Thursday 27 July 2017

An Easter rising would do no harm to football

Release players from the shackles of 'contracts' and defensive tactics or the game is doomed

Kerry full-back Joe Barrett (left) comes to the aid of his goalkeeper Johnny Riordan as he catches a ball in the 1929 All-Ireland final against Kildare. A legendary figure in Kerry football history, Barrett showed great leadership on and off the field - something which today's players could learn from. Photo: / TJ Flynn
Kerry full-back Joe Barrett (left) comes to the aid of his goalkeeper Johnny Riordan as he catches a ball in the 1929 All-Ireland final against Kildare. A legendary figure in Kerry football history, Barrett showed great leadership on and off the field - something which today's players could learn from. Photo: / TJ Flynn
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

There's a man of my acquaintance who stays in the best hotels. The same man would be better off at home in his own bed for all the good he knocks out of it.

Only the other day he was giving out about a five-star hotel because the towel rack wasn't heated and the maid never turned down the bed.

You'd swear pulling the sheets apart was as difficult as scraping lino off the floor of the lion's lair in Dublin Zoo. I came to the conclusion that the man who stayed five star only went there to find something to complain about.

So it is that many go to matches just to whinge about the GAA but on this Easter Saturday, the day before the resurrection, Gaelic football badly needs a rising.

There are coaches now who will reduce the game to medieval siege and Somme trench warfare with boiling oil, backs on ramparts, players with game faces like gargoyles and horrible talk.

Horrible talk has been going on for many years. One of my favourites is from Falstaff in Henry IV Part 2.

"Away, you scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I'll tickle your catastrophe."

Try that one in Healy Park in Tyrone where Kerry visit tomorrow.

Funnily enough, but Ryan McMenamin gave Paul Galvin a good old rap in the most famous catastrophe in the GAA a few years back.

So even now Shakespeare is still very much relevant. So too is Paul Galvin who will be on the bench and The Gooch will travel north for his inter-county return from an horrific injury.

This is the last weekend of the first phase of the league and it's relegation more than promotion that causes the problems.

The ultra-defensive football started off in the North, which gives us the opportunity to make all kinds of comparison with The Siege of Derry and of just about everywhere else.

I can't help myself. Winding up that is. Mickey Harte has forsaken the classy skilful football that won Tyrone two All-Irelands.

So there's Harte and he's standing still as a dropped clock. Watching, thinking, with his index finger propping up his jaw. The stubble he keeps for match days sticks out like the stems on a hair brush at half-time. The dander is up.

"Don't let them off the field boys," calls out Mickey. The opposition players are trapped. It's 1689 in Derry all over again. Those inside the wall were forced to eat rats, and probably even broccoli.

The opposition already traumatised at failing to score in the first half even though they owned 100pc of the ball.

"Aaaagh," cries the nippy corner-forward. "I can't function without my energy drinks, my alligator semen creatine smoothie, and my playbook."

For those of you who are not in the know, the playbook contains detailed instructions as to how the game should be played. Spontaneity is frowned upon.

I heard a story lately of a forward who beat three defenders to score a goal that shook the net so vigorously a fish fell out. The manager said the scorer should have passed the ball through two other pairs of hands first.

Joe Brolly has been given copies of contracts that players were forced to sign by managers. The siege-makers are now being besieged from within. Drink even in moderation is banned and the players were forced to sign their youth away.

We had a siege in Listowel on the castle back in 1600, and in 1895 the still traumatised Listowel Temperance Society formed a Gaelic football team.

None of our family played due to a fondness for strong drink. Just like today, the players were forced to sign the pledge.

The prohibitionists' first championship game was abandoned when two of the Tralee Mitchels players were seriously injured.

There was a mass brawl in the replay.

The Listowel Temperance team had no chance of winning and so started another big fight in the hope the game would be abandoned for a second time. The Temperance team supporters attacked the Mitchels' players as they left the ground and were thrown out of the competition.

It's a good job Lent is ending tonight or those who stayed off the drink would have wrecked the town.

Thanks to Richard McElligott for the loan of the facts from his must-have book Forging a Kingdom. Richard gave us an excellent talk last week on 'Nationalism and the GAA in Kerry'.

It was an emotional night. Joe Barrett, who was on the Republican side in the Civil War was great friends with Con Brosnan, a captain in the Free State Army. They were comrades in the War of Independence. Joe was captain of the Kerry team after the Civil War.

Con helped get Joe out of jail and Joe insisted that Con take over captaincy of the Kerry team. The friends defied the controllers on both sides.

The whole story is brilliantly told in Jo Jo Barrett's book In The Name Of The Game. Jo Jo is Joe's son. Jerry Brosnan, who is in his 90s and is Con's son, met up with Jo Jo at the lecture and the two spent the night making friends.

The children and grandchildren of some of those who played after the Civil War and almost won five in a row came along.

Jackie Walsh, Mary and Colm O'Regan and Robert Stack were there representing Johnny Walsh, Bracker O'Regan and Bob Stack. Mike Brosnan and John Barrett were the third generation of Barretts and Brosnans to click.

Sadly, the Civil War was fought with more savagery in Kerry than anywhere else. Only the green and gold jersey could save our county.

Brosnan and Barret helped heal terrible wounds but there was still a residual bitterness in Kerry for most of the last century. But somehow when the players pulled on the jersey, it was as if they were wrapped in a flag of truce.

So we must take the best from our days and nights out. You never know, maybe this weekend the sieges will be lifted and football will be played for the love of the game, in the name of the game.

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