At some point in the week leading up to the 1991 All Ireland SFC Final, it must have emerged that Colm O’Rourke was seriously doubtful. It’s highly umlikely anybody knew just how ill the legendary forward was. Now read on…
On the Sunday evening after Down inflicted the pain that for some of us might never go away, there were many queries to his late, great brother Fergus in Gogan’s of Dunshaughlin – two institutions sadly no longer with us – as to why he wasn’t started.
Ten year old me was plagued by the same pondering and, though it took three years, when the opportunity did arise to ask An Bainisteoir that very question it was availed of.
The truth, of course, is he shouldn’t even have been out on the field at all. He put his health and potentially life at risk by signing himself out of hospital days before the match in order to declare himself fit. Whether he was or not.
Back then, assessment of a body’s fitness for battle or otherwise involved a process which would make RTE’s Hell Week look like Father Ted. Twenty minutes running alongside Lyons, Harnan and McEntee. Inference being that if you could survive that, anything was doable. But sadly on that September Sunday, 20 minutes and the miserly 16 seconds added by the referee was all the great man could muster.
For the billionth time in the ensuing three decades, that day of ‘So near, but yet so far’ was to the forefront of thoughts last night watching the latest drama at the darts in London. On that autumnal afternoon, Gerry McEntee replaced his old comrade and produced what to this writer at least was his best ever performance in a Meath jersey. Right here a caveat should be inserted that the one seeing eye here only the twilight years of the Flying Doc’s active service in green and gold.
Strange as it may seem, that depressing day again entered the thought stream here when engrossed in the PDC World Darts Championship. How you may ask. Stay with me here. Whereas Colm could be and was (initially) replaced by Gerry, players who have had to withdraw from the darts owing to failed Covid-19 tests are not being given the opportunity of a re-flxture. Nor are those vanquished by the stricken being given the opportunity to re-join the action.
Which has led to Michael Van Gerwen and Dave Chisnell and Vincent van der Voort conceding walkovers. Hardly an ideal scenario for the sport’s flagship event. Someone’s sorrow almost inevitably leads to joy for another individual.
Not only those who have been the beneficiaries of the byes, but players whose fixtures wouldn’t have attracted near as much attention or acclaim had the abandonned matches gone ahead.
Then again,so brllliant were the displays of Dirk Van Duijvenbode (against Ross Smith), Gerwyn Price over Kim Huybrechts, Rob Cross in his epic win over Daryl Gurney that you nearly forgot some of the biggest names in the sport have gone by the wayside. Some on the oche, more at the hands of the scourge of the world.
However, all of the above, mesmeric as it was, quickly got mopped up in a wave of euphoria ignited by some of the arrow action as the last 16 of the race for the Sid Waddel Trophy kicked off. Whilst on the same ‘card’ the last of the third round games turned out to be the best thereof. Which in itself says a lot.
So fluctuating has his form been of late that the annual €5 punt on Gary Anderson was witheld this year. Mind you, after two sets of his contest against Ian White it seemed to be a well founded policy. It was hard to know which was the most difficilt to fathom – White looking as good as he ever had on television or Anderson being at the other end of that scale.
If nearly a decade of watching ‘The Flying Scotsman’ has imparted anything it’s that – like some of the top performers in several sports – the two tlme World Champion is at his best when riled up and angry. The combination of White excelling and Anderson himself being dire by his own lofty standards easily took care of that for him.
Truth be told, once Michael Smith’s practice partner began to go up through the gears, it was as if he who had been on the throwing plinth up to that point had been an imposter in the tartan sleeved shirt. Conversly, once the Scotsman began to take flight, his opponent, certainly talented but equally indisputably flakey, began to crumble. Enabling the 2015 and ’16 winner pull off the greatest comeback this viewer has ever had pleasure of witnessing in the sport. Up to then…
Now, on any other menu that would’ve been the five star centrepiece. Thus, that it ended up only a starter what followed gives you some indication of the delectable cuisine dispensed by Michael Smith and Jonny Clayton.
The metoric rise of the Welsh roofer has been the story of the darting year. As far as can be recalled, ‘The Ferret’ has accumulated four TV titles already this year. Undoubtedly making him the form player coming into the biggest event of the season.
And for the majority of his time on the Ally Pally stage he was exactly that. Coming back from a highly perilous looking predicament against Ireland’s Keane Barry and then bolting out of the gate against Michael Smith, establishing a 2-0 lead in the process.
However, there’s something different about the ‘Bully Boy’ this year. He’s always had the game, always been capable of flashes of genius. The problem, though, has been stringing stanzas of illumination together when the horizon was at its bleakest. For whatever reason, over the last couple of weeks, the lumens have been so supercharged they could’ve easily lit up the St Helen’s rugby pitch!
And he needed every last lumen at his disposal to show him the way home in this classic at the London venue. Having trailed 0-2 and 1-3, the bearded bombadier of the board produced as good as he ever has in a match on the big stage. Not that Clayton was by any means bad.
He too produced a mesmeric performance, during which the two of them conjured up a quarter tonne of tonne plus out shots durlng the pulsating pegging pendulum swinger. In the end, my read of it was that Smith just held a greater reserve of energy for when it was needed most.
Such was the majesty of what the former finalist produced last night that you’d wonder could he do it again. If he can, he’ll be hard bet!