Monday 16 July 2018

Home fires burn brighter for Seánie

Cavan's Seanie Johnston Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick / SPORTSFILE
Cavan's Seanie Johnston Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick / SPORTSFILE

Eamonn Sweeney

It's funny what gets your goat sometimes. One of my least favourite championship memories involves sitting in a rock-strewn car park in Roscommon after the 2012 Connacht final and hearing an RTé voice announcing that we'd be going across to Breffni Park where something very important was about to happen.

Turned out that Kildare had been awarded a free in their qualifier against Cavan and that Seánie Johnston was about to score against the county from which he had departed in controversial circumstances some months previously. Kildare were miles ahead and, the game was almost over but when the ball went between the posts the commentator let a roar out of him of, "Seawahawoonie Johnston scores for Kildare, Seawahawoonie Johnston scores."

I wasn't the better of it for days afterwards. That moment seemed to sum up the dispiriting nature of the Johnston Affair. It seemed incredibly mean-spirited of Kieran McGeeney to bring on Johnston in the closing minutes of a game that was already won when, all things considered, the player could have been left on the bench. There seemed a determination to rub Cavan's nose in it and make Kildare feel they'd been very smart altogether in snapping up the opposition's star forward. I was vexed with the RTé anchorman who'd afforded this pointless point such importance and with the commentator for his gratuitous impersonation of Meg Ryan in the deli scene from When Harry Met Sally.

Time passes. And less than three years later Seawahawoonie is back in harness with Cavan. He's not just back, he's back with a bang. Six points, four of them from play, when inspiring the team to come back from seven points down and beat Meath. A goal and five as Cavan put Armagh, and Johnston's former manager Kieran McGeeney, to the sword, the only goal of the game in a win over Fermanagh and, last time out, 1-3 as Cavan made it four wins in a row.

The result is that a Cavan side which started their Division 2 campaign with two losses that seemed to presage a relegation struggle lies second in the table and will be promoted to the top flight if they manage to beat or even draw with Galway at home today. They are unbeaten since Johnston's return.

And you know what? It's great to see him back in the Cavan colours. Gaelic football doesn't have so many flair players that we can afford to let one languish on the sidelines. Cavan need Seánie Johnston and their fans must surely be wondering what would have happened had he been back on board when Monaghan edged them out by a point in last summer's championship. Monaghan went on to lift the Ulster title but surely Johnston would have been good for a couple of scores that day in Breffni Park.

Should the Cavan Gaels man do the business again today it will give his county their best league campaign since they made the final in 2002. In the year he left they just missed out on relegation to Division 4. If they go up today chances are no-one will hold Johnston's one-man exodus against him.

Nor should they. Young men make mistakes. In fact, we all do. The pundits who argued at the time that Johnston should be allowed switch counties because he had no future with Cavan after being dropped from the panel certainly did. And all that stuff about Johnston's undoubted commitment to Kildare's cause has dated as badly as Insurrection. Back then one genius even wondered why Johnston had gotten so much stick when rugby writers hadn't reacted in the same way when Johnny Sexton left Leinster for Stade Francais round the same time.

The answer of course is that, as they used to sing on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the other. In Gaelic games home should be where the heart is. I'd wager that should Cavan seal promotion this evening it may mean more to Johnston than anything he could have achieved with Kildare.

Funnily enough, Kildare and Cavan have gone in different directions. If an ambitious Cavan player was moving counties now, he wouldn't be going to Kildare. And should McGeeney's Armagh lose to Derry today and be relegated, it might be further proof of karma.

So keep an ear out for what happens at Breffni Park today. If you hear a shout of Seawahawoonie Johnston coming from your radio, chances are this time the fuss will be well deserved.

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