All is quiet in the Kingdom camp . . . too damn quiet, if you ask me
Most Kerry people are walking juke boxes when it comes to ballads about dead Kerry heroes
Whenever Tomás Ó Sé Tomás Ó Sé decides to bow out Kerry people will know that the curtain has fallen on an entire era for Kerry football. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Have Kerry finally become the unknown quantity in an All-Ireland championship race?For they are mightily quiet and there is nothing more disconcerting in Irish life than the sound of Kerry people saying nothing.
Mayo’s play has been intoxicating and while all the talk is rightly about them, there has been much loose speculation about what a marvellous advertisement a Mayo-Dublin final would make for the modern game.
Meanwhile, the most prolific All-Ireland winners in GAA history are training away behind the padlocked gates of Fitzgerald Stadium. And you can’t help but think the fact they have almost become an afterthought makes them dangerous.
A few years ago, I went to visit a good friend from Kerry on the eve of an All-Ireland final. This was an All-Ireland final, it should be added, in which Kerry were starring. One of the surprising things about Kerry people is they do occasionally consent to live in places that aren’t Kerry, at least for part of their lives.
They are agreeable about it even if they will remark upon the lack of local amenities, such as Mount Brandon, say, or Banna Strand or not getting served pints from a bar owner who has played in 25 All-Ireland finals.
But they know that it is important to spread the love. It turned out that this quaint Kildare village where my friend lived was busy with Kerry folks that night.
Up For The Match was on the TV in all the bars. The Kerry crowed half watched as the parade of gods from the 1970s and 1980s trotted out to flirt with Gráinne and Des, all the time murmuring cautious promises about what would happen in the final, winking at the camera for effect.
Up For The Match is a good barometer of how a county handles an All-Ireland weekend. For counties whose teams show up once on a blue moon, every bit of banter and exchange becomes weighted with significance and the populations of the interested counties keep fingers crossed, praying chosen guests won’t say anything to rouse the indignation of the fates and thereby scupper their chances.
But the show held no such fears for the Kerry crowd that night. They glanced towards the screen every so often, noting so and so was looking well and reminiscing about the October performance such-and-such gave in the ’88 county quarter-final one Sunday afternoon when he was 43 years old and badly hung over.
The overriding impression they gave on that All-Ireland weekend was they knew what to do with themselves.
They were texting and calling friends, organising pick-ups from the airport, tickets to be left with Ger in the Gresham or to be collected from Barry’s, and speculating who would pick up Colm Cooper when the match actually started.
It was as if the entire county was mobilising and embarking on an All-Ireland operation with Navy SEAL type efficiency. They just knew what they were at because they were used to this.
Around midnight, with all the logistical business finally taken care of, they settled down to singing ballads in turn bawdy and beautiful.
Most Kerry people are walking juke boxes when it comes to ballads about dead Kerry heroes. They sang brilliantly until dawn broke, decided they better call it a night and caught 90 minutes sleep before my friend, the host, awoke everyone with a gargantuan breakfast.
Everyone was on the road by noon and parked in the usual spot near the Clonliffe before meeting assorted friends and relatives in front of The Big Tree and strolling down to duly watch Kerry win the All-Ireland final.
Then they melted away from the capital, happy with another harvest. In the car on the way in, the 1980s finals came up fleetingly in conversation and then someone said, “These are great days too”.
And they have been. Now Kerry are one game away from another September. Have they ever made it this far with such stealth?
Clock is ticking
The decision to leave Kieran Donaghy on the bench for tomorrow’s game is a vital reminder the clock is ticking for several of this Kerry team. As Eamonn Fitzmaurice remarked during the week, this season could represent a “last hurrah” for several senior squad members.
That is a sobering thought for Kingdom fans, who could be forgiving for believing several of this generation would go on forever. Take Tomás Ó Sé, for example.
When you consider this era of Kerry football players, when you look past the uncanny genius of Cooper or the aerial magnificence of the older Ó Sé brother or the all-round game of the younger, when you recall the effortless grace and power of Fitzgerald or the frightening dependability of Séamus Moynihan and after you name check Mike Frank and the O’Sullivans and Ó Cinnéide and the iconoclastic Mr Galvin, it could well be the essence of Kerry’s pomp and consistency is best personified by the middle Ó Sé, sparking off any number of wing forwards, winning awkward ball and always, it seems, producing one of those invaluable cantering points along the right wing whenever the county needed it.
Through Tomás Ó Sé, it is easy to trace Kerry’s modern period of dominance: he made his debut the year after late uncle Páidí guided Kerry back to the bright lights in 1997 and has owned that right wing spot since. Whenever he decides to bow out that Kerry people will know that the curtain has fallen on an entire era.
So there is a cause about Kerry this year. Yes, they are moving into a new phase under Fitzmaurice, but a gilded generation is fighting against time here and there is a do-not-go-gently mood about this game against their metropolitan rivals. Jim Gavin, the Dublin manager, wisely decided against romanticising the Kerry-Dublin rivalry: why have his young team get tangled up in myth and history?
No, it will be up to the Kerry men to ensure this most celebrated of GAA rivalries has another rich chapter by tomorrow night. The Kerry carnival is in town and it is as if nobody has noticed and now you can feel it in the air: Something wicked this way comes.