Thursday 22 February 2018

Tommy Conlon: Lesser lights get a night in the sun to prove they really exist


Tommy Conlon

Like mayflies, their time is short and generally unheeded. They get their couple of seconds in The Sunday Game shop window, just after the long hibernation, when most people are still yawning and not fully awake.

And then they are gone, expired, returned to oblivion, not to be seen again for another 12 months. Because, as we all know, if you don't make it to the famed highlights show of a Sunday night, you don't really exist. As a GAA player you are merely a shadow, a rumour, until you have been transformed by the voodoo of the magic lantern.

This is the lot of the early-season strugglers, the championship fodder, the sprats in the GAA's ocean. Your mother knows you exist; your partner knows you exist. But they too need the validation of the television cameras, just to be sure to be sure. If you make it to the Sunday night picture show, you are real. If Marty Morrissey calls out your name, you are suddenly more real, more vivid, than the person sitting on the living room sofa beside said mother or partner, watching yourself on the telly. Your three-dimensional physical form in the room has less substance than the image on the screen. There, you are significant; here, you are an ordinary Joe with a mug of tea in your hand.

Your chances of a fleeting few moments are dependent on the spin of the editors' roulette wheel. They have several hours of action to cut, and not many hours in which to cut it. They are on the clock, the show is on the clock, Des Cahill is on the clock, the pundits are on the clock. They really can't factor into it the heartfelt desire of your mammy or your missus to see you up there, writ large in your Technicolor slow-motion glory. They don't have the time.

Other factors roll like dice too. If you're a corner-forward, they might show you clipping a nice point. But if you've clipped it when you're 10 up or 10 down, it probably won't make the cut. If you're a corner-back, you might make it, only to see yourself falling arse over head into the back of the net as you desperately try to keep out a ball that has already crossed the line. No one will notice your valiant heroics, bar your mortified self.

If these indignities aren't bad enough, there's always the prospect, if you're a minnow, of being screwed by the officials. So Longford's Barry McKeon makes a great catch against Laois on Sunday and drives the ball over the bar, only to see the umpire wave it wide. McKeon and a team-mate remonstrate furiously with the umpire. But, says Des Curran in his match report, "further consultation between a number of officials saw the decision stand". Then Laois promptly go down the field and bang the ball in the back of the net. Then they get another one.

Longford are beaten by 11 points. So if it's any consolation to McKeon, his catch and shot might not have made the cut if it hadn't been disallowed.

Robbie Smyth had to make the cut - he kicked 0-11 of Longford's 0-16. Curran described him as "the excellent Smyth", and people nationwide who hadn't heard of him were saying, "Nice left foot on that fella". They exist, Smyth and McKeon, because we saw them on the telly.

Louth v Wicklow got two minutes and 12 seconds of match highlights. Louth's Eoin O'Connor made a pivotal blockdown at one stage, according to reports in the written press, although it didn't make the cut on Sunday night. But in that random way, substitute Jim McEneaney did. He scored "a brace", reported Adrian Eames, "including this beauty": cue the player steadying himself for the shot. And it was indeed a handsome effort off his left from wide on the right. Jim, we are sure, was ready for his close-up after that. But unfortunately there was no time to show the usual post-score picture of the player jogging back to his position. Still, it's nice to discover that Jim McEneaney exists too.

The Carlow boys were out on the town Sunday night, seemingly, as well they should have been. They had beaten Wexford to win their first Leinster championship match since 2011. Cahill phoned their manager Turlough O'Brien afterwards and invited him onto the show. It was a nice touch, and refreshing to hear a voice from the underclass.

"We matter as much as Dublin and Kerry and Tyrone and Donegal," O'Brien had declared to RTE in his post-match interview. Well, they don't, as it happens; but still, they got their stipend of time in the sun. None more so than their diminutive attacking wing-back Danny Moran, who finished a fine move to the roof of the net.

He could get no higher compliment than the imprimatur delivered by none other than 'Gooch' Cooper, making his debut as a pundit on the show. "I'd be proud of that finish myself," purred the great man.

One can only hope therefore that Moran found himself in some class of a Carlow joint later that night, hearing the fateful words of a girl at the bar: "Hi Danny, saw you on the telly tonight. The Gooch said you were great…"

It is The Sunday Game. And, to quote The Dunph - that's showbiz, baby!

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