I made a mistake in 2011, one that has haunted me each September since. A South African buddy was keen to watch his first All-Ireland and so myself and my brother gladly obliged and convened at a speakeasy in Lower Salthill.
We happened upon an actual Dub. At the game’s beginning, we impartially broke things down for our Joburg friend: the history of Kerry-Dublin, the rules of the game, what makes a good pint.
We were all pretty happy. Happiest perhaps because Mayo weren’t there so we could relax and enjoy and hope both teams lost. Stout was taken. Taytos eaten. Maybe too much, because by 5pm we were on our feet, shouting at Cluxton to nail that kick.
We even embraced the Dub as it clearly mattered to him and he seemed to be sound (one of only 112 considered thus in the 2010 census). It was a rare afternoon of limited expectations and surprising results. We emerged satisfied, squinting into the early evening sun.
The mistake? Well, the mistake was to ever support them. Even if it was only an ephemeral thought. Even if the gargle had dimmed the brain. Even if it was because I mostly delighted in the demise of a Kerry team that had caused Mayo nothing but misery.
There was novelties too; the novelty of an All-Ireland won with the last kick. The novelty that it was a free, struck from the ground, old school. That the protagonist was a goalkeeper.
Pat Gilroy was also a novelty, not least because he seemed to eschew the seemingly absolute prerequisite that all Dublin managers previously fulfilled in that they had to watch the last five minutes of every game joined by their entire extended family, hoisted from the Hogan Stand to the sideline.
I kinda liked Pat for that. All things told, in a very beige way, I was happy for them, or at least happier it wasn’t Kerry.
But really I blame the gargle.
Reflecting now, some six years and four All-Irelands on, I realise my mistake was as misguided and ultimately catastrophic as America arming the mujahideen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, only for them to get their arses kicked by them ever since. I understand how Neville Chamberlain must have felt after Hitler annexed Poland, hoping nobody would ever remember the whole “Peace for our Time” gaffe. Maybe Neville blamed the gargle too. We are where we are.
I was at home in Mayo this past weekend. It’s as if we never got to an All-Ireland final and lost.
We are Morgan Freeman in the Shawshank going in for his 35th parole hearing in as many years. Fresh suit. Fresh hope. The flags in Foxford on the bridge over the River Moy would make a stone blush with pride. Christ, are we stupid or just ever hopeful?
We have lost every way possible. Lost Big. Lost small. A ball hopped over the bar. A plastic bag blew in the wind. We’ve gifted own goals and even refused the greatest act of GAA related charity for many a year when the same Dublin offered us an All-Ireland in 2013. Like the kidnap victim in the cellar too long, we couldn’t take that final step toward the light.
So, let’s do it different.
It starts with the team. This week they should have made themselves more available than David Brady. Ditch convention. Have Jason Doherty on Ian Dempsey in the morning talking through his Desert Island Discs and Andy Moran on Derek Mooney in the afternoon boring the living shite out of him explaining how he prefers the Eurasian skylark to the common woodpecker.
I’d go so far as to offer Aido O’Shea as an actual pundit for the game. Call RTÉ’s bluff — imagine Joe, Colm, and Pat shifting uncomfortably in their seat and pulling at their collar thinking one of them might be up for the old Sean Spicer...
I’d have the players greet their opposing numbers with genuine great big bear hugs before throw-in. Not sarcastically delivered, with sinister messages whispered into Dublin ears — no, we have obviously tried that and it hasn’t worked. Be sincere. Make the hugs long and lingering.
Enormous wedding/funeral hugs. Let’s research our opponents. Deep dive. Not in a 2005 Tyrone way, but in a more altruistic manner. No need to disconcert them with lurid slurs, no; they’ll be ready for that. Do the opposite. Be ingenious: “How’s Cathy? She back to work? Little one in crèche? How’s it going?”
I’m telling you, they won’t like it. At national anthem time, the players should adopt modern dance poses, and continue to pirouette their way through ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’.
Any break in play should see Keith Higgins have his players take a knee in a hollow square and have them contemplate aloud, what is is? Get existential on Dean Rock. See how he likes it.
We in the bleachers have a responsibility here too. Let’s stop being so predictable. Avoid the Saturday night abomination of Up for the Match like Ebola. If the Rose of Tralee and Stetsons and Stilettos had a kid, it would be Up for the Match. It is RTÉ doing blackface and dancing minstrel, with Grainne Seoige and Des Cahill slowly morphing into the same person. Let’s stop contributing to this patronising charade.
I wouldn’t stop there. When we win, let’s skip The Sunday Game wedding-for-780-people in a nameless, windowless ballroom man-of-the-match ceremony.
This has become an insult not only to each player, but to each player’s mother, father, partner, and sibling that they are not allowed enjoy their moment in relative privacy, without Marty asking them questions as they perspire what little fluids they have out of their insanely dehydrated bodies in front of the nation, telling Marty that yes, winning does feel good, and yes, they hope to get a few days off next week.
Ara shtop! All the while Bernadette is five yards behind them, wielding two beef and two salmon in either arm like an extra in Game of Thrones swinging a sword. Yeah, let’s skip that too.
Bottom line up front: We have tried it every other way. 1989. 1996. 1997. 2004. 2006. 2012. 2013, 2016 and now 2017. Let’s dare to be different. Just don’t drop the ‘keeper.