Friday 15 November 2019

It will be a battle but no matter what we'll be lighting candles for the Kingdom and the Kingdom of Heaven

Master of the game: Séan Cavanagh
Master of the game: Séan Cavanagh
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

There was a night long ago when we met this man crying outside Tim Kennelly's pub. It was back in the time when men were only allowed to cry after football matches and only if you won at that.

"Why are you bawling?" I asked.

Through the tears and gulps when he almost swallowed himself whole, out came the words in an exhalation so powerful it would drive a giant wind turbine.

"They're trying to make townies out of us," he bawled.

The story was that the old narrow, humpbacked railway bridge had been knocked and levelled. Before the levelling you couldn't see the other side, the country side. Now all that was separating town from country was an ordinary road.

He was right. I'm even living there myself now and the houses stretch for a mile and good bit with that. We weren't friends. The bawling man wasn't in love with our town team and felt we were disrespecting the traditions of Gaelic football with our long hair and calling each other "man" as we listened to Dylan and shook our heads violently from side to side when hard rock was played at dead-waking volume in Tommy Chute's.

What was even worse was the way we played the game. Listowel Emmets soloed and in the land of catch and kick this was a treason punishable by fights at dances and outside chippers.

Later that night, when Tim cleared the bar, we could hear the roaring. Bawlingman was having a whale of a time on the humpback bridge.

GAA Newsletter

Expert GAA analysis straight to your inbox.

Bawlingman took off the shirt, made a ball out of it and threw it on the road. His bellies were falling one into the other, like rice paddy terraces.

That was a great one back then, taking off the shirt to emphasise your anger. Bawlingman was a one-man barricade. Not a car could pass. And his war cry was, "We're a breed of me who don't fit in."

Which some might say is the Tyrone catch cry, and do they care?

Maybe next year if Tyrone win this Sam they might revert to the free-flowing football that won them their second and third All-Irelands.

But that first one was rough, tough and not pretty. It was all about winning. Tyrone live for the Gaelic football and yet they didn't have an All-Ireland. I think Mickey's men are back again to that stage of despair and longing and hunger in that Tyrone haven't won the All-Ireland since 2008.

That was some team. Brian Dooher, Peter Canavan and Seán Cavanagh (right) were masters of the game. Tyrone attacked at every opportunity. Corner-backs could pop up in front of goal.

Tyrone had all the skills and points were kicked from far out. It was total football.

Tyrone play very defensively now but when they attack they show the football skills are still there. Last spring, in the league, in Omagh, Kerry went well ahead when Tyrone played defensively but then Tyrone ran at Kerry and almost pegged us back. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Tyrone played and open, attacking game. That would be good for Tyrone and good for the game but good for the game is a fine notion when you're coaching the eight-year-olds. This is a senior championship semi-final. Good for the game isn't really taken into account.

It is still true though that Kerry will take you on at football or will play the take-your-time-and-find-the-openings game as we did against defensive Donegal in last year's final. If you come out to play, we will reciprocate. You couldn't be up to Mickey Harte, a man I admire greatly. What will he do?

Are we the saviours of football fighting against the Barbarian hordes of Tyrone led by a Genghis Khan who is determined to destroy civilisation as we know it? Kerry will do what they have to do to win. Tyrone are as tough as ever. We will find out soon enough if they have found a new Canavan or Dooher.

Kerry have come a long way from the days of the startled artists who had the tripods kicked out from under their easels in the early part of the century.

We might well win but it be a battle and a one-point win will do, however that may be achieved.

My mother was laid to rest this week and she always had candles lighting for Kerry. I'm writing away here upstairs over the pub half- expecting her to shove her head in the door and ask, "How's the column going?"

There's no doubt but that we do death very well in this country. The GAA will always back you. We had a guard of honour from our club and our friends came from every other club too. There were many of you who called to pay your respects from all of the sports we love.

Mam was so proud of my brothers Conor and John when they wore the green and gold. We will light the candles again tomorrow for her beloved Kerry. Mam is still in The Kingdom, only this time for the first time, it's the Kingdom of Heaven.

Indo Sport

The Throw-In: 'Jim Gavin has achieved what Mick O'Dwyer and Brian Cody couldn't do'

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport