Ciarán Murphy: Kerry-Dublin storyline can live without an ending . . . for now

It may not be a satisfactory ending but satisfactory endings are actually pretty rare

Dublin’s Eric Lowndes and Gavin Crowley of Kerry in action during the Allianz Football League Division 1 South game at  Semple Stadium in  Thurles. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Dublin’s Eric Lowndes and Gavin Crowley of Kerry in action during the Allianz Football League Division 1 South game at Semple Stadium in Thurles. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

I’m staying in rented accommodation in west Clare this week, an old house with books of all vintages in every corner, and lying on the sittingroom table when I first walked in was a yellowed edition of the Borstal Boy.

“Now there’s a book I’ve always wanted to read,” I said to myself . . . before picking it up and realising that the back cover was gone, and the last words on the last page left connected to the spine was “A hundred thousand welcome homes to you”.

This presented me with an interesting little quandary. That line comes 379 pages in, and it seems like a nice way of rounding out a famous book about an emigrant prodigal son . . . would it affect my understanding of the book if I ended up missing two or three pages? Or would this be the literary equivalent of walking out of the cinema when Kevin Spacey gave himself up for arrest at the end (but not the very end) of Se7en?

It got me thinking about endings. Dublin and Kerry are the joint-winners of the Allianz National Football League for 2021, and there will be no final played – even though we may have spent all, some or none of a beautiful Saturday evening last weekend watching two semi-finals.

The integrity of the league has been called into question, in the eyes of some, and while the integrity of my Saturday evening was certainly compromised, I find it hard to get too worked up.

Sometimes we get fixated on endings, little realising that we’ve probably taken all the lessons we need from what we’ve seen long before the final page, the final act, or the final whistle.

Joe Canning celebrates his match-winning point in the 2017 All-Ireland SHC semi-final against Tipperary at Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Joe Canning celebrates his match-winning point in the 2017 All-Ireland SHC semi-final against Tipperary at Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

If this year’s National League told us that Kerry and Dublin were the two best teams in the country, but that a final decision on whether Kerry had caught up and overtaken the All-Ireland champions would have to wait until after the conclusion of this year’s championship, then it told us plenty we already knew.

I don’t think anyone needed to see another dress rehearsal, so soon after that extremely entertaining dress rehearsal in Thurles a couple of weeks ago.

So the GAA shouted stop last Saturday evening, and we are forced to come to our own conclusions. It may not be a satisfactory ending, but then again, satisfactory endings are actually pretty rare.

Fourteen years ago last week, the most famous last scene in television history was aired for the first time. As Tony Soprano and his family gathered around a table in that diner, and we were left with those agonising 10 seconds of black screen before the credits rolled, the general feeling around the world was that we had been short-changed.

(More recently, Game of Thrones finished so terribly that the entire world has conveniently forgotten that we ever thought the show was any good in the first place.)

Endings are not easy to nail, and looking for sport to provide us with an ending that we can all live with is even harder to justify. David Chase didn’t run out of time, he finished The Sopranos exactly as he had planned. Brendan Behan ended up writing three or four more lines than were available in my dog-eared version of The Borstal Boy, I have subsequently discovered, but he had all the space in the world.

And then remind yourself of two of the great recurring rivalries of the last decade in the GAA. When Dublin and Mayo met, one was left with the nagging suspicion that if the game was 60, 70 or 140 minutes long (as happened twice, with replays), that Dublin would always have just enough in hand. The story the two teams would tell us would always end with the Dubs on top. They made definitive breaks at vital times, and they were the better team, exhibiting greater control, in the last 10 minutes of all those games.

And then there was Galway and Tipperary, who met in three All-Ireland hurling semi-finals in a row in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and each time, it felt like neither team really won the game, they just happened to be ahead when the music stopped; that if they had kept playing long into the night, neither team was capable of making a definitive move, they would just keep whaling away at each other into infinity.

It ended with two one-point wins for Galway, and one one-point win for Tipperary, but it could easily have been the other way around, or a clean sweep of three wins for either team.

Sport often forces you to retro-fit the actual events of the match to the final result, to try and give the story of the game a conclusion that sits easily with the audience. A Dublin-Kerry league final might have fooled us into thinking it had told us something definitive, but we all know any real answers will come a little deeper into summer.

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