Croke Park may have more geniuses on show than an M.I.T. fire drill

Genius, we have long known, is subjective and wears many faces. Whether it’s Messi riding tackles, Steve Smith knocking another century in the Old Trafford mud, or Sinead O’Connor reminding us all what it is to be alive, when we observe it, we can lose ourselves temporarily, unprepared for what we have just witnessed.

Croke Park may have more geniuses on show than an M.I.T. fire drill

Genius, we have long known, is subjective and wears many faces. Whether it’s Messi riding tackles, Steve Smith knocking another century in the Old Trafford mud, or Sinead O’Connor reminding us all what it is to be alive, when we observe it, we can lose ourselves temporarily, unprepared for what we have just witnessed.

Genius is not always sudden; consider the contrived brilliance of Phillipe Petit walking a high-wire between the Twin Towers in Manhattan in 1974 (the result of a life’s work), or Stephen Cluxton, premeditated and meticulous in his consistent excellence, in stark contrast to the impromptu class of his teammate Diarmuid Connolly, a man from whom you might tolerate a dozen missteps for just one masterpiece.

If Cluxton earned his genius status for his ability to read and dictate the tempo of games for over a decade,Connolly may have been born with it — his genius wild and unkempt, a flick of an unknown switch away from erupting in his subconscious and becoming a reality on the field of play.

Despite the best efforts of writers Malcom Gladwell and co, the genesis of genius is impossible to prove. Less divisive is those who possess it.

This weekend, Croke Park may have more geniuses on show than an M.I.T. fire drill, many of them at such a youthful stage in their development that self-awareness and fear of failure has yet to cause them to second guess their subconscious.

Sean O’Shea is 21, Con O’Callaghan is 23, and David Clifford just 20. In the words of Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, when his character saw a complex theorem on the blackboard, he could ‘just play’.

Connolly can just play. So too Clifford, O’Shea and O’Callaghan. Lucky for us — for all our lamenting of the dystopia that awaits Gaelic football — we get to witness it, on wet winter nights in the Mardyke, and heavy autumn days in Croke Park.

Unlike other artists, it seems we have little interest in understanding how they do what they do. It’s something Clifford and his select group never get asked about — what their process is.

Why they step left or right? What do they see? They should be asked. It would be a novel concept — Paul Mannion sitting on the couch with John Kelly in some dimly late-night TV studio, eschewing all the cliched talk of ‘team effort and hard yards’ usually reserved for Marty and Des, and instead breaking down the mystery of mastery.

Truth is, these guys may not even know themselves. That’s often how genius works.

Take Damien Jurado as an example — a man best described as the songwriters’ songwriter. The type of artist who is revered by his peers, but relatively unknown in the grander scheme of a universe dominated by Ed Sheeranfeaturing Justin Bieber.

If you’ve ever watched him perform, you’d imagine he might be happy with his low key profile — such is his understated manner, his often awkward between song banter, and near apologetic method of delivering some incredibly brilliant music. I once saw him in Whelans, and honestly there were more people in the Abrakebabra across the road.

More fool them. Even if Jurado’s breed of artistry is not your tipple, there’s something profound about seeing a genius at work.

Buried deep in the cavernous recesses of YouTube, there’s a 17-minute clip of Jurado giving a workshop to a high school class somewhere in the American mid west, during which he explains he often has no idea where his lyrics — which are dense and read like novellas — come from.

He gives one example of having subconsciously used a word in a song — completely correctly and in context — having no previous knowledge of its meaning. It may read as pretentious presented here, but listening to him say it, you wouldn’t doubt him.

Jurado’s submission to an involuntary process brings to mind the rather unique burden of genius, and the impulsive precociousness of its nature. Does it manifest itself the same way for Connolly and Clifford?

Do they cede control to their subconscious and trust in their instinctive talents that will see them shimmy left or right, make a run, or see a pass nobody else can see?

Though they have played ball since being able to walk, the muscle memory of countless seasons of senior inter-county football has yet to erode that genius, and you’d pray it never does.

If Sean O’Shea was born in another county, they may have converted him into a wing back by now, likewise O’Callaghan into a sticky man-marker. Connolly’s style of play has endured, and though he was criticised for a miss at the death a fortnight ago, would you bet against him trying the exact same shot again — and nailing it?

That’s the difference.

In such a results-obsessed industry, the hardest part is just letting these players be.

For the majority of us —unburdened by anything near genius — we will never know the plight.

The weight of expectation, the torture of unfulfilled promise, the elation and relief of success. Not being used as a host for some poetic gift for playing ball without thinking, is something we can console ourselves with by taking summer holidays and slipping out for a Friday night pint.

As for these chosen few, let’s hope it remains as more a blessing than a curse. The pleasure in bearing witness is all ours.

Catch them while you can.

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