Sunday 23 April 2017

Billy Keane: The Matt is more important than Liam and Sam on Mother's Day in Brogan's

Jim Gavin is a good winner and that goes down to the supporters. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Jim Gavin is a good winner and that goes down to the supporters. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

I searched Dublin for Welsh soccer fans on Thursday last. There wasn't even one to be found on the eve of battle.

Grafton Street was heaven in the spring sunshine and so was the shopping. I bought an ice cream.

The Welsh rugby fans often come over to the game a week before. Some stay in Wexford near the ferry and never bother with Dublin at all. This year though I was told on good authority, from an unusually unreliable source, hundreds of Welsh fans paid a visit to Longford.

They were mightily impressed by the rebuilt Cathedral but the restoration wasn't the reason for the pilgrimage.

The Welsh came to meet the men who beat Dublin in the O'Byrne Cup a year earlier. They speak of little else in Wales.

The nearest we got to Wales was symbolism. The daffodils pranced in St Stephen's Green and the office girls hitched up their skirts, for the bit of colour, on the first warm day since last October. In the chemist and cosmetic counters of Grafton Street the fake tan was as hard to shift as Christmas decorations on St Stephen's Day.

I was on lavish expenses and so the quest for the Welsh Bigfoots continued unabated. No Welsh to be seen and I was wondering if I had the wrong city or the wrong date.

The lilting voice over in The Horseshoe at the perfect Shelbourne was the sing- song cadence of the valleys. That's the Welsh Valleys and not the Valleys of Knockanure or The Liffey Valley Shopping Centre, where there's no sign of the Liffey.

But the man with the song in his voice was from West Cork. There is a remarkable similarity between the West Cork brogue and the Welsh accent.

He was bitter because Cork were never allowed in to the iconic O'Byrne Cup, the cup of cups, the cup that runneth over. "The Matt," sang he, "is bigger than Sam or Liam any day."

"The Matt?"

"Yes. The Matt."

The west Cork man was a GAA historian.

"The O'Byrne Cup is named after Matt O'Byrne who was a renowned Wicklow GAA man."

It was late at night in the last days of old time. We searched The Bank, another grand Chawke pub and the only bank in Ireland open after five o'clock. Dai, a wizened old Welsh man, who was the stamp of Merlin, spoke in an emotional voice.

"I'd swap every World Cup, and every Grand Slam too for one O'Byrne medal. For me as a proud Welshman, from the homeland of your patron Saint, it's all about the Matt."

We will get to Dublin's historic achievement shortly but firstly we must commiserate with Seamus Coleman who had his right leg broken in two places on Friday night. Coleman is our leader, our captain, and is as good as any in the world at right-back.

Chris Coleman's defence, which applies to both Junior Infants and World Wars, is "they started it". Neil Taylor broke Seamus Coleman's leg and Chris Coleman should be very ashamed.

Over the Liffey, on the following night, The Hill came home from Kerry where they did their county proud.

The parties were of the finest kind with singing and a hardly a word of boasting. Jim Gavin is a good winner and that goes down to the supporters

This never-say-die Dublin team of the age, and most other ages too, went on to (allegedly) break Kerry's record for the most games won in succession.

Ronan Stack was heroic for the Rossies, but in the end Dublin won by seven goals. This was their 35th league and championship win in a row. They, sort of, kind of, broke our record but will it stand?

Last January 12 months Longford beat Dublin in The Matt, which takes the gloss off the record. By any reasonable interpretation of the facts, Kerry are still the record-holders. As we write, there are church gate collections taking place all over the Kingdom to fund a case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. A man told me once it was a tenner a pint in Switzerland and I have lads cribbing about paying €4.10 here at home.

Yesterday was Mother's Day. The Brogans visited their wonderful mother Marie with the flowers. We managed to interview Alan en route to the chicken en croute. You could smell the petunias, begonias and hardy annual calibrachoas over the phone. Dublin would have lost at least 10 of the 35 games but for Alan's scores and assists.

Marie and yours truly are close neighbours. Our rolling Babylonian gardens, at the back of her shop and our pub, were full of petunia pots, buckets of begonias and the sprawling calibrachoas.

Make sure the soil is well drained for the calibrachoas and don't over-water. Pray for the calibrachoas in severe frost as we pray for Kerry now that the Dubs have turned Croke Park into our Garden of Gethsemane.

This may or may not be fake news. No one seems to know the difference any more.

We believe what we want to believe.

"Ah Billy," said Alan wistfully, "The baby brother has four Sams, the father and myself have three each. That makes 10 and we would swap the whole lot for just one Matt.

"Any eejit can play football in the fine weather but it takes a Tom Crean of a man to kick ball in the bitter cold of January."

And the petunias, begonias and the South American calibrachoas scented of the sweet smell of success in a Dublin kitchen.

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