Friday 9 December 2016

Billy Keane: Time stands still as old rivals get ready to turn back clock

Published 01/08/2015 | 02:30

Tomorrow the rivalry reaches the next stage and we hope the tradition of epic games continues
Tomorrow the rivalry reaches the next stage and we hope the tradition of epic games continues

The year is moving on far too quickly. Only this morning I noticed a small tint of red in the crab apples at the bottom of the garden and the crows living at the Parsons Wood are going to bed before nine.

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Before long school uniforms will be bought and the big grain combines of the hurling lands of the east will be skimming ears of corn from willowy stems that will be used for cattle bedding in the winter.

August is technically autumn but for most of us the month of mists and mellow fruitfulness is seen more as summer's end.

And if summer's nearly done, well then the All-Ireland Championship has only really just begun. At last, after months of posturing and manoeuvring we are at the knockout stages in Croke Park.

The next six or seven weeks will decide the winners and the losers in the 2015 All-Ireland football championship. It is still high summer in Kerry. We are as busy as bees when the queen is in bad form. The success or failure of the financial year is decided around now in the tourist places.

I can never figure out why it is that the GAA make Kerry play on the busiest tourist weekend of the year, in the busiest tourist county in the country. Is it how they want to lose money?

There is little take for tickets in Kerry and Kildare will have a big crowd of supporters who will make the short run up the motorway. For sure, Kerry will not invade the pitch like we did in 1905 when we scored a tricky goal against Kildare in the All-Ireland final. It was the day Kerry were downed by friendly fire.

Symptoms

Dublin would fill the stadium on their own. There was a time when it seemed that if the Dubs had to take two buses, they'd be suffering from the symptoms of jet lag. Now they are embarrassed and would welcome a day out of Dublin.

Quarter- finals must be taken out of Croke Park. There's no doubt but that the Kerry-Kildare game should have been played in Thurles where the crowd burst its banks back in 1905 and Fermanagh, a county with a very small pick, will have to travel to play the county with the biggest pick.

Dublin will beat Fermanagh and we hope the men from the land of the MacConnells will keep the score down.

The Dubs are a joy to behold. They play the game for kicks and thrills but we will be hoping a county with a population that could fit into Croke Park will give a mighty display. And remember there are many thousands in Fermanagh who hardly know the game is being played.

Dublin paint on an open canvas whereas most other counties are so scared they are filling in colouring books with the shapes drawn by their coaches. We hope Fermanagh have a cut.

So tomorrow we will be shouting for Kerry while the cash registers back home are hopefully nattering the non-stop staccato tap dance of the woodpecker.

There might be a stop on the way home at a plaza, or even a village. Remember them?

My father could only ever manage to get as far as Coffey's pub, under the clock, in Newbridge. He couldn't pass Coffey's, going up or coming down.

The Coffey brothers were his great friends and I can never remember the clock actually working. It was there more to mark the spot than to tell the time.

You could never trust a pub clock anyway and here is a trade secret that has been stolen by referees.

There are two ways to set the clock in a pub. The first is to manoeuvre the hands to a few minutes later than Greenwich Mean Time. So if it's 12 in Greenwich it could be quarter past in Monasterevin. The reason is the publican can get the customers out earlier and so he gets to bed at a reasonable hour. And then you have the publicans who are at 11 when Big Ben strikes midnight.

The errant publican has a ready- made or pret-a-porter excuse when the gardaí call - "The clock was broke".

And the refs?

Well, it's not that long ago since a referee gave one minute extra time in an All-Ireland final.

Not that there was much notice taken of time-keeping in the old days. The journey home was always more relaxed. The game was over and the tension disappeared like ice in cocoa. And Jimmy Coffey always sent out for chips for small boys and he bought comics too.

It was there I learned so much about Kildare football in my formative years, which have been extended several times due to a life -long attraction to the vicissitudes of immaturity,

I loved Coffey's because there was never any talk about any subject other than football or racing.

For certain Kildare care as much about the game as we do and maybe even more. There's serious history there going back to the days of Larry Stanley, the Kildare hero.

There was a debate over a statement made by one of our travelling party to the effect that Kerry's John Joe Sheehy was a better man than Larry.

It was the Monday after the 1975 All-Ireland final and my friends were playing both minor and senior. Kerry were the outsiders in the senior final and we won with the youngest Kerry team ever. We won the minor too and my school team-mates Johnny Mulvihill and Robert Bunyan played. Robert was captain.

The Kerry seniors were very young. Indeed there was a story going that a Maor took Pat Spillane by the hand and he was declared to be a lost boy who should be collected immediately by his guardians in the first aid room at the back of The Hogan Stand.

Protagonists

The Larry/John Joe debate got hot in Coffey's and the strange thing was neither of the protagonists had ever seen Larry or John Joe play.

And today justice has been done, eventually, as our camogie stars settle their account on the field of play. But the camogie pitch and toss was nowhere near as controversial as the aforementioned 1905 final between Kerry and Kildare which was played in Thurles back in the day when the GAA owned a map.

Kerry were awarded a goal when the referee deemed the Kildare goalkeeper's legs were behind the line. The overjoyed Kerry supporters invaded the pitch with time almost up. The ref, decent man that he was, awarded the game to Kerry.

Kildare objected and won their case.

The replay ended in another draw. Those present said this was the best game ever played. Kerry went on to win the trilogy.

There was more trouble in 1998 when a Kerry goal was disallowed for a reason no one has ever quite figured out, and so it could be said that over the course of 93 years the decisions even out.

Tomorrow the rivalry reaches the next stage and we hope the tradition of epic games continues.

I expect Kerry to win but Kildare are improving and will be anxious to atone for a terrible display against Dublin.

There will be a minute's silence for young the Derry player Aaron Devlin who passed away this week. And we think we have troubles. There was a silence too at that Dublin-Kildare game for the Berkeley kids. And clapping from The Hill, in the middle of the match. It was the day the Hill rose to Heaven's Gate.

We have never been so sad or so proud in Croke Park.

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