Sunday 18 March 2018

Chasing Sam Maguire has never been about keeping the Commandments

In recent times, Horan seemed to stand as the very antithesis of that Mayo caricature
In recent times, Horan seemed to stand as the very antithesis of that Mayo caricature
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Immediately after Joe McQuillan called time last Sunday, James Horan took himself to a seat in the Croke Park press-box to fulfil his obligations as a newspaper columnist.

It seemed oddly incongruous to see him there, shooting the breeze with his 'ghost' about a game that had just put Mayo through yet another labour-ward-without-the-epidural experience.

What on earth were his inner emotions?

He was inseparable from this Mayo team for four years, forever solemn and unemotional on the line, all the time chipping away at any lingering remnants of innocence in their take on championship football.

Horan is broadly seen as a man who toughened them up, who educated Mayo on the unromantic side of overcoming the hex reputedly put on them in some country cemetery 64 years ago. I always think in this regard of Kevin McStay's observation in Keith Duggan's 'House of Pain' about the modern perception of a Mayo football man.

In the early days of his television work, McStay occasionally wondered what the other 'Sunday Game' panellists made of him.

"I sometimes think they look at the naivety of me and Mayo people like me and just think, 'God help ye!'" he told Duggan in 2007. "We go up with big happy heads on us on the trains to All-Ireland finals thinking this will be the year and so and so will flash over a couple and sure we will be grand."

In recent times, Horan seemed to stand as the very antithesis of that Mayo caricature.

The hard, even unscrupulous edge with which they now chase those ghosts of '51 was nurtured on his watch. They haven't quite got to lighting those bonfires yet, but they've established a habit of being in the faces of those who have. Mayo aren't the beautiful, giddy innocents of this game anymore. They have a team that will mug you as quick as look at you.

In other words, they are in a place now that the next managers of Cork and Kildare and Roscommon will, rest assured, be told is the destination they must get to. Remove those "big happy heads" of yours in other words. Grow some horns.

You had to feel for McQuillan last Sunday because, in the rarefied air of August and September, championship football becomes ungovernable.

It gets shot through with so much desperation and attendant cynicism, you wonder why any man in possession of all his faculties would volunteer to referee.

The serious teams today, just as they have always been, are the ones who brook no compromise in their pursuit of Sam Maguire.

Hence, routinely, you can bid farewell to the values of civilised society when heavyweights go to war. It was no different in the late '80s as Meath and Cork kicked one another up and down Croke Park in an often lawless rivalry that, just to be clear, enthralled us.

Gaelic football's big guns have never mistaken championship for any kind of morality play. Face it, anyone going to Croke Park today in search of aesthetic fulfilment would probably go to Las Vegas for the architecture.

Eddie Kinsella will fully understand that. At times, it will feel as if the earth itself is growling at the Laois man today and he knows that a multiple of camera angles will, ultimately, assist the public dissection of his performance. And some time next week, Eddie - presumably - will settle back into an unremarkable day job, far removed from any hint of wealth or privilege.

It is a truly odd God we worship here. This week, after all, Aidan O'Shea was upbraided in newspaper columns by both Teddy McCarthy and Darragh ó Sé for his audacity in delivering an honest answer to a media question about whether he'd been head-butted last Sunday. "Cribbing to the press" was how Darragh put it.

And a thought struck that maybe the only resilient code of honour acknowledged at this level of the game is that, to use a French expression, nobody goes pissing in the soup.

Today, then, will be epic and angry and - rest assured - predominantly unprincipled. And Mr Kinsella will do his damnedest to stop it spiralling into something lawless as a shoot-out in the Wild West knowing, deep down, he has, little chance of succeeding.

What does it say about those of us who cannot wait?

Irish Independent

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