Sunday 19 August 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Endless clash of underdogs and overlords

It's hard to see Cork repeating Westmeath's heroics of last week, writes Colm O'Rourke

Westmeath’s John Heslin and James Dolan celebrate their historic Leinster Championship victory over Meath last week
Westmeath’s John Heslin and James Dolan celebrate their historic Leinster Championship victory over Meath last week
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

First of all it would be very unsporting of me not to congratulate Westmeath on their historic win over Meath last Sunday, however painful it may have been.

There have been a few occasions in the past when it should have happened but when the day came it was a glorious chapter in Westmeath's football history. Down and out at half-time, at which point I was wondering if Meath would win by 20 points, they launched comeback to trump all comebacks. It was a lesson that if you never, ever give in, anything is possible.

Not to rain on the Westmeath parade, but the prize for winning is playing Dublin in the Leinster final. It is a daunting prospect, yet the manner of victory last Sunday might make for a very interesting summer, whatever route is taken. This was a triumph too for a lot of people who put huge work into underage football in Westmeath.

And that work is evident in another area which gives Westmeath, at the very least, a small advantage. In the 'A' section of schools football, traditionally called the Leinster Colleges Championship, Westmeath have five schools taking part, with the resultant exposure to a high standard of football. Meath, with a much bigger population, have only one school playing in the highest grade of secondary-level schools football. It may be a small thing, but it can be very significant in the long run.

To matters off the field. I grew up in the pre-Twitter era so I am a bit lost in this new world, but as a school principal you have to wise up fairly quickly to what is going on when it comes to social media. There is a piece of legislation which covers abuse of this media, the Offences against the Person Act, and if anyone threatens another then they are liable to prosecution. It does not matter who is involved, players and management groups should not have to put up with abuse, any abuse, and the only condemnation that will work is a few high-profile prosecutions. That would sort it out, but it is far too serious a problem for society in general to just ignore quietly.

What I have learned from young people on a daily basis in school is that they don't understand boundaries where social media is involved. They also do not seem to understand that inappropriate comments and photos are never deleted fully. They hang around in some cloud somewhere and can come back to bite them in things like job interviews down the line. Some of these young people are innocent casualties of the system; the more sinister individuals need to be dealt with, as the repercussions are too serious. The best solution of course for all players would be to get off Twitter, but apparently there is a commercial benefit to some. If that is so then they are entitled to use it in a responsible manner themselves, but most certainly without insult or threat.

In the last couple of weeks I have written about the selling off of Irish assets to foreign vulture funds, and I see the Minister for Sport and NAMA have taken exception to my comments. But I stand over them. Value to the tax-payer, which is what NAMA say their function is, goes way beyond simply money. It is about returns of other kinds too, which might be less tangible but are no less important. And health and wellbeing is right at the top of that list.

Anyway, I saw a nice picture of a chief executive of one of those funds. Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone, was with the Taoiseach in Trinity College announcing a €2m entrepreneurship scheme for young people. Mr Schwarzman, who hardly played corner-forward for Mayo in a previous existence, makes no apologies for picking the carcass of the Irish economy over the last few years on way to earning £618m personally last year, according to the Sunday Times. Am I missing something here or is there not something oddly wrong with an organisation which has plundered Ireland legally now being treated like royalty? No sports facilities or schools from the Blackstone portfolio.

What is the connection with Blackstone and the Munster final? I am quite sure none of that group know it is on but one Irishman who stood up to Blackstone to hold on to his construction group's development assets is Michael O'Flynn of O'Flynn Construction, a Cork GAA follower. His county's footballers need to remember that Cork was called the Rebel County with some pride in the past. Recently they have more closely resembled the famous James Dean film of the 1950s as rebels without a cause.

The collapse of Cork in last year's Munster final was not just a simple outmanoeuvring of troops on the field of battle. It was more a case of laying down the flag, of throwing in the towel. After a great Allianz League campaign this year when Cork topped Division 1, they folded tamely in the final against Dublin. They scored more than any other team in the division but also conceded more than the others with the exception of Kerry.

On that basis we should expect a game where attacking and high scoring are the dominant themes. Don't put your house on that one.

Cork have Brian Hurley and Colm O'Neill, who can do a lot of damage, but this is a Munster final and they will not get the same room they would in a league match. They have any amount of quality sidekicks too but it never seems to happen for them all on the big day. The main reason is that Cork may have quite a few better individuals yet Kerry are a far better team, even with the great god of football, the Gooch, not making the first 15. Can this be true?

Perhaps it is going to be a bit like the Roman general coming back from a successful campaign of pillage abroad. He is introduced to the crowd at the moment of maximum effect. So let it be with Gooch.

Cork have an immediate problem with James O'Donoghue. On this Sunday last year in the old wreck of Páirc Uí Chaoimh he gave one of the great exhibitions in a Munster final. Many did not know him before that game announced his arrival. It was his Roy of the Rovers match. Skill, speed, control, kicking off right and left, he had it all. As they say in soccer, the boy done good.

Cork footballers swim against many tides and while Kerry have had uninterrupted preparation for this final, there are Cork players trying to serve many masters. A big crowd will travel today, but it is stretching things to call them supporters. Most of those were in Wexford Park last night for the hurling. Those who travel in hope will enjoy the day out, arrive early, have a bit of banter with the locals, and a good Cork performance would be a bonus.

A Munster final in Killarney is an absolutely wonderful occasion, a great meeting of tribes, yet it is an unequal struggle which clearly reflects the cultural differences when football is played. In Kerry this is of great social importance; in Cork it is not spoken about for long in polite company. It makes the achievement of some great Cork teams who came here and beat Kerry regularly all the more noteworthy.

Yet history tends to return to its normal rhythm if you don't plan for a continuation of a different order. Cork do not impress me as a county who have decided to really plan to rule Munster. A Kerry win looks the only logical conclusion.

It has been a bad few weeks with tragedies in places like San Francisco, Cork and Tunisia. The shooting of Lorna Carty on holiday last week brought it closer to home. The Cartys are great supporters of the GAA in Meath. Lorna always helped out teams in Dunderry, where husband Declan was treasurer, with first aid. Their son Simon is a member of the Meath senior football panel. Lorna's brother, Jim Harlin, is chairman of Kilmessan hurling club so this is a family woven into the fabric of local community life.

Our sincere sympathy to all their family and friends.

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