'It is funny the stir it can cause when you say what you think'
Just a few weeks before that, even the dogs were howling in the Kingdom when word spread like a bush-fire that Brolly had called Colm Cooper a “choker” in his column.
The piece had been written while he was on holiday in France . . he claims to have had no idea of the indignation until he returned home. (And the thought of Brolly breezily denouncing Kerry’s favourite son from some chateau must have been even more galling to Kerry fans).
He explained his comment on television and tried to put it in context – that he believed Cooper was one of the all-time great footballers but was suggesting Kerry won so many games on auto-pilot that there was a question mark over how they responded – individually and collectively – to teams with limitless will and self-belief. His fundamental point was lost in the outcry: he had referred to one of the most revered footballers in Ireland as “choking” and that is all that anyone heard.
On the day of the All-Ireland quarter-final between Donegal and Kerry, Brolly happened to be heading into the stadium just as a crowd of hundreds of Kerry fans had gathered outside. A chant went up – “Gooch! Gooch! Gooch!” and eventually Brolly held an arm aloft to speak and when the group fell silent, he suggested they all meet back at the very spot at 5.15. Donegal won – in keeping with Brolly’s June prophesy that they would prove unstoppable in the All-Ireland – and he was back on the footpath at the appointed hour. “Funny enough, nobody showed,” he laughs. “My son was beside me saying, ‘Dad, can we please get out of here’. But I wanted to come back in case anyone turned up and wanted to talk chat about it.”
The incident proved one thing: the Sunday Game panel has a rapt court.
While the rugby pundits are famous for their chumminess and the soccer panel have entered the realm of legend, the Sunday Game pundits are listened to with a rare intent across Ireland.
A man stopped Brolly on the street a few months ago. He explained that he was a carer for his wife and that she enjoyed watching the Derry man’s row with Tony Davis. They had it recorded and played it every so often. Just for the fun of it. “I suppose it has become a part of Irish cultural life and people do get a kick out of it,” he says.
Some of the other Sunday Game team will be on the field for this afternoon’s charity game but Brolly isn’t sufficiently recovered to take part. But he has been inspired by what Alan Kerins has achieved.
“It is all very life-affirming and he is just the right person to be at it. Most of us would throw a few pound in a basket or go to a charity dinner but he has created all of this.”
As for Brolly, he is still getting used to people saying nice things to him. Secretly, he wants to get back to being the class smartass again.
“The halo will fade,” Joe Brolly promises. He’s probably right. He’d be the first to tell you that he’s right about most things.
NB: Ronnie Whelan, Jack O’Shea and Tony Ward are among those taking part in today’s Kerry v Kildare match for the Alan Kerins Project in Croke Park (throw in 4pm). Mick O’Dwyer and Glenn Ryan will manage the sides with commentary from Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh. All players have raised €1,800 to take part on the event. Spectators are welcome. A special gala dinner will take place tonight in Croke Park, with the intention of raising €100,000.