Tuesday 20 March 2018

Club final pairings are pure poetry in motion

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

WHAT would the poetic genius of the area's most famous son have made of it? All-ticket National Football League games in Inniskeen weren't on the GAA's schedule back in the early 1940s when Patrick Kavanagh -- who is reputed to have been a talented, if somewhat eccentric, goalkeeper -- accused the "stony grey soil of Monaghan" of burgling the bank of his youth.

Almost 70 years on, Inniskeen will host a League game against Tyrone next Sunday (Clones is undergoing repairs) and since the official capacity of the Grattans' ground is around 3,700, it's a ticket-only occasion. There's intense demand for tickets, proving yet again that the best way to popularise an event is to restrict the accessibility routes.

What next in these unusual times? An All-Ireland senior club football final between teams from Clare and Antrim?

Actually, yes. It takes place two weeks from today when Kilmurry-Ibrickane meet St Gall's in what will be one of the most uplifting occasions in the 40-year history of the AIB All-Ireland club championships. Indeed, what with disputes over the experimental rules, objections to the use of video for disciplinary hearings and the interminable saga of Limerick hurling's woes, the club finals at Croke Park on St Patrick's Day will provide a welcome escape from dreary negativity.

In terms of appeal and contrast, they are possibly the most exciting pairings the finals have ever produced. Not only will all the provinces be represented, but the difference between the hurling and football finalists could scarcely be greater.


Hurling features giants from two top hurling counties as Ballyhale Shamrocks, joint leaders with Birr on four All-Ireland titles, face Portumna, who are bidding to become the first club in either code to win the three-in-a-row.

And if that wasn't exciting enough, the game will pit Henry Shefflin, arguably the greatest hurler of all time, against Joe Canning, a youngster with an eye to supplanting King Henry as No 1. The football final will have a completely different texture, as the best of Clare and Antrim collide in their driven pursuit of a first All-Ireland title.

Nobody would have come even close to predicting a Kilmurry-Ibrickane versus St Gall's when 32 clubs set out on the provincial road last October. Indeed, there are lots of clubs all over the country who are convincing themselves that if they were catapulted into Croke Park for the final, they would beat either of the finalists.

Sorry, lads, you got your chance and came up short, whereas K/I and St Gall's didn't. That clubs from two of the so-called 'weaker' football counties succeeded in threading their way through all the ambushes to reach the final is not only a massive boost to the championships but has also given clubs everywhere something to aim for.

Up to now, Baltinglass (1990) were the only club from a 'weaker' county to win the football title. Thomond College won in 1978, but it was comprised of star names from several counties and was not regarded as a true representative of Limerick. That accusation cannot be levelled at K/I or St Gall's, who have reached the final for the second time in five seasons. They lost to Salthill-Knocknacarra in 2006, an experience they reckon will give them an advantage in the final.

However, K/I -- who haven't conceded a single goal in five provincial and All-Ireland games and who are expertly tutored by manager Micheal McDermott -- are on a mission which they believe is accompanied by an unstoppable sense of destiny.

Who would have thought in 1996 when Sixmilebridge beat Dunloy in the hurling final that Clare and Antrim would be opposed in a football final 14 years later?

Patrick Kavanagh would have loved the club championships and, in a different time, might even have played in them, although legend has it that he once cost Inniskeen a county title. Former Sunday Independent editor, the late Michael Hand, used to tell a story of being once sent to Inniskeen to report on local reaction to Kavanagh's success as a writer.

He assumed locals would be thrilled with the distinction visited on the parish by Kavanagh, but instead he found a degree of antipathy, which surprised him. Eventually, a local bar man appraised him of the background, explaining that Inniskeen Grattans were once leading by two points late in a county final when their goalkeeper (Kavanagh) "left the bloody goal to get a mineral from a huckster and while he was gone the other crowd got the winning goal."

After that, Kavanagh could pen as much beautiful poetry as he liked, but would never be forgiven for costing Inniskeen the county title. That's poetry for you!

Irish Independent

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