O'Mahony the ultimate defender
Aidan O'Mahony's retirement has precipitated a lot of love for the art of defending. It's about time. Whenever defenders who have caught the popular imagination in the past have retired they've either been praised as hard bastards (Mick Lyons or Francie Bellew) or flashy score-getters (Paul Curran or Tomás ó Sé). With O'Mahony it's been different.
While no one should doubt that he is a hardy boy, it was the precise act of defending that defined him for me. In fact, it's that singular performance against Donegal in the All-Ireland final that stands out as something of a moment in how we should discuss Gaelic football.
Really O'Mahony should have been man of the match that day but we're not trained to appreciate the effort required over a full 76 or 78 minutes to stop an opponent. We don't appreciate the concentration, selflessness and physical stress involved in subjugating someone else's will entirely, as well as all your own instincts to attack.
It's assumed that the art of destroying is easier than the art of creating but in a free-form game like football it's simply not true. Mayo still have nightmares over what Michael Murphy did to them on All-Ireland final Sunday. It only took one mistake. Likewise Kerry beat Donegal that day from a bad kick-out. If O'Mahony slips once we might have had a replay. Yet, he was perfection in a role no-one dreams of playing.
When it comes to defending we love Conor Gormley's block on Oisín McConville, or an overlapping full-back kicking a point from out the country, a giant shoulder knocking someone over the sidelines like a loaf of bread. A full-length goalkeeper's dive to keep out a rasper we can all enjoy. They're all just moments though, but this theory works for careers too. For all his brilliance as a defender perhaps Keith Barr is most famous for a goal. Where are the mythologies of the players who were just great defenders?
Other sports seem to prize defence and defenders much higher. Think Bobby Moore against Pele in 1970, the entire Chicago Bears in 1985, Paolo Maldini's career, Paul McGrath in Giants Stadium is perhaps even more famous than Ray Houghton. As time goes on, will O'Mahony against Murphy join them?