independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Tommy Conlon: Terrace finds its voice on a day for ducks and diehards

Senan Kilbride was declared man-of-the-match, Frankie Dolan came a close second, but for sheer entertainment value alone I'd personally have given it to the sideline microphones.

In a packed venue the crowd usually drowns out the individual cries of players and spectators. For the viewer watching on television the audio experience is usually one of mass atmospherics: a general background hum, punctuated by explosions of joy or wrath, choruses of ooohs and boos, rolling waves of applause.

But in sparse crowds the single human voice is occasionally picked up by the TV microphones in the surrounding silence. The crowd for last Sunday's Connacht club final was dwarfed by the 32,000 capacity venue that is McHale Park in Castlebar. But these were hardy grassroots supporters so they still managed to make a good racket.

As the fog rolled in around half-time, however, lone voices began to emerge from the descending gloom. The defending champions, St Brigid's of Roscommon, led by a point at the interval. The underdogs, Mayo champions Ballaghaderreen, had conceded a point shortly after the re-start and then coughed up the ball during an attack in the 37th minute.

The referee awarded Brigid's a free out, then moved the ball forward, presumably for backchat. Brigid's took the free from the original position but Marty Duffy blew his whistle, ordering it to be re-taken from the new position. The hold-up in play clearly did nothing for the nerves of one agitated Ballaghaderreen supporter.

Marcus ó Buachalla was on commentary for TG4. His mellifluous Gaeilge was suddenly violated by a coarse blast of Anglo-Saxon from said supporter. "Ah kick the fuckin' thing!" shouted the anonymous fan in the stand, as Duffy peeped on his whistle.

A minute later, the challengers were three down and defender Keith Rogers was receiving a yellow card. The crowd quietened during this break in play and once again that lone, heroic, voice went up. "Come on Ballagh! Come on Ballagh, we can do this." And then, just for emphasis, or perhaps to assuage his own mounting anxiety: "Come on Ballagh! Come on Ballagh, pick them up!"

Someone else shouted, "Rory! Rory! Lift the fuckin' thing!" It came down the audio channel loud and clear into every tuned-in living room. If it were Sky Sports we'd have got the corporate apology from the commentator or presenter. ó Buachalla passed no remarks and thankfully there was no producer in his ear telling him to utter some soothing words to the watching audience either. And he merely chuckled a few minutes later at the sight of Darren Dolan, bent over "agus ag cur amach". Which we took to mean puking, for that's what the lad was doing, discharging a spectacular volley of bilious liquid into the turf.

Kilbride and Frankie Dolan, meanwhile, were showing their class, as players of county pedigree are expected to do at this level. Dolan no longer plays for Roscommon but he kicked a few delightful inch-perfect passes, despite his advancing years and, indeed, his somewhat enhanced ballast. He wears his jersey outside his togs these days, that old telltale sign. Someone like Paul Galvin might be able to clarify if this is good fashion strategy for those players with looming issues in the Ned Kelly department. And perhaps in this case it was just the TV cameras and the dreaded ten pounds they add to any physique.

If it was any comfort to Frankie, he wasn't alone. The club game remains the last bastion of the well-upholstered GAA player. Happily, there's always a few who look like they've been at the burgers, and the garlic chips, or even the garlic cheese chips, at three in the morning. Sure a fella is still entitled to the odd night out.

Garvan Dolan's shot from distance in the 44th sailed high and wide. "Ah bollocks!" came the howl of frustration, as he watched the ball vanish into the mist. What else could he say, in the circumstances?

Not to worry, the brother was soon making amends, catching a ball and winning the free which Kilbride was sure to convert. Someone on the sideline, or in the stand, was suitably cock-a-hoop. "Good boy Frankie! Well done Frankie! Well done Frankie, great stuff!" Pause. "Good boy Frankie!"

Up in the commentary box, another microphone was also

picking up extraneous sound effects, this time from match analyst Máirtín ó Conghaile. Máirtín obviously had a cold because ó Buachalla's commentary was conducted to a veritable orchestra of sniffs and snuffs and sniffles from his companion. There were shorts, doubles and 12-inch sniffs. Isss. Isss-isss. Isssssssss. His nose was running like a tap.

"Agus sin scór iontach ar fad ó Barry Regan," exclaimed ó Buachalla. Isss, sniffed Máirtín. "Agus an ceo ag titim go trom ar fad anois." Isss-isss. "Eoin Sheehy." Sniff. "Gearóid Cunniffe." Sniff. "Trasna go dtí Mannion." Sniff-sniff. For God's sake man, blow your nose and be done with it! You're giving us all a flu just listening to you.

Kilbride's goal in the 46th broke the back on the Mayo challenge. Immediately they started stroking the ball around, keeping possession. Another rough and rural shout went up. "That's the football lads! That's the football!"

And in reply, still hoping against hope, that loyal voice again. "Come on Ballagh!" But the defiance wasn't there anymore. It was a last doomed cry from the wilderness, with the light dying on his team, and on the day.

thecouch@independent.ie

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