JUST LAST week Tony Blair visited Ireland to publicise his autobiography.
We will spare you the tummy-upsetting account of the former British Prime Minister’s congress with Cherie – you can switch off Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’ right now, please – but one of his more famous phrases came to mind in Dublin 3 yesterday.
The hand of history was on a lot of shoulders in Croke Park.
Kilkenny came to Dublin to make it five in-a-row, but the omens were bad even before the game began.
Twenty-eight years ago it was another dank autumn evening in the capital when Offaly beat Kerry – your correspondent knows well, as he was going to the Mater Hospital for an operation at the time – though as portents of doom you’d have to say the weather wouldn’t rank alongside a novelty single by Galleon, for instance.
However, a high dropping ball into the Hill 16 end after 10 minutes was eerily reminiscent of the late stages of the 1982 decider.
For Liam Connor’s delivery, read Shane McGrath. For Tommy Doyle, nudged away from the falling ball, read Noel Hickey; and for Seamus Darby, read Lar Corbett.
Even the angle of the ball and Corbett’s outmanoeuvring of his opponent echoed the most famous goal in Gaelic football history. Darby, who now lives in Toomevara in Tipperary, would have appreciated Corbett’s calm finish. Not to mention his other two finishes.
That it fell to Tipperary to halt Kilkenny’s march appealed to a lot of people with a knowledge of the history of the game in general, and the ferocity of the rivalry between the two counties in particular.
It would mean everything to Tipperary to halt the Cats, the argument went, just as it would kill the black and amber to have Knocknagow force them to surrender their bid for immortality.
Fair enough, though there was enough unforced respect on show outside the dressing-rooms in Croke Park yesterday to torpedo that argument.
The men who wrote themselves into the history books as champions emerged from their changing quarters wreathed in victory, and some fairly snazzy deodorants, and were greeted as warmly as you’d expect from the group of family members and general well-wishers that were present.
Kilkenny were housed up the corridor and as the entrance to the players’ lounge lay beyond the Tipp team bus, the Cats’ players and management had to go through a moderately excited group of people sporting blue and gold.
Michael Fennelly, raw-boned, long-haired, stepped around a Tipperary family waiting for a beloved son, but got a genuine commiserating pat on the back from them as he passed.
Brendan Cummins was speaking into a journalist’s tape recorder when Brian Cody walked past, and their handshake didn’t quite connect, but the Kilkenny manager returned to make sure he congratulated the Tipp goalkeeper properly.
It was good to see the sincerity.
We can all be a little fast and loose with our talk of visceral hatred when it comes to sporting rivalries, and Kilkenny and Tipperary’s backstory lends itself to all sorts of Hatfield-and-McCoy exaggeration.
There was none of that supposed viciousness as the teams spilled out of their dressing-rooms yesterday, however. After serving up a game of those dimensions mutual respect was appropriate.
Kilkenny will be back, of course.
Their minors didn’t roll over Clare as predicted, with the game was alive deep into injury time, and the Banner youngsters were hunting a winner until the final whistle, but victory still came with a black and amber tinge.
The future is assured.
The recent past? One of Robert Frost’s lesser-known poems holds that:
No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard,
Or keeps the end from being hard.
The end was hard for Kilkenny yesterday, but disregard?
We don’t think so.
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