Is Dublin’s history against Kerry about destiny or bad timing?
Jim Gavin’s team have the opportunity to re-write traditional narratives but have they the confidence?
The retirement took place at the weekend of Philip French, the distinguished film critic with London newspaper the Observer. As someone who had accumulated through more than half a century in journalism a formidable knowledge across the arts spectrum he managed nonetheless to wield it deftly and illuminatingly.
In a retirement question-and-answer session in Sunday’s issue, film director Ken Loach asked him the obvious question: why are you retiring so early? French commented that it was a charming question but slightly side-stepped it by simply saying he had decided some time ago to go on his 80th birthday, which falls shortly.
The exchange reminded me of a conversation with Jim McCartan, the great Down player of the 1960s and father of current county manager James. It took place over 20 years ago in the run-up to the 1991 All-Ireland final in which James was involved as a player. I asked his father, twice Texaco Footballer of the Year, why he had retired before he was even 30. He said that a friend from Kerry – the father of Armagh All Star from the 1970s Paddy Moriarty – had put it best: “Better go and have people wondering why than hang around and have them asking why you haven’t.”
Timing is important. Philip French modestly but realistically said in answer to another question last Sunday, this time about the waning influence of print journalism, that he wasn’t “anything like as influential as my longest-serving predecessors Caroline Lejeune or Dilys Powell”.
The reference to the times in which you live and work reflects a context that is important in any walk of life.
Played against Kerry
Jim McCartan played against and beat Kerry on the two occasions the counties met in championship, the 1960 All-Ireland final and the following year’s semi-final. His brother played in the 1968 All-Ireland win over Kerry and his son played, in 1991, on a Down team that again beat the Munster champions and 19 years later, managed another to do the same.
It’s one of the championship’s great jinxes. Kerry have lost every championship match played against Down. Yet everyone in the Ulster county would know that had they encountered the same opposition in virtually any year between 1968 and 1991, their record would have ended there and then.
There remains, however, enough of the mystical about this sequence to make Kerry people stop and think. Most recently, three years ago, Down were 3/ 1 outsiders and they still maintained the record.
On Sunday a full house at Croke Park will witness the latest instalment in football’s most mythologised fixture when Dublin face Kerry in the second All-Ireland semi-final. Will the outcome be governed by timing or myth?
The power of myth in Gaelic games was most pithily summarised in conversation with a colleague who said: “In the GAA teams that always beat teams, always beat them.”