, not individuals. To say they play to a system is an insult when it’s a series of systems they are versed in where it’s vital they play to the same beat and rhythm. Theirs is an environment of co-dependency.

On Fitzgerald’s part, he in Jose Mourinho-like fashion prefers to take plenty of the pressure away from his men. It means he becomes the focus in defeat as much as victory with the idea players can prosper without any undue burden of responsibility. The addition of Dónal Óg Cusack amplifies the attention directed towards the Clare sideline. In a week which will start with many eager to find out what The Faceless Man is up to as Game of Thrones returns for a sixth series, what we have between Clare and Waterford on Sunday week is The Faceless Final. Distinguished hurlers as both sets are, they are essentially masqueraders.

There’s no pageantry like Dublin v Kerry

Roll up, roll up, for the faceless final

Even if they are some grumbles about the €35 price tag for a stand ticket this Sunday, as expected the Division 1 and 2 finals will draw quite the crowd to Croke Park. The largest crowd recorded for a league final was in 1964 when 70,126 watched Dublin beat Down. That number may or may not be topped. Regardless, there is so much appeal about the Dublin-Kerry and Tyrone-Cavan duels there is sure to be an electric atmosphere rarely experienced at GAA HQ in April.

With both counties fancying their chances of Ulster silverware, Tyrone and Cavan supporters will come in their droves to watch their men before they embark on their respective provincial campaigns. If it were known long in advance that Dublin and Kerry would face off, the GAA could well have justified the €35 admission on their pairing alone. The cost of entry has, of course, been increased to facilitate the staging of Laochra (Heroes) spectacle, which will follow the Division 1 final.

The GAA are entirely right not to let the exact 100-year anniversary of the Easter Rising pass without commemoration although it will be hard pressed stealing the thunder from the association’s own living history on Sunday. If Dublin and Kerry offer us extra-time, nobody will be complaining aside from the schedulers. For all the fireworks and festivities that will follow the last shrill of Eddie Kinsella’s whistle, this meeting of Dublin and Kerry promises more. A nod to the couple’s illustrious past, a wink to their ever-so relevant present and a nudge to a possible All-Ireland semi-final date on August 28.

Try following that, Laochra.

Cats’ minor massacre won’t change a thing

Trailing Wexford 2-3 to no score, it was seven minutes into Saturday’s All-Ireland minor football championship first round game Kilkenny’s official Twitter account stopped providing updates from the match. It seemed, as far as they were concerned, the game was up by that stage. On that count, they were right.

It’s a pity they gave up the ghost on those duties, because at least they might have distributed the correct result and confirmed Kilkenny did score – a point – to Wexford’s 17-21 instead of the 0-0 to 17-20 that was the talk of the country. It didn’t change the extent of the margin or size of the embarrassment but for the sake of record on a day of infamy for the county it was important to get the result right.

However, apart from it being Kilkenny’s first appearance in the competition since 2013, little new was gleaned from Saturday’s events in Nowlan Park. The county’s contempt for football remains the same as it ever was. Some degree of sympathy must be extended to those teenagers who were sent out to slaughter and have since become the butt of so many jokes heard over the weekend. The duty of care extended to them in that regard was slim to none although county chairman Ned Quinn’s apology for the result yesterday was genuine. It’s essential players aren’t made to feel so isolated but playing what is virtually a foreign sport in Kilkenny it’s so likely.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie 


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