Back to the future for Jim’s army

FOOTBALL Man to Hurling Man, Cork city centre bar, early part of last decade: “What do you think of the International Rules?”

Hurling Man, sans a batted eyelid: “I don’t think of the International Rules.”

Donegal are a bit like that, too, aren’t they? Every now and then they intrude on the national consciousness, only to slip quietly away again for years on end.

We’d prefer if they hung around a bit more. The football they play this year is not always pretty on the eye, but it’s meaningful, thought out, it’s delivering results, and, besides, there is always a bit of — dare we say it — wildness about Donegal that seems to come from their remote location way up there near Stornaway or Norway or wherever it is again they lurk.

And, like, it’s not as if they haven’t supplied us with their fair share of sporting and cultural icons.

Packie Bonner — the way he might grimace at you — and the way he would be the inspiration for the nickname of a certain Mr Maher in the current Tipperary forward line; Altan’s Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh — the dreaming, romantic man’s kind of woman, the most important constituent of which is the feeling that she is an elusive creature; rarely has an accent been so effectively used as a weapon of mass seduction; and Mairtín Beag McHugh, surfing across the half-forward line, the ultimate bullet-dodger, a man you would never get to meet head-on for he was a darting, dervishing bag of balance, pace and skill.

Is it really 1992 since last we saw them in all their pomp? Even allowing for the imminent emergence of Throne and Ár Maw, it borders on criminal negligence for Donegal to go almost 20 years without an Ulster title.

But, just as we’d expect them to be marching out the Ulster front door reasonably regularly, we were never prepared for the sight of them lifting Sam. There was something genuinely special — endearing, almost — about that triumph.

They were the next northern team in after the blue-bloods of Down broke the seal in 1991. The contrast could not have been greater: Down, magisterial, riding high in the saddle, almost Napoleonic in their deportment. Down, to the manor born.

And, then, Donegal, ducking and diving, probing an opening 20 yards this way, or five yards that way, never fully committing, always rewriting the rules of engagement, always trying to lure the opposition into a false trap.

At their best, they were mesmeric. And they were at their best in that final. All over the field, they had players in whose hands the ball nestled as comfortably as a cat on a soft cushion: Noel Hegarty, for example, could play anywhere on the field but, in Donegal, in 1992, he fetched up on the flanks of the defence, and this at a time when the notion of ball-playing defenders was still a relatively new concept.

The Donegal team that plays tomorrow is not true to the Donegal tradition as we know it. But they are true to themselves: of the three teams left in the championship, they are the ones whose progress is most directly related to their sense of being a team.

Young people may not even recall the Donegal of old. They might even think that old-timer song they sometimes hear on the radio is ‘The Hills of Moneygall’. But Donegal is for real, alright: let’s hope there not as sparing about paying visits over the next 20 years.

Tips to have your very own GAA internet-hit

WE’VE been keeping a close eye on Johnny B and the Boogie Men ever since Lar Outside threatened to topple Dancing at the Crossroads from its pre-eminent status as the greatest GAA song ever written.

To steal shamelessly from the man who looks set to become the most popular President this country never had, hirsute Johnny B is the finest song-writing, guitar-playing, hit-making Junior B player-manager in the history of the GAA, ever.

Yesterday morning, Cahir clubman Johnny committed the video of this year’s final song — The Premier Return — to YouTube. We hail it as a GAA classic. It twists and turns a dozen different ways like a good game, or, if you’ll forgive us the improbably analogy, Bohemian Rhapsody.

What also caught our eye was a post on (see, even this man’s website rhymes) outlining 15 rules for writing a GAA song. Among our favourites is the exhortation that you should “talk about legendary, retired players on a first-name basis, as if you’re the best of friends with them — and, all going well, you soon will be”.

Others would-be song crafters would do well to consider these selected nuggets: Tip number four: “In the accompanying video, there must be at least one slow-mo shot of an opposition player taking delivery of a wicked bad hard tackle. A legitimate wicked bad hard tackle, we hasten to add.”

Number five: “A knowing sexual reference never did any harm.”

Number eight: “The song must include a commentary — but only from a local commentator. Celebrate local because local is the new global. We use Effin Eddie. Obviously.”

Number 10: “If you can manage a roll call of every club in the county — and every player on the panel — you will add thousands of sales. This could be the difference between winter in (insert name of your own windswept, rain-lashed local place) and on Airlie Beach. In smaller counties, mention streets, landmarks, and dangerous junctions.”

Number 11: “Good words to consider for inclusion — critics, no credit, silence, begrudgers, spuds, hay, Cork, bet, sandwiches, hang, hunger, heartache, salmon, lion, rocky.”

And, finally, in number 15, Johnny B urges that songs “must contain a late, patronising, wish-you-all-the-best-in-the-future, hope-ye’ll-be-back word of commendation to the opposition”.

Sounds like he’s got it pretty well nailed. On YouTube, the Premier Return got 302 visits in the first six hours yesterday. It will be interesting to see if it can pass the 92,300 clocked up Lar Outside.

Some thought O’Brien had lost it! Not so...

IT takes a brave man to declare his county are going to win an All-Ireland senior title by 2020.

When that county is Tipperary, and when the title in question is Gaelic football, you should not under-estimate the scale of what Barry O’Brien said. We can imagine him looking at his notes before he first uttered those words. “Will I? Won’t I?” he must have mulled.

To so publicly express what, on the face of it, was/is a dream of utter craziness took great courage. It would have been easier to equivocate and to couch your aspirations in safer language.

The real challenge for Tipperary is to maintain its current good standing in the world of hurling, while also allowing football — which has many strong pockets in the county — to flourish and reach its potential.

Given the tradition of football in the county, they need not be mutually exclusive.

What’s sauce for the goose (Dublin football accommodating hurling) should also be sauce for the gander (Tipperary hurling accommodating football).

Judge & Jury

THE ACCUSED: Jimmy Barry-Murphy THE RAP: Loving too well, if not too wisely EVIDENCE: He had it all: All-Ireland medals in hurling and football, complete mastery of both sports, the grace of a greyhound, and the good looks of a Hollywood star, there has only ever been one JBM. WITNESS FOR THE DEFENCE: Surely he winced as Cork imploded in recent years. Perhaps he sensed that he was one of the few to unite the warring parties. JBM could not stand idly by if he thought he could be the one to bring calm.

THE PROSECUTION: This third trip on the merry-go-round could go all wrong — why risk the reputation? Instead of coming to Cork’s rescue again, why not let one from the subsequent generations emerge to provide the badly-needed leadership? What we’re saying, really, is why not be happy with the greyhounds?

VERDICT: Innocent. We admire his chutzpah. Then again, chutzpah is a thing that generally gets admired. JBM is doing what JBM has to do. Now, quiet the rest of you down there at the back, we need to get some work done here…

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