Tomás Ó Sé on how a 'lunatic' Kildare fan danced in front of Kerry team bus after 1998 win
Published 21/05/2016 | 02:30
It's August 1998 and I'm sitting in a Kerry hearse headed for Heuston Station, bull heads on every one of us after losing an All-Ireland semi-final to Kildare.
Páidí at the front with a face that could stop clocks, me not far behind him, practically growling. I'd got a bit of a hosing down in Cork earlier that year and never made it back on the team. Ended up feeling about as useful as a square football. Anyway, we've no garda escort here for company when, suddenly, a big Merc stops us in our tracks.
And out jumps this lunatic from the driver's seat to do a little victory jig in front of the bus.
Now it wouldn't take much for the bulls to charge here, except some of us recognise the lunatic's face. "For f**k sake, look who it is!" It's Dermot Cox, known to many of us as an absolute gent, a successful businessman and a mad Kildare supporter who had a house in Dingle.
So here he is in a Dublin street now, doing this Cherokee war dance in front of us.
And whatever it is about the way he does it, don't we take a fit of giggling in the bus. Because there's nothing nasty intended here. Dermot's just beyond himself with happiness at the thought of Kildare playing in an All-Ireland final.
When I think now of the fanaticism of Kildare's supporters, I automatically have Dermot Cox's smiling face in my head. Anyone who was there in '98 will remember the colour (blizzard white) they brought to that summer.
I look at Kildare now and it's hard to believe that so little was built on the back of that final appearance. It's as if the defeat to Galway just negated everything. In recent times, they were certainly competitive under Kieran McGeeney's management, but crucially, won nothing.
And right now I'm just not sure they're made of the right stuff to have an impact in this Championship.
Put it this way, the concession of seven goals to Kerry last August set new standards for naivety in an era when most inter-county teams have some semblance of a sound defensive plan. And having watched them lose to Clare in last month's Division 3 final, I'm just not convinced that that naivety is gone.
Clare might easily have scored another four goals that night. Sometimes Kildare's defending looks to me as if it's done in a constant state of panic.
They should have been home and hosed against Clare, but just didn't have the game-management to see it out.
I've heard people say they should never have been in Division 3, but why? Remember, they didn't just lose that final, they lost a tight game above in Sligo too.
They get opened up far too easily for my liking and that's why Wexford will feel they have a decent chance here.
Cian O'Neill is an excellent coach, a man who really, really wants to improve every player. When we had him in Kerry, he was always hugely hungry for detail. But a great coach doesn't automatically develop into a great manager.
Cian's heart is certainly in the right place, but he'll be tested this year. He needs clever, hungry defenders and, on the evidence so far, I'm just not sure he has them. And Kildare don't strike me as a team with a lot of confidence.
Two or three years ago, the idea of a Division 4 team beating them in the Championship would have been considered farcical. But it could happen here. I mean, if the game ends up a battle, how will Kildare react?
I know from my playing days, a temper would come upon me if we were in a struggle. Not just me, it came on a lot of others too. You'd just feel a need to win the next ball, kick the next point, whatever. Just to change the energy. That's not something you can coach.
Which is why Cian O'Neill is about to be tested now.
But there's a bigger issue with this Championship. More and more, you're having to wait till August for the men to get sorted from the boys. Everything else just feels like heels being kicked.
From this distance, Ulster is the only province that holds any real intrigue. I love that Championship. I love the edge of it, the sense of so many hard-nosed teams going after the same prize as if their lives depended on it.
It's a genuine battle, though I'm not sure any of their teams outside of Tyrone and Donegal could still be relevant come September.
And that's a problem.
Because Dublin's dominance means Leinster will be about as competitive as a shark attacking a shoal of mackerel. Munster is only about Kerry and Cork again. Maybe Roscommon and Galway can shake things up in Connacht but my hunch is that Mayo are headed for six in a row.
So four provinces, but just one real Championship this side of August? It's not really fit for purpose is it?
I'd love a year of trialling something different, maybe a Champions League structure with, admittedly, all the flaws that that might also bring.
I'm sure the consensus wish is that we get plenty of open, attractive football this year, but that's not necessarily what I'd be hoping for. I want more close games. I want more contests with a real Championship edge which, Ulster and the first Kerry-Cork game apart last year, we largely didn't get before August.
I'd also like the black card tossed in the nearest bin. Hate the damn thing. It's getting inside players' heads and making them too fearful of committing any kind of clumsy challenge. And the application of it has been hopelessly inconsistent.
You need genuine bite in Championship football and maybe a murmur of controversy doesn't do any harm either.
There was uproar over the Kerry-Donegal League game this year but, by God, you couldn't take your eyes off it. Now I'm not condoning dirty play, but let's not dilute the game down till it's about as physical as an embroidery class.
I think Derry will struggle to work out Tyrone's defence this weekend and how quickly they can transition into attack. The modern game is all about that process of transition now, maybe the speed of it especially.
Now Mickey Harte has a system in place that allows Tyrone get great numbers into the right places at the right time. They were impressive winning Division 2 and they'll have too much for Derry.
Roscommon dodged a bullet in New York, but that trip was a hiding to nothing. I'd be far more worried about how completely out of their depth they looked against Kerry in the League semi-final.
It was as if everything they'd done in the group stages was suddenly called into question. Had they simply caught a few teams on the hop before the big boys found their gears?
Maybe that League run created unreasonable expectations that have, at least, been reined in now. I know they're down a few men this weekend, but they'll still have too much for Leitrim.
Beyond that, who can really say?