Monday 19 August 2019

Now that the cows have dried off, the GAA year is only starting

Tomás Ó Sé is still playing great football, and he's much loved in Nemo. But then again, he always played in the Nemo Way. Direct and clever but tough and then some more tough
Tomás Ó Sé is still playing great football, and he's much loved in Nemo. But then again, he always played in the Nemo Way. Direct and clever but tough and then some more tough
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Where else would you get such a sadistic organisation? The GAA are playing the Munster Club final on the Grey Sunday after Black Friday?

Back in my day the club football was played in the summer. And why? Because it was more fun and the football was better.

I’ll bet if they examined the donated craniums of GAA  men and women, the medical students would quickly notice the brain was fried to cinders like burned sweetbreads. And what would fry your head, only the GAA and the length of the seasons and trying to plan fixtures.

There’s no rest or let-up. It seems the GAA are only content when the water is coming up over the rim of the wellingtons and Bear Grylls refuses to tog out for the North Kerry Championship because he’s not allowed bring his huskies.

Ah, but we think fondly of the old days when football was fun and girls wore short skirts going to matches. Indeed the old people used to say that it was dangerous to the chest to take off any inner items of clothing until the returning swallows were fat again. Some players might tog off for a nurse before an operation but that was it.

The GAA were always Puritanical in outlook. So in the spirit of the monks who took cold baths in mountain lakes to take their minds off women, the Association plays matches in the dead of winter.

Nemo Rangers of Cork are hugely successful and much admired. Nemo take on Clonmel Commercials in the Munster Club Championship final tomorrow. Commercials have been keeping football to the fore in hurling-mad Tipperary for a hundred years or more.

Nemo are heading for their 16th provincial title. Clonmel are trying to win their first.

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The Nemo secrets are well-known. Nemo play with incredible heart. They are more than the sum of their parts. It’s dem and us. There’s a feeling in the club that everyone in Cork is against them. A Nemo man said to me the other day, “There will be more cheering for us in Kerry than in Cork”. Tomás ó Sé is still playing great football, and he’s much loved in Nemo. But then again he always played in the Nemo Way. Direct and clever but tough and then some more tough.

There’s the back story. For a good few years now Nemo have developed their underage players in the Nemo Way. The kids are seen as prospects rather than the finished article. There’s no pandering to the Hollywood parents who want to win at all costs. And no surreptitious creatine in the pandy or Ready Brek.

Nemo give all the kids equal billing anyway, even if it costs them the game. Every kid is cherished and treated with respect. Every kid gets a  game. It’s about the big picture and the future of the club.

Clonmel are in the heart of Tipperary football country and Tipperary are close enough to becoming a force after their excellent run with underage teams. Again this did not happen by the happy coincidence of a few footballing families throwing up cohorts of brothers who became a golden generation.

Then their careers are over and the club or county descends down the league. Tipp’s story is founded on solid hard work from the development squads through to minor.

The Nemo Way way is the best club template. Billy Morgan was and is the heart and soul of Nemo.

I find it incredible that Cork do not employ him in some sort of director of football role. Billy has consistently delivered for all of his teams. Especially so for Cork.

He managed Cork to two in a row back in 1989 and 1990.  Superb Galway, Tyrone and Dublin teams won more than one All-Ireland in the meantime but none won two in a row.

Morgan manages his teams with a mix of brains, temper and affection. He loves his players and they love him back. He has managed UCC in recent years to Sigerson success against all the odds.

Steven O’Brien is manager of Nemo. Steven was one of the best centre half-backs I have ever seen, if not the best. He went up the middle and with his power and speed was well nigh impossible to stop. But somehow he could defend too and his man seldom if ever did any great damage.

It’s been a few years now since Nemo won the county but O’Brien was brought up in the Nemo Way. He’s great fun too and like Morgan doesn’t mind his players cutting loose every now and then, unlike the northern monastic approach where players are only allowed a little leeway on Christmas Day with maybe an extra plum in their puddings.

Nemo are holistic and fiercely tough. We are indeed fortunate in Kerry that Cork have ignored the Morgan  and O’Brien dream team.

Clonmel will give them a tough time of it and might even win. Michael Quinlivan, Ian Fahey, Séamus Kennedy and Jason Lonergan played on the greatest day for Tipperary football when they beat Dublin in an All-Ireland minor final.

One of the by-products in playing so late in the year is that scores are often close, as it is very hard to kick the ball with one leg while the other leg is giving out from under you. It’s ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ football.

There’s great winter- shortening for the supporters. Every ball won is a trophy in itself but is it fair on the players? The answer is no. The season is far too long and football slaves just gotta have fun.

Now that the cows have dried off, our season here in North Kerry is rightly getting going. The underage finals were played in the worst of the weather so as to toughen up the kids for future global warming, which by all accounts will make the world colder. Our senior championship has only one quarter-final left to play.

We were hoping this year that the board might even play a semi-final before Thanksgiving.

It could well be, barring any bad weather or draws or a clash of IFA or FAI fixtures, the players might even have this Christmas off. 

But as a notorious inter-county GAA official said to yours truly, “The players are only prawns”.

The national GAA fixture list is some Molotov Cocktail and interferes no  end with club football. And the Munster winners tomorrow will play Tir Chonaill Gaels or St Kiernans in two weeks’ time, in London, in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Ho, ho, ho.

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