Friday 23 March 2018

Tommy Conlon: Urine-spraying apes showing great respect for each other

Alan Fitzgerald, Kerry, is shown a red card by Referee Eddie Kinsella after an incident with Neil McGee, Donegal. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Alan Fitzgerald, Kerry, is shown a red card by Referee Eddie Kinsella after an incident with Neil McGee, Donegal. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

Tommy Conlon

Flicking TV channels last Sunday afternoon, we alighted on some captivating scenes of primates in the wild. But we almost had to double-check the listings: TG4 were supposed to be showing the live game from Tralee. But this seemed more like a remake of Gorillas in the Mist, with Eddie Kinsella in the Sigourney Weaver role.

On closer examination however, the said primates were wearing clothes: Kerry and Donegal jerseys, to be more precise. And we're pretty sure that David Attenborough would've mentioned it if he'd ever happened upon a group of hairy apes modelling polyester GAA shirts. So, it was almost certainly the live game as billed from Austin Stack Park.

And there's Kieran Donaghy, early doors, hauling Michael Murphy to the ground like a lumberjack bringing down a Californian redwood. Or to put it another way, the local silverback attacking the visiting silverback for encroaching on his terrain.

This was the first salvo in an apparently premeditated strategy by the home side to 'lay down a marker', with all the tedious machismo that this process usually involves. Donegal were definitely caught on the hop, and spent most of their time on the back foot.

Kerry had their reasons, presumably, but it all seemed a tad unnecessary because this team in all its manifestations has never lacked for bottle or competitive courage or appetite for hard ball. Beneath the style and class is a solid foundation of steel.

Maybe they're finally just fed up with the new cynicism as pioneered by the leading Ulster counties over the past decade and more. The hits that are often just fractionally late; the holding onto the ball after a free has been conceded; the verbals; the devious contact off the ball; the feigning of injury; the breaking up of the play; the slowing the clock; the surrounding of referees; all the sundry ruses.

Generally these are micro incidents which, opponents feel, can accumulate over the course of a match into crucial marginal gains.

A prime example from this clandestine sub-culture was supplied last Sunday by Donegal's Neil 'Macho' McGee. Except this time it was caught on camera. McGee's behaviour resembled that of the schoolyard bully playing a nasty prank on some younger kid. He grabbed a lock on Alan Fitzgerald's arm and appeared to be bending back the lad's fingers. It was obviously painful and alarming for the Kerry full-forward. He took evasive action by punching McGee in the face with his free hand. McGee let go with the alacrity of a scalded cat. He'd just received a bloodied nose for his troubles. Fitzgerald was sent off on a straight red and is suspended for one game. He'd have been well entitled to plead a genuine case of self-defence here, on the not unreasonable grounds that he didn't fancy having his fingers broken.

This was in the fourth minute. The tone had been set for the day. The first half was a series of running skirmishes. The home crowd in a 7,000 audience reacted with increasing heat to the various incidents, minor and major, thereby inflaming the climate on the field.

It boils over in the 25th. Aidan O'Mahony throws a hospital pass out to Marc Ó Sé. The latter is bounced around like a dodgem car between two aggressive Donegal tacklers. Neither of these is Michael Murphy. But O'Mahony goes for Murphy anyway, grabbing a handful of his jersey and thrusting his fist into Murphy's face.

Murphy obviously is Donegal's flagship player. He's a fantastic footballer; he also hits hard and often. Kerry seem to be targeting him, as they did in the 2014 All-Ireland final when O'Mahony spent the day dragging out of him. Donegal fans might therefore point out that if Kerry felt they needed to catch up on the tactical cynicism, they'd already done so long before last Sunday.

The two best players on the day were Donaghy and Bryan Sheehan - but both of them should have walked too. And O'Mahony was positively pleading for a red card all match. After tangling with Murphy he proceeded in the same melee to go after Leo McLoone, who was duly sent off for raising his hand in retaliation. Then, for good measure, the Kerry veteran engaged in a bit of chest-bumping with Anthony Thompson.

With all of this going on, poor old Eddie Kinsella had a damnable job trying to keep control. It was hard not to sympathise with the Laois whistler: he could've been forgiven for not knowing whether to throw more yellow cards at them, or just a bunch of bananas.

But he must have known things were fairly bad when even Darran O'Sullivan and Paddy McGrath started squaring up to each other, in a clash of the titans that would've put Donaghy vs Murphy in the ha'penny place.

In the end Kerry won it, as they usually do, with their superior ball play. Which in all likelihood would have won it for them anyway, without having - as Attenborough might explain it - to spray their urine all over the shop.

Asked on TG4 afterwards why the match had been so fractious, Kerry's Donnchadh Walsh advanced an interesting hypothesis. "Look, we've great respect for each other. I think that's it. We have great respect for Donegal, I think they have great respect for us."

So obviously if they had great mutual disrespect, they'd be sending each other flowers and chocolates instead.

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