Sunday 23 October 2016

Sinead Kissane: Breaking free of GAA stereotype harder than it looks in Kerry

Published 17/07/2015 | 02:30

Fionn Fitzgerald’s last-gasp equalising point in the drawn final saved complacent Kerry fans from a mugging in Killarney
Fionn Fitzgerald’s last-gasp equalising point in the drawn final saved complacent Kerry fans from a mugging in Killarney

I'm going to start with a confession. Two weeks ago, I walked up to Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney bagged with confidence.

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Yeah, that's right, confidence. And why wouldn't I be confident of Kerry winning the Munster final? Not for a rational second did the thought of defeat enter my head.

And I'm not going to spin out the condescending line that that's meant as no disrespect to Cork. Because I was only thinking about Kerry. Only thinking about what the Gooch would be like when he came on. Only thinking about the form of James O'Donoghue and if he would chicane-it around the Cork defenders again. The result was almost irrelevant. Because that was the one thing I thought wasn't up for debate.

It turned out my ego was writing cheques that Kerry couldn't cash. But the disgrace here is that I, being from Kerry, wasn't conforming to the strict Law of GAA Stereotyping. I was told a few years ago by an 'outsider' that my open confidence ahead of a Kerry game wasn't the way a Kerry person should act. So in case you didn't know: the Law of GAA Stereotyping clearly states that no Kerry man/woman/child should ever display any outward sign of confidence which could be misconstrued as arrogance in the lead-up to a Kerry game. We don't have the right to remain silent. But anything we say or do may be used against us.

So the general rule for Kerry people is to say 'naw-thin'. Forget the 37 All-Irelands. We must always publicly appear as if that success just slides off us, as if winning All-Irelands is almost second nature to us. And, above anything else, we must never ever appear to Rub It In or Get Above Ourselves. Why must we act like this? Because everyone else expects it. It feels like some folk take comfort in the fact that even with all our All-Irelands, we're the county who rarely rubs it in or who rarely gets above ourselves.

The way this then splinters is the reaction to certain views of former Kerry players turned pundits. When it came to warning of the dangers of a team like Cork, there were immediate cross-examinations, dissections and questions over what kind of mind-games those cute Kerry hoors were playing.

The word "rudderless" is getting a first wind as the adjective of choice such was the hysteria after Tomás ó Sé's usage of it to describe Cork in the build-up to the drawn game. Some people are almost astounded that the likes of Tomás and his brother Darragh may actually just say what they think without an agenda.

Is it the same when it comes to other players turned pundits like Ciarán Whelan for example? Do people think he's playing mind-games with the public when he talks about the Dubs?

Maybe the reason some GAA fans are surprised by Tomás and Darragh's honest views is because there can be so much paddywhackery around Kerry. Some of the over-the-top romanticising that goes on about Kerry from outside the county - especially in the build-up to All-Ireland finals - can be nauseating at times. Maybe some other Kerry fans think it's proper order but I don't really like it. It makes me nervous.

It's like the All-Blacks in rugby - creating this myth around them that deep down everyone else is happy to buy into because historically there's an odd comfort in it. Former Ireland head coach Declan Kidney was right when, in a small way, he tried to demystify the All Blacks by just calling them New Zealand rather than the aura that comes with the name the All Blacks.

If I was from anywhere else, I would be sick of all this romanticising about Kerry. Yes, we've the 37 All-Irelands. But it can also skew a person's proper judgment of where a current Kerry team actually stands. Some describe that as tradition.

"Kerry haven't lost to Cork in Killarney in 20 years" was the line we kept reading and hearing about before the Munster final. But where was tradition when it looked like we were going to lose before Fionn Fitzgerald had the balls to kick for a point (who cares if he actually meant to kick for a point or not?).

But the worst thing is when all the talk of tradition catches us out in Kerry. Maybe we believed it when everyone else was telling us that we're going to be even better this year. So far there has been little evidence to suggest that (although the rider here is that it is all only about August and everything after).


Somewhere along the line I forgot to feel the fear before the Munster final. And maybe the Kerry team forgot to feel the fear too. They didn't look as sharp as they should have and some Kerry players were skinned for pace by Cork players. It felt to me like there was a certain complacency which was probably a reflection of my own.

Cork had their own demons to fight before the drawn game. But I don't think they'll buy into any idea that they're safe from Double Jeopardy here. Just because they had an impressive performance in the first game doesn't make them immune to any criticism if they underperform in the replay.

I'm certainly not buying into any myth that Cork blew their chance and it's Kerry's game to win tomorrow. Maybe the reason Kerry have been so successful is because there is an understanding that the past plays little part in the present. Maybe it's because we generally don't get above ourselves. So tomorrow I'm going to revert to type. It hasn't done us Kerry fans too badly in the past.

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