Monday 23 October 2017

No bludgeon required when the surgeons cut loose

Tommy Conlon

It's presumably not a whole lot of fun, shooting fish in a barrel, and it's certainly not a whole lot of fun watching it.

But it's probably better being the shooter, or the spectator, than the fish. After last weekend's massacre of the minnows, the Munster football championship should henceforth be sponsored by Bord Iascaigh Mhara.

It's a dirty old business, killing and gutting marine life for human consumption, but, as we all know, someone has to get out the harpoons and go to work.

So Cork fetched up in Limerick on Saturday, Kerry in Killarney on Sunday and, like Japanese fishermen in a lagoon full of dolphins, began the piking and spearing and clubbing. The GAA's legion of vegans and vegetarians could scarcely bear to watch.

Obviously, in a more rarefied sport like boxing, the referee would have stepped in early to spare the creature further pain. But the players of Kerry and Cork were condemned to flogging a dead seahorse long after it had expired. One firm tap of a club on the back of the head at half-time would've been humane for both Limerick and Tipperary. But the slaughter continued for a full 70 minutes, to the point where their conquerors must've come close to downing tools and turning into conscientious objectors.

And if that weren't bad enough, the Kerry players were forced to come back to Killarney again last night and administer another punishment beating, this time to Waterford. At the time of writing, we couldn't say how bad it was going to be, but we're assuming it wasn't pretty.

The football, however, probably was. If there's anyone in Gaelic games who can make a slaughter look stylish, it's still this Kerry team. The only pleasure that could be taken from a non-event such as the Tipp match last weekend was in the aesthetics of the demolition.

Kilkenny in hurling have been destroying teams for over a decade now. But there is a ferocity about their work, a sort of merciless indifference, that leaves many neutrals cold. They tear teams apart limb by limb. These are statement hammerings, public warnings to other rivals who might dare challenge their supremacy.

Kerry teams aren't usually inclined to make big statements, even when they are making big statements. It's too ostentatious; it's not necessary; it's not subtle.

Jack O'Connor, their previous manager, used to occasionally remark how the Ulster teams made a big welcome for themselves when they were winning All-Irelands in the 2000s. They would talk freely about the secrets of their success whereas the Kerry tradition was to play it down, even though they knew more about winning than the whole of Ulster put together.

Basically it was a bit of a culture clash, between the brash parvenus of the north and the more discreet old money of the south west. Jack would sometimes wonder if the Kerry aura needed be projected more forcefully, in an era when teams were no longer showing them the accustomed deference.

The core of the team which he managed so astutely is still around, or most of if anyway, and they are still doing things their way. So instead of taking a howitzer to Tipp, it was death by a thousand cuts, the rapid accumulation of wounding jabs rather than a few crude roundhouse punches. A Dublin or Donegal will get the job done with athleticism and power; here it was done with the home side's trademark precision and economy and skill. All of a sudden, without any drama, they were out of sight on the scoreboard.

Once it became apparent that the match last Sunday wasn't going to offer the intrigue of a contest, it was a case of settling in for an exhibition. Putting it into context would be pointless. Caveats about the quality of the opposition were redundant. Comparisons with Donegal v Tyrone, the main attraction later that afternoon, could wait.

After 15 seconds, Colm Cooper was speeding onto a ball and stroking it over the bar like he was shelling peas – whatever shelling peas involves. The home support knew already this was going to be a day to be entertained rather than enthralled. There wouldn't be the remotest danger of a shock. So when Tomás ó Sé raided upfield to

punch a ball over the bar after half an hour, there was barely a ripple of applause. It was like they were turning their noses up at it because it was too humdrum for their tastes. (They won't be as fussy come August.)

With the points flowing, even Aidan O'Mahony came shuffling up from full-back to join the attack, either out of boredom or because his artistic side demanded creative expression. He promptly fell over the ball, and went shuffling back whence he came.

On 61, Cooper didn't so much offer his famous left-foot solo dummy, as telegraph it. And yet the defender bought it hook, line and sinker. Like a good three-card-trick man, no matter how often he sells it, they still queue up to buy it.

The dummy prompted a gasp from the crowd, an audible "ooooh". The nonchalant finish off his right had them purring. One supposes they were measuring ó Sé's effort by that standard.

Kerry won by 17 points. The fish were dead, the barrel was riddled with holes. But as massacres go, it was about as easy on the eye as it gets.

thecouch@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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