Thursday 22 March 2018

Eamonn Sweeney: No bluff behind Joyce's poker face

Eamonn Sweeney:

In 1993 I went to Hyde Park to see St Jarlath's of Tuam play St Mel's of Longford in the All-Ireland colleges semi-final. Jarlath's were hot favourites and would go on to lift the Hogan Cup that year. In John Concannon and Michael Donnellan, they had perhaps the two outstanding colleges players of the era.

But it was another player who put the kibosh on St Mel's that day, scoring two terrific goals in the first half and tormenting them throughout with his skill and intelligence at right half-forward. Pádraic Joyce was his name.

It goes without saying that Joyce was one of the best forwards of the last 20 years, up there with Cooper, Canavan and Maurice Fitz. And his tour de force in the 2001 All-Ireland final against Meath, destroying both Darren Fay and Mark O'Reilly en route to hitting 10 points, five from play, as Galway scored the most comprehensive decider victory in 22 years, is probably the finest individual display of those 20 years.

Yet what the record books won't capture is the sheer aesthetic pleasure of watching Joyce in action. His knack of enlivening the most prosaic encounters with a moment of sublime skill meant he was always worth keeping an eye on. Not particularly big, quick or strong, his game was based around absolute control once he had the ball in hand.

There are Gaelic footballers you can imagine excelling at other games. Joyce wasn't one of them. His skill set seemed somehow specific to Gaelic football. On his many good days, Galway's No 14 looked like the attacking soul of the game made flesh. He moved with the elegance of Fred Astaire and the menace of Darth Vader.

In an era of crest-thumpers, trash-talkers and fist-wavers, Joyce was almost surreally understated in his approach. He had a poker face of such severity it made the lads in Vegas with the dark glasses and the headphones look wildly demonstrative.

On the ball he gave the impression of perpetual thought, as though he were a grandmaster poised over a chessboard. But when he made a move, it was more often than not the right one.

I'll miss him.

Sunday Indo Sport

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