Wednesday 20 November 2019

Croker the place to see real heroes

He's a hero and a legend. An all-time great Hall of Famer. A 'back in my day' man, he is. "Back in my day, football was for the brave and the true, men with pointy- piston elbows and hearts as big as the turnip that took the red rosette at the Tullamore Show."

For him, the sliotar was a plum. Sure, wasn't he the reason they put the leather strips on the ball -- to keep it from getting squashed. Ninety yards he'd puck it into a gale that would lift Margaret Thatcher's stiff, starched, corrugated iron skirts high above her head into an inverted umbrella.

After the game he'd drink a couple of quiet gallons. Sing a 37-verse bespoke ballad all about himself and off home at a gallop after shiftin' three women, who were stone mad about him. Hands outside the ganzee mind and dry kissin'. He didn't hold with going too far as he was a gentleman and a loyal son of the church.

He'd drink a churn of tae when he came home and eat three packets of Mariettas, buttered on both sides by the mother with a trowel.

Stories from him at home that night were that good that if you dropped a pin on the slate floor it seemed to make as much of a clatter as the anchor of the Titanic falling from a space shuttle onto the Ha'penny Bridge.

But man, could he make the concertina talk and before he'd go to bed there would be another gallon of buttermilk -- sweet as colostrum and sticky as toffee.

He'd sleep with one eye open on the donkey's back so he'd be ready to go the bog at dawn. Bare-chested he was, with the space of motorway lane between his nipples.

The slean was a penknife to him and he'd cut away the turf like a cut-throat razor through shaving foam.

Another gallon of porter and off with him to Croke Park on the bike, his member strapped to his ankle with duct tape in case it gets caught in the spokes; and he passing out Baby Fords going uphill even though there's a hundredweight bag of his own spuds on the carrier for the auntie in The South Circular Road, who says the Dublin praties are no bigger than women's Adam's apples.

Later that day he wins his 13th All-Ireland, scoring 2-13 off play, and the vanquished goalie will never again have his fortune told. The sliotar went straight through the net minder's palm from the hero's cannon of a 70.

We used to have a customer like that in the bar when I was a kid. There's no better education than a few semesters behind a bar counter.

I asked a sage of a similar age. "He never hurled or kicked a ball in his life," the pensioner replied. "He wouldn't blow the grey wisps off a dandelion."

The hero was a hero in his own mind. He was safe enough most of the time. Nearly all of his contemporaries were dead or dying. Most of the rest had emigrated, or were doting.

There were a few who, in return for praise from the hero, would quietly whisper to you that the great man was indeed a bona fide champion, like himself.

Sometimes, I get too much of the old days. If the old days were so good, how was it our young people left in their hundreds of thousands and if the old days were so good, how is it babies were hungry and died from diseases that could be cured today by a teaspoon of penicillin?

I pity Lar Corbett. He's a publican now and for €3.90 compensation -- the price of a pint -- he will suffer far more than anything Tommy Walsh inflicts on him tomorrow.

Paidi O Se often says to customers, "Wait there, I'll be back in a minute," when they start telling him how great they were, and all the All-Irelands they would have won only for the back being so bad, or the front being too good.


A man I know was in Jimmy Murray's famous pub in Knockcroghery, up in Roscommon, a few years back, in the company of a solicitor friend from the midlands.

Jimmy, who was a real hero with All-Irelands to prove it, was fit to crack up from the bore in the corner who was forever telling him how to play football.

"What would happen to me if I killed him?" Jimmy asked the visiting lawyer.

"You'd be fined a tenner Jimmy," replied the solicitor, "and warned by the judge if you ever did it again you'd be in serious trouble."

My own nightmare is having to listen to Joe Brolly in the pub for hours on end, and he knocking the Gooch -- the classiest and most courageous of players. Oh, but dear God, what did I ever do to be visited, even in thought, by such a visceral fear? It's a dandruff stuck to Velcro haunting. I just can't shake it off.

Joe, who was a good player, does have one All-Ireland medal more than I have.

We must be fair. But then again, the Gooch has four times as many All-Irelands as Joe.

For real men and real heroes, tune in, or walk in to Croke Park tomorrow for Tipp and the Cats.

If you're a spoofer out there in the fray of a neighbour's All-Ireland semi-final, you'll get found out ever before the last bar of the national anthem is drowned by the roaring of the crowd.

Irish Independent

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