Ian O'Riordan: The befuddling summer for Kerry football men

Confusing scenario reigns in the Kingdom as their destiny lies in Galway’s hands

David Clifford: his goal against Monaghan gives Kerry a chance of making the All-Ireland semi-final if they beat Kildare – and Galway defeat Monaghan. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

David Clifford: his goal against Monaghan gives Kerry a chance of making the All-Ireland semi-final if they beat Kildare – and Galway defeat Monaghan. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

These are befuddling times for a certain breed of Kerry men. The turf has been cut and footed and saved since before the end of June, only still no word yet on the summer holidays.

This is because there was an age not long ago – or at least before we had such hot dry summers – when a certain breed of Kerry men planned their summer holidays and even their honeymoons around the third Sunday in September. This of course being the same age when it was taken for granted that Kerry would be in the All-Ireland football final.

I know that because my dad is a part of that breed. There were occasional rallying cries from my mother – ‘Dublin for the Sam Maguire, Kerry for the holidays’ – only this was mostly futile rhetoric. He was going nowhere until after the All-Ireland, and that included the year of their honeymoon. How the marriage still survives we’ve no idea.

Con Houlihan was a part of that breed too. Some people will always remember how he once lived and breathed for that third Sunday in September, before exactly six years ago already, he went off into the good night, or rather the good morning, on that first Saturday in August 2012.

You can’t read through any of Con’s great volumes of work without quickly finding some reference or tale of the All-Ireland football final, especially when Kerry were involved. For him it all began in the same year as an unsuccessful artist called Adolf Hitler had started a commotion that became known as World War Two, and Con was at an age “deemed fit to be unloosed on the good people of Dublin”. Now read on.

“On that September long ago, I hadn’t been beyond Tralee; Dublin seemed to me a city of magic – as enchanting as Paris or Petrograd or Samarkand itself. Fuel was scarce and thus an institution known as The Ghost Train began voyaging to Dublin and into folklore.

“It departed from Tralee on the stroke of midnight (and if you believe that...) and only God knew when it would reach Dublin – and I suspect that there were times when even He wasn’t too sure. Women wept as their menfolk set out from home, fearful (perhaps in some cases hopeful) that they would never see them again.”

How Con then details this journey on The Ghost Train is a timely reminder of his famous economy and loyalty to words, not once being pushed around by ordinary standards, as if measuring each sentence in the low hum of metres and syllables. All gospel according to Con.

“It was described as Puck Fair On Wheels and bequeathed an orgy of stories, some of them authentic. Its hero was a man from Portmagee – and if you think Cahirciveen is a long way from Dublin, you haven’t been to Portmagee.

Maiden voyage

“He too was making his maiden voyage to Croke Park. And as we passed by Newbridge, he said to us: ‘Don’t some people live very far away...’ The more I think of it, the more I believe that he wasn’t entirely wrong; Newbridge is, after all, a long from way Portmagee. And that is why I am never too happy when I encounter the word ‘remote’. You ask yourself: ‘Remote from where...’ Paris is remote from Lyrecrompane – but I never heard anyone referring to it as remote.”

This was his classic method of diversion and by way of warning against the modern bruising and battering of words, or at least when the old Fleet Street still retained some vestige of honour, and before WhatsApp started breaking all the rules. He certainly hated most abbreviations, blaming their existence on laziness – except for ‘bike’, which he agreed conveyed both the hardiness and swiftness of the bicycle at the same time.

And long before some of Con’s own immortal words, “that a man who will misuse an apostrophe is capable of anything”, or the time he described The Irish Times as “that last bastion of the semicolon”, he had been waging war against cliché and some other idle phrases too.

“Did you ever see someone ‘beating about the bush’ or ‘being touched with a bargepole’ or did you ever see someone ‘coming down on somebody like a ton of bricks’? Of course I haven’t forgotten ‘sooner or later’... When politicians say this, you can be certain that it will be later rather than sooner.”

Worse still were the words taken out of his control; some years after moving to Dublin, he reported on Kerry beating Dublin in a league game in Croke Park, highlighting the fact a young Jack O’Shea has played the proverbial stormer. He picked up The Cork Examiner the following morning and there was his brainchild spread across eight columns – THE DAY OF THE JACKO

“Oh dear, dear – it unmade my day.”

It was also in Dublin’s Fair City that Con once noticed a street nameplate that said: Bachelors Walk.

“Indeed they do; so do spinsters and postmen and small dogs and big dogs and a great many other creatures that live on this planet”.

It was also during one of his first visits to Dublin for an All-Ireland football final that Con recalled spotting a well-known delicatessen advertising a variety of ‘sandwhiches’, and later, feeling properly confused at a small restaurant that was offering the choice of three ‘deserts’.

Confusing scenario

All of which is a minor diversion from the confusing scenario now facing this breed of Kerry men. As if not already befuddled enough by the moving of the All-Ireland football final to the first Sunday in September – or worse still the last Sunday in August – Kerry’s fate is not entirely in their own hands.

And it’s not unfolding in Croke Park either, but down at Fitzgerald Stadium on Saturday evening, where Kerry need to beat Kildare, and then hear what happened at the same time up in Salthill between Galway and Monaghan. A win or a draw for Monaghan and Kerry are out, no matter what.

There is also the potential for some basic arithmetic should Kerry win and Monaghan lose: Monaghan’s scoring difference is currently +2, and Kerry are –3, so a five-point swing would be required to send Kerry into the All-Ireland semi-finals. Only will that be enough for all breeds of Kerry football men to stave off the long winter until after the summer holidays? 

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