Sunday 23 October 2016

Stars will take centre stage with audience expecting magic

Published 01/08/2014 | 02:30

Football fans will be hoping Paul Kerrigan's searing bursts of speed might create a Youtube moment or two in Croke Park on Sunday. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Football fans will be hoping Paul Kerrigan's searing bursts of speed might create a Youtube moment or two in Croke Park on Sunday. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

A six-second Vine can do it – lock down a moment of magic. Like Nick Kyrgios' stunning between-the-legs shot at Wimbledon. Like James Rodriguez's smasher for Colombia against Uruguay in the World Cup. Like Shane Walsh's flick-and-swivel for a point during Galway's win in last Saturday's All-Ireland qualifier.

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David Foster Wallace wrote that "beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty".

He wasn't exactly pontificating about Gaelic football here, but, like all sports, talented players have an unpretentious way of revealing audacious tekkers in high-pressure moments. Walsh's touch had all the quality of a move like Simon Zebo's back-heeled flick in last year's Six Nations. It was instinctive and innate.

We haven't been overloaded with moments of beauty in this summer's football championship.

With hurling, the noisy neighbours, football is viewed by some as the poor alliance of the beautiful game. But what magic can we hope to see in this weekend's All-Ireland football quarter-finals?

Some scenes are being filmed in Kerry but Croke Park could have its own adaptation of 'Star Wars' on Sunday. Kerry v Galway; James O'Donoghue at one end, Walsh at the other. Shoot-out of the boy wonders? O'Donoghue has a few years' experience on Walsh but both are building the same status within their teams.

The taglines on their Twitter accounts give you a glimpse of what you need to know. Walsh's is, "He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life!!". O'Donoghue's offering is, "It's way cooler to just be cool".

And doesn't he play it cool. The Pairc was O'Donoghue's playground in the Munster final. He was unplayable. Three markers tried, but failed, to keep him quiet as he racked up 0-10.

On Sunday he will again press the engage button. The Croker pitch can give forwards the accoutrement they love – space. Galway will plan to deny the Killarney man every bit of it. But even if they keep him on a tighter leash than Cork did, O'Donoghue has the strength to break tackles like he did against Dublin in last year's All-Ireland semi-final.

Another facet of the beauty of O'Donoghue's play is how he inspires those around him. After his display in the Munster final, O'Donoghue's team-mate Paul Geaney said: "When any player in your division is playing well like that, you feed off it, especially when they are roasting their man."

As Darragh O Se noted after Galway's win over Tipperary, Kerry will have Walsh flagged. It will be his fourth time playing at Croker but he's never won a game there. Walsh has skill and speed in his repertoire to make it work for him.

In the 15th minute against Tipp, Walsh showed impressive acceleration to skin a few players. Watch him move through the gears on Sunday.

While Walsh has his own Vine moment, there are some plays which are un-Vine-able. Like Declan O'Sullivan's in the Munster SFC final.


When he came out with strapping around both knees, you might be forgiven for questioning his mobility, but he played the quintessential roaming role. Forget Vine and even TV, you just had to be there to appreciate his work rate, accuracy and vision.

Beauty isn't just about subtlety. It was this weekend last year that Aidan O'Shea enjoyed one of those All Star-delivering games.

He had his own duel with gravity as he lorded it in midfield in the quarter-final hammering of the defending All-Ireland champions Donegal.

It was such a marquee display that even rugby's Brian O'Driscoll tweeted after that he wanted an O'Shea fringe. O'Shea certainly didn't play on the fringe with 11 on his back against Galway in the Connacht football final.

He remains the supplier and marshall. And – to use cycling slang – is no wheel sucker (a guy who always rides in the slipstream of others). And what about Mayo's opponents Cork? They showed glimpses of their attractive link play in their win over Sligo last Saturday, as well as Paul Kerrigan's searing bursts of speed allied with the finishing finesse of Colm O'Neill.

But, just like Galway, will they need to pack their defences to keep pace with the provincial champions? Because even if we're not served up a version of the beautiful game, we will settle for just a game. A contest. Kerry and Mayo both won – or Cork and Galway both lost – by a combined score of 19 points in the provincial finals.

Whatever way it shakes down, this football championship does not need another procession. When Kyrgios produced that smooth between-the-legs shot at Wimbledon, Walsh tweeted: "My god Kyrigos is really showing what he can do in the big stage. #BelterInWimbledon #Showboater".

It's not necessarily showboating – as Walsh knows – it's just utilising your skills set to get the point. Now it's over to Walsh to show what he can do on the big stage.

Irish Independent

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