Friday 24 November 2017

Joe Brolly: Voting with our feet is best way to avoid the suffering

There was no entertainment. None at all. This was a nihilist convention.
There was no entertainment. None at all. This was a nihilist convention.

Joe Brolly

An O’Neill’s football, signed ‘DUNGLOE GAA’, was found last week by Uist native Arthur Heyes as he walked along a beach in the Outer Hebrides (check out the story on @bbcchampionship). The ball had journeyed almost 300 miles from its home in Donegal.

Amazingly, after almost 15 years in the sea, the ball remains in good condition. Heyes emailed the club to let them know he had it, and after a club meeting, the Dungloe lads realised the ball had gone missing after Tony Boyle had attempted a kick pass one night in a league game.

“We racked our brains for a few hours as to how the ball had gone into the sea,” said Dungloe chairman Marty Boyle, “then one of the boys remembered that the last time anyone in the club had tried a kick pass was Tony just before he retired. It happened out of the blue. No one could believe it. It was the first time in years anyone had even seen a kick pass in Donegal. Tony got an awful slagging for it in the clubhouse afterwards, but he took it in good spirit. He said it was something he wanted to try before he retired. Mystery solved.”

There are a lot of current footballers who are going to die wondering.

In the first half of the minor game in Celtic Park last Sunday, there wasn’t a single long kick pass. Not one. And not a single kick pass into the inside forwards. By half-time, two of the Derry full-forward line had been subbed, even though they might as well have been given a sofa and a PlayStation. The third, the very talented Richie Mullan from Dungiven, had abandoned his post and drifted out around the middle.

In that same period, Darragh Canavan, son of God, in whom the father is no doubt well pleased, looked electric in the Tyrone full-forward line. Only they wouldn’t kick him the ball either. So he made excellent darting runs into dangerous areas, presented himself in the scoring zone, and generally did everything a high-grade forward ought to do. The only thing missing was the ball.

He must have felt as though he was playing shadow football. Four touches he got in the first half, and from these he fashioned three delightful points, with feet and fist.

In the second half, he got one touch, and got the ball so late on that occasion there was nothing he could do but pass it diagonally. In echoes of a glorious past, he was marked by Kieran McKeever’s nephew Sean, who must have been thrilled that the third member of the Holy Trinity was so starved of possession. The little genius twiddled his thumbs as Tyrone went from three up to five behind. 

Derry were the better team and played with more imagination and freedom. Tyrone’s football was strictly by numbers. Physically, they looked like the outcome of a Dolph Lundgren breeding program. We were sitting behind their bench and their physiques were worryingly bulging, like the Ulster rugby academy players. I thought of the endless hours of heavy work required, of the passion and commitment of these fine young men, for such a dull return.

On the field, they played a very formulaic hard solo-running, handpassing game. The problem with this type of scripted football is that it is impossible to depart from the script. Once Derry got the upper hand and began to pull away, Tyrone were unable to react. It was a classic illustration of the problem with the modern method.

If initiative and footballing intelligence are trained out of players, how can they play with initiative? When we used to play Tyrone, if wee Peter was having a bumper day they fed everything to him. It is basic stuff. Not any more. So, young Canavan may as well not have been on the field in the second half as his team-mates soloed up field, handpassing, then turned and sprinted back behind their ’45, an exhausting rigmarole that got them nowhere. Tyrone got a last-minute penalty, but it only gave the scoreboard a better look.

The senior game was zzzzzzzzzzzzz. At half-time, the crowd awoke momentarily. I got a text from Dara Ó Cinnéide. “Can’t bear any more of this. Going out to pull weeds in the garden. I think I’ll just watch games from u14 down in future.” There was no entertainment. None at all. This was a nihilist convention.

My brother, the whole way in to Derry, repeated the phrase, “Why are we going to this?” Wee Joe kept laughing. “I need my sedatives,” said the brother, “can we at least stop at a pharmacy before we go in?”

At half-time, I did something I have never done before at a Derry game. I left. I just couldn’t bear to watch any more of poor Danny Tallon’s suffering. The most talented young forward in the county, sitting on a sofa in the full-forward line, playing Grand Theft Auto. I do not believe he got a single touch in the entire game.

After we left, Kevin Casey, a friend of mine from the city who had been sitting beside me with his daughter, sent me a text. “As soon as you had left Joe and were safely out of earshot, a Tyrone supporter right in front of us came out with a fusillade of foul-mouthed abuse about you, ranging from your parentage to your punditry. My daughter Clara, said, ‘You shouldn’t be saying words like that, I’m only eight.’ The man went bright red. His mates started laughing. Clara wasn’t finished. ‘Anyway, if you wanted to talk to Joe, why didn’t you say that to him when he was here?’ The man sat there, humiliated. The coup de grace came from his friends. ‘You’ve just been slapped by an eight-year-old,’ said one. The other looked over his shoulder at us and said, ‘An eight-year-old . . . girl.’ Clara went back to her chips.”

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