Tipping Point: It’s all about knowing when you can no longer leap off the garage roof

Knowing when to bow out is a skill that few master in the world of sport

 John McEnroe  curls into a ball during his match against Andre Agassi at the 1992 Wimbledon Championships. Photograph:  Bob Martin/Allsport

John McEnroe curls into a ball during his match against Andre Agassi at the 1992 Wimbledon Championships. Photograph: Bob Martin/Allsport

 

This lockdown. You never would have thought. Useful things have become useless. The car. Tequila bars. Leinster in the RDS on a Friday night. Zumba class. Croke Park. Special buddy handshakes.

I’ve taken to doing things I wouldn’t normally think of. The splits are a work in progress. Bending my thumb down to touch my wrist. I tried a hand stand and found out my arms were too weak to support the rest. There’s a redistribution going on and I’m not in control of it.

I shout at people cowering behind cars when I’m out walking. ‘Come on out, come out you can pass.’ They look so scared. For some I step onto the road and I never split the families.

I discovered I could still climb up on the garage roof. But if I decided to jump off it like the old days the body would suffer. The ankle would surely go, a couple of phalanges, a metatarsal, then fibula, femur and pelvis. The crumple zone is bigger than ever. Where did all the weightlessness go?

Then all of those memorable moments in sport that you had forgotten are back on television. They’re not for me. They don’t go back far enough.

I tried to find the 1946 All-Ireland football semi-final between Antrim and Kerry free on YouTube knowing that I was possibly the only person who had ever tried.

The Da was playing in that match and because his football career had long finished by the time I came along I never got to see him in a competitive game. The closest I got was an Antrim All Stars match in Casement Park sometime between the release of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ and ‘Dusty in Memphis’. I was stationed behind one of the goals as a ball boy.

He was on 20 John Player Blues a day by then and didn’t mind passing a few hours in The Rock Bar. Cameo role would be a kindly description. Anyway I was only there for the lemonade and buns.

But from the You Tube research I was able to read an account of the controversial match. It seemed to have been one of those days that only the GAA can throw up and in the end a Croke Park spectacle of men and boys. One newspaper observed: “Tempers fray, the game closing on an unpleasant note . . . It was a brave bid by Antrim but they relied too much on fancy methods.”

Ho hum, Antrim and their fancy methods. Hasn’t that always been one of their failings? Reading between the lines and from an entirely biased viewpoint it was almost like a wild Kerry bunch of lads, barely clothed and ululating arrived in Croke Park. Then they did jiu-jitsu on the slick hand passers from The Glens.

From a piece on the website Terrace Talk, Weeshie Fogarty writes:

“The Antrim officials were furious with the Kerry playing tactics and they formally protested to the Central Council and demanded that the result be overturned. However the Antrim players were totally against the objection and their brilliant attacker Kevin Armstrong was quoted as saying. ‘It was a mistake to protest, a regrettable mistake. The county board allowed themselves to be influenced by public opinion and I for one would not accuse Kerry of been over robust in that match.’

Antrim had stormed out of Ulster with their open, weaving hand-passing style of play. Cavan had won 14 of the previous 15 Ulster titles and it was Antrim’s first since 1913.

Somehow the Google algorithm also took me to the West Belfast tennis academy at Fruithill, conveniently across the road from Casement Park and where the Da also played his tennis. My mother Nuala told me that he once took her to Wimbledon. I put my affection for that game down to this and John McEnroe.

The first time I went to Wimbledon happened to be McEnroe’s last time playing the tournament in 1992. I went over to have a peek as you would Roger Federer these days. Every last ounce is gold.

That year the fading punk met the up and coming punk with the peroxide hair and pink Lycra under his shorts, Andre Agassi. It was in the semi-final and the fading former champion lost in straight sets.

McEnroe at 33-years-old found his touch and slice, his placement and position wasn’t enough against the player who returned everything. Agassi, you had to beat him twice to win once.

John O'Shea, a Kerryman as it happens, tells a story about McEnroe back in the days when he was working with Goal. McEnroe was an enthusiastic supporter of the charity. One year in New York he was at a fund raiser with McEnroe, who stood up to speak. The then world number one announced to great applause that he would be making a donation $25,000.

When the noise died down he went on to tell the audience that O’Shea was thinking of publishing his memoir and that if anyone in the room could stop him he’d donate another $25,000.

What was interesting about that year is that McEnroe was ranked 20th in the world and had made the semi-final of Wimbledon yet he decided that it would be his last year playing on the professional tour.

Unlike the Antrim footballers of ’46 McEnroe could see from a distance how the Kerrymen of tennis were going to dismantle him, Agassi and Pete Sampras.

Like the strange times we are living in now, McEnroe had climbed on to his garage roof and realised a different game had arrived. The days when he could leap off were gone.

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