High fielding is a multi-sport art

Do you remember when, in GAA, the National Leagues used to be used to trial experimental rules? Many of which would, eventually, make it onto the set menu of playing rules.

Stipulations such as the introduction of red and yellow cards, the taking of frees sideline balls from the hand, several incarnations of the Sin Bin and the inculcation of the Mark into Gaelic football.

No apologies will ever be made for opining that the latter has been the best thing to ever happen to the game. Or for that matter, for being of the view that there were some other things which could and should have been added to the rule book.

Specifically, an order limiting or – if I had my way – banning the handpass in football. Ditto playing the ball backwards. Hurling could do with something of its own, akin to the Mark, rewarding high fielding of the sliotar, and the sideline cut should always be worth no less than two points.

For you see, if the last referred to is removed from the equation, the most important issue covered in the temporary adjustments flirted with over the years has been the rewarding of aerial dominance.

High fielding is, after all, a multi-sport art. Albeit one which has its origins in Gaelic football. What a joy it has been to see the likes of Conor O’Shea, Rob Kearney, Andrew Conway and Pa Campbell – among plenty of others – soaring skyward, taking down Garryowens and, in most cases, expertly driving them deep into opposition territory.

Conor O’Shea’s father Jerome was a decorated Gaelic footballer with Kerry

Now, it seems unlikely that any of those involved in Super Bowl 57 last weekend would have ever heard of our football, let alone seen it. Yet, somebody with laser-like accuracy of Stephen Cluxton – or Paul Hearty before him – would have had a field day with some of the wide receivers – akin to wing forwards in our games – on duty during American Football’s showpiece day.

There is absolutely no problem in this seat admitting that the occupant thereof is far from an expert in the fare of the helmeted heavies but knowledge thereon has improved significantly since proper notice was taken of the gridiron game properly.

That said, the same principals, obviously, still apply. Namely that, commensurate to a scrum half in rugby, everything goes through the quarter back. There’s also a bit of an overlap with Rugby League which made it that bit more understandable in those formative days for this relatively new enthusiast.

That being the fact that, whereas in the 13-a-side oval ball code, a player can be tackled five times before being obliged to relinquish possession. The only minute difference being that where in the code of rugby referred to, players can go through one more phase of possession than the Americans before a turnover will be affected.

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver AJ Brown

Again, let it be said, I am in no position to give much of a judgement here, but even at that, I would be amazed if there were many, if any, better incarnations of the showdown for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

The Philadelphia Eagles had been, in my view, the most impressive team throughout the regular reason. Thanks, mainly, to the exploits of Jalen Hurts at QB and the aerial adventures of AJ Brown out wide.

Right from the off it was obviously going to be an epic encounter, because once Hurts found DeVonta Smith with a tremendous 23-yard ball. Though to their credit, Kansas City displayed the sort of character that has made them the most consistent team in their sport in recent years.

Thus they duly hit back with a 75 yard move of their own, which included a 24 yard solo run by Isiah Pacheco before Patrick Mahomes sent the ball the final 18 yards to Travis Kelce who touched down to bring the Chiefs to parity.

Which concluded the scoring for the first quarter but the pendulum swung again immediately on the resumption when Hurts fired a 45 yard missile to AJ Brown who did the needful and sent the Eagles soaring into the lead once again.

Travis Kelce lined out against his brother Jason

That didn’t last too long, mind you, as, in the very next phase of play, Hurts inexplicably fumbled, whereupon the inrushing Nick Bolton manufactured the turnover and sprinted the 24 yards to the Eagles End Zone and touched down.

Decisive? Not yet. In an act of redemption, the Eagles playmaker bookmarked the move which put those in the blue-green jerseys back in front. Firstly by making 28 yard break and then got in on the end of the move and – from four yards out – registered the score which gave him and his colleagues back the lead, 21-14.

Thereafter, to conclude the first half activity, Jake Elliott split the posts with a kick from 35 yards out, leaving Nick Siriani’s ten points clear at the halfway point. As if that wasn’t enough of a headache in itself for the Chiefs, the last thing they’d have needed was the sight of their talisman Patrick Mahomes pulling up with a recurrence of a recent ankle injury.

The greats always find a way. Think of jockeys AP McCoy and Ruby Walsh using cryotherapy and other extreme measures to get themselves fit for the Cheltenham Festival or Colm O’Rourke signing himself out of hospital to play in an All Ireland Final or the original Ronaldo doing likewise in a World Cup decider.

Whatever it took, Mahomes ploughed on. More than that, he inspired and orchestrated one of the greatest comebacks seen in any sport for a very long time.

In the first move after the third quarter kick off, this season’s MVP made 40 yards up the field between passing and rushing. Going on a solo run, in other words. Culminating in Pacheco having the simplest of tasks registering another six points in the red credit column.

However, by now it was clear Hurts was determined to almost personally pilot the Eagles over the line of victory. After the Pacheco Touch Down, the quarter back began a move which eventually saw kicker Elliott again do the needful from 33 yards out.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid with his main man Mahomes

But again, Andy Reid’s wounded warrior came back for more. Combining brilliantly with JuJu Smith-Schuster as the pair made 75 yards up the field before offloading to Kadarius Toney. Who, from five yards out, gave last year’s beaten finalists the lead for the first time all day, at 28-27.

Once they got their noses in front, Kansas seemed to find another gear. Manifested as Toney running back the kick off for 65 yards – an NFL record. In turn, that allowed Mahomes to make up more ground before offloading to Skyy Moore who – combined with Harrison Butker’s conversion – nudged the lead out to seven for Reid’s red marauders.

In any other game, on any other day, inclination would be that such a scoreline should have meant case closed. This was no ordinary one though. The quarter backs made sure of that.

As if to tap into the notion expressed about Hurts earlier, didn’t he only go and not only score a Touch Down but run in the ensuing two point conversion to tie the scores at 35 apiece with exactly five minutes left on the clock.

Because, for some insane reason, the Brains Trust at large in American sport cannot seem to understand the concept of the draw (tie) or replay, overtime loomed large on the horizon.

That would be the logical conclusion, right? Such thoughts were never going to be entertained within this script. And so it went that the Chiefs deliberately used up their set of downs to get themselves into Field Goal kicking territory. Once there, Butker had little difficulty in essaying the game winning kick between the uprights.

Victory was due reward for the bravery of Mahomes and those around him. The MVP for the entire season was exactly that when he was needed most here. For all that, there was at least part of this observer which bemoaned the fact they don’t employ replays Stateside.

Few could or would have begrudged the Eagles – and Hurts in particular – another while. Then you couldn’t but think of the Kelce family, experiencing joy and despair within yards of each other on the same pitch. The clock had rolled around to 3:55am by the time the television was switched off. The brain took considerably longer.

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