John Daly: 'Hope and fear on a big day for Kerry'
Down in Kerry, the calendar works differently to the rest of the country.
While the other 31 counties punctuate the passing of seasons by seasonal events, Kingdom residents measure the 12 months as a game of two halves - before the All Ireland and after it. For a county with the football addiction welded deep in its genetic helix, next weekend's trek into the lions' den of Dublin comes tinged with trembling hope and harsh reality.
"Yerra, sure, we're only making up the numbers this year," is the standard throwaway response, masking a desire that flinches uneasily in the spotlight.
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Walk the streets of Dublin next weekend in search of a confident Kerryman. Such a creature will be as hard to find as a two-bed in Ballsbridge at €600 a month.
"We've no real chance," they'll nod sagely, "The lads aren't right at all."
And then there's the search for those elusive tickets. Long-lost relatives, old school friends, elderly priests with good GAA connections - all will have received the late night phone call of supplication.
Bless me Father, for I have sinned - I'll trade you two nights in the Gleneagle plus a round of golf at Mahoney's Point for any kind of ticket - even, God help us, Hill 16.
Looking back to olden times, that classic Robert Louis Stevenson phrase - "Tis better to travel hopefully than to arrive" - could well have been directed to the finals of the 1940s and 1950s, when the legendary night trains steamed across a darkened Ireland, packed with men in cloth caps smoking Woodbines in a packed bar carriage that never closed.
For many, it was the only trip ever taken outside the county bounds - fishermen from Dingle speaking Irish in muted clusters, farmers from Kenmare who'd cycled through Moll's Gap in darkness, and townies from Tralee and Killarney wearing an urban bluster to mask the tightness in the gut.
One of my cherished childhood memories was a corner seat in that carriage, seeing politicians dripping hair oil conducting impromptu clinics, tales of Mick O'Connell's mighty fielding, jam sponge in brown paper, and the grown-up treat of a gentle sip from a bottle of porter.
Strangely, it is the final lost to Armagh in 2002 that lingers longest. Beaten at the death by a single point. I waited in the Hogan as the crowds filed out.
Four rows in front, an old man sat staring into space, back hunched in shuddering sorrow. I moved forward to touch his shoulder in the shared misery of defeat - until I saw the Armagh scarf across his knees. "I never thought I'd live to see the day," he repeated over and over, tears rolling down his face, looking out across the joy of their first ever All Ireland.
Welcome to the club, I said, see you next September.
With craft breweries sprouting up all over the country, it seems like beer tourism is an idea whose time has come for Ireland.
A friend just back from Detroit brought vivid tales of hoppy encounters tasting pale ales, porters and stouts, all against the evocative backdrop of Motown.
Given how our small island consistently punches above its weight in the craft beer business, it doesn't matter whether tastes run from tart and funky to malty and sweet - there really is one for everybody in the audience.
Gone but not forgotten
The Kerryman asks the Dub why there's an empty seat next to him in the Cusack. "Ah, 'twas meant for the wife, but she's no longer with us," says your man. "God, I'm very sorry, but couldn't one of the kids have come?" asks the Kerryman. "Ah no, sure they're all at the funeral...."