Checking in for warm hotel reception

I WAS never much of a one for All-Ireland night celebrations. The night of the three-in-a-row Nancy and I hired a rowing boat for the pond in Stephen’s Green. I’m a bit like Connell that way, but, more to the point, a lot like myself.

As it happened, we were a few minutes late for the dinner, and instead of allowing me to slip in unnoticed, as I had hoped, the entire function room, including the serving staff, rose as one to afford me a rousing reception.

I was thus compelled, of course, to show due respect for their acclaim, and each time the clapping subsided I made efforts to sit down only for the crowd to redouble their applause just as I neared my seat. In the end, it almost became funny.

All-Irelands are lost on All-Ireland nights. If there’s one thing more depressing than a losing camp, it’s a winning one. All manner of promises are made, and almost all are broken.

There is no reason now why Cork shouldn’t win two or three more, but, for obvious reasons, they won’t.

Down will recover from this final. But Cork, I fear not. How would I rate them as champions? As champions, I’d rate them as champions. End of. There is no other rating required.

Cork won this All-Ireland because they were too stout not to. Another crowd, like Mayo or Kildare, would have got the message three or four years ago and left it at that.

But Cork is Cork is Cork, as Pa Finn is fond of saying, and they stuck at it until eventually someone gave them the trophy. Wee Jamesy will be the first to admit he got most things wrong on the day, but he’s young, he’s a McCartan; his day will come.

Applauding the Cork players was a grave mistake, of course, and that’s coming from a sportsman non pareil such as my own good self.

In the heat of the moment, though, it can happen, particularly with an impressionable, young team led by an impressionable, young manager.

But, in a roundabout, perverse sort of way, the legacy of that gesture being hurled at him for the foreseeable future will act as a motivating factor for Wee Jamesy.

“Youse are the bize that went down to Dublin, got beat rightly by a Cork team that couldn’t buy an All-Ireland,” they’ll say.

In the short-term, though no more than three to five years, the shadow of that dark moment will lurk over Down football.

But once they learn to deal with it, and to use it for their own good, they will emerge a stronger team and I confidently expect to see Down, led by the irrepressible Wee Jamesy, back in the All-Ireland final before 2020, give or take, probably take.

I will take my leave now for the winter. I’ve been hounded to update my third book – “Free-takers: a necessary evil?” – and I plan to get some work done on that over the coming months.

As always, I will do my round of the county semi-finals and finals, taking in as many as six on the same weekend.

It’s there the beating heart of the GAA can be found.

It’s there, too, of course, you’ll find me: quietly shuffling into position a few minutes after the throw-in; accepting what baubles the crowd throw my way in my self-effacing, Patrician way; all the time looking to see what I can see, which, in fairness, is quite a lot.

A new kicking style, a different way of meeting an incoming forward, a novel approach to the dink-pick: I will be promoting those wherever I go. ‘Innovate or die’ has always been my motto. I’m a lot like myself that way.

Facebook: Knowledgeable Noel


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