One book to absolutely not judge by the cover

There are certain side effects to my disability which rarely if ever make it into discourse here. Today, however, will be an exception. And, yes, it will be a case of going from the frying pan into the fire. But it will be brief and reason for doing so will become obvious as this particular journey continues.

Without doubt, the most difficult aspect to navigating life with the hand dealt in this direction relates to management of bathroom matters. Or more specifically, when processes crucial to that very matter malfunction. No matter how many times someone says “it happens to us all”, nothing can or will diminsh the upset, embarrassment and shame of when an ‘incident’ does happen.

One of the worst such abominations to occurr in 42-plus years wheeling around this big old ball was on May 1st, 2005, when Meath were taking on Monaghan in the National Football League Div. 2 Final. As it happened, the fourth last game of Sean Boylan’s (first!) tenure with Meath.

A game the Royals were well in control of for the vast majority thereof with Niall Kelly, Daithi Regan and Ollie Murphy rampant in attack. Until, that is, the perils of the two point lead were exposed to horrendous effect when a speculative Paul Finlay lob ended up being diverted past David Gallagher and into the Meath net.

Niall Kelly gets away from Monaghan’s Dick Clerkin

Reason for mentioning that horrible day was absolutely not for personal reasons. More as a shining example of the redoubtable spirit which has made Monaghan one of the most admirable teams and doughtiest opponents in the GAA for the last quarter century.

Time and again they have defied conventional wisdom and logic. From the time they defenestrated Armagh as defending All Ireland champions in 2003 to that day against Meath to their heroic longevity in Div. 1 of the NFL to the past weekend’s latest herculean act of escapology against Armagh. On that awful day 18 years ago, Damien and Tommy Freeman and Dick Clerkin and Finlay who were the game changers for the Farney.

Fast forward to now and while it would be disingenuous in the extreme to label their latest extrication marvel a one man show, it’s eqiaully impossible to overstate the influence Conor McManus did wield when entering the fray.

Slotting over a sublime score with his lesser spotted left peg before engineering the free which pulled Vinny Corey’s charges back from the brink. While there could be no doubting or overstating McManus’s contribution, not just on this occasion but for more than a decade, the roles played by Karl O’Connell, Conor McCarthy, Micheal Bannigan, Jack McCarron and Gary Mohan were also hugely significant.

Monaghan’s Gary Mohan

No forgetting Mr Beggan in the penalty shootout of course. But here’s the thing, it should never have got that far. After Rian O’Neill kicked his mesmeric late point, Conor Lane should absolutely have blown for full time. Then, as if that disaster of decision wasn’t bad enough, the Cork whistler completely bottled giving the Orchard County what was a stone wall free before McManus sent it to spot kicks.


Monaghan certainly won’t fear Dublin. To some extent they are one outfit that have had the metropolitans’ number in recent seasons. League form comparative to Championship is like saying, for example, Wrexham beat Arsenal in the FA Cup, so they should be well able for life in the Premier League. That just wouldn’t wash.

Furthermore, anybody – and I openly include myself in the following – who felt there had been a diminishment in the potency of the Dubs was as wide of the mark as either Labour or the Greens thinking they have a political future. That Dessie Farrell’s side have been able to pace themselves throughout the season is the best indicator that while the new competition structure is absolutely an improvement on what was there before, there’s still a way to go with it.

Of course, that’s not Dublin’s fault. They can only beat who ends up in front of them. Though with the greatest respect to Laois – who themselves made admirable progress through the Tailteann Cup – the Dubs have methodically upped their intensity with every outing, not that they have needed to, mind you.

Though in fairness, early on it appeared Mayo were going to confound general wisdom as Jack Carney and Ryan O’Donoghue and Tommie Conroy matched Dublin point for point early on. Even producing the perfect response to the Dublin goal, meaning that they only trailed one, 0-08 to 1-06 at the change of ends.

However, perhaps in advance of the break there were signs the wheels were coming loose on the green and red wagon. I recall the quote often used by the late Con Houlihan “Those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad”.

Now, if it was definitive that Flynn had picked the ball up with his knees, referee David Gough was spot on to chalk it off but I’m not convinced that’s actually what happened. Either way, that still wouldn’t legislate for Mayo’s implosion after half time, but at least part of the explanation for same has to stem from the Dubs appearing to be at their most ferocious possibly from the time Jim Gavin departed.

Maybe Sean Boylan’s nugget of wisdom about needing to pull a rabbit from a hat to beat Dublin – i.e. throw something at them they’re not expecting – can apply to rivalries across the boards. Because that is exactly what the sky blues did most recently when drafting in Colm Basquel as one of four alterations just before the throw in against the Connacht side.

Colm Basquel wheels away after netting for the second time against Mayo

The Ballyboden St Enda’s clubman is somebody I’ve had on my radar going back a good while. To the time Andy McEntee led the Rathfarnham club to the All Ireland Club SFC title in 2015. At the time, from a Dublin perspective, he had a role akin to that once the preserve of Mattie McCabe or Jody Devine or Ray McGee with Meath – proving to be much more affective off the bench than when started. Impact subs before the term became fashionable!

But it was more than that. Not that he’s ever bad, but, Brian Fenton was back to his Mullins-esque best and then, as if all that wasn’t enough to contend with, the cavalry was then summoned from the bench in the guise of Ciaran Kilkenny and Dean Rock and Jack McCaffrey. Add to that Kevin McStay absolutely not helping his own cause by withdrawing Mattie Ruane and Aidan O’Shea curiously early. All of which allowed Farrell’s forces put on a show that would leave most teams terrified at the prospect of facing them.


Not Monaghan or Kerry though. This is one book you wouldn’t want to judge by the cover. Boiled down to hard facts, do I think the men from the stoney grey soil will beat them? No. But they have classy operators on every line of their team, capable of giving the two shades of blue more to think about than most.

That leads us nicely into the other side of the draw. As if to mirror their greatest adversaries, Kerry too have been visibly pacing themselves with a view letting a few inches of rein out in the final few furlongs of the title race.

There was a time theories that Kerry were somewhat spooked by teams from Ulster – and Tyrone in particular – existed on merit. However, you suspect few things have grinded the gears of the subjects of the Kingdom more than that very topic.

Which is why when Jack O’Connor’s charges saw the opportunity to choke the life out of the Red Hands, they went for the vice grips. The final few twists thereof being tended to by yet another piece of David Clifford genius which, had it been in any ‘foreign’ sport, journalists and/or broadcasters and editors would hardly have been able to control themselves.

The incomparable David Clifford

For all that, Derry will present the champions with a different type of challenge. It could actually be said to be a meeting of two purveyors of old style football. We know those with the crown can kick scores over the blanket from way out the field, but their forthcoming opponents are no mugs at it either.

Those who are now Ciaran Meenagh’s players were a good enough bunch to begin with, but the re-deployment of Brendan Rodgers from full back to centre field has made them a more potent force altogether. The Slaughtneil man was far too good to be wasted in at full back.

Especially given how extraordinarily well rookie full back Eoin McEvoy has been acquitted himself in his fledgeling career to date. He and his colleagues face the greatest challenge of all next day out. The rest of us have the privilege of seeing it unfold.

Leave a Reply