'The sympathy of the world goes out to Mayo'

Enda McEvoy

Strange days. The RTÉ panel, not exactly a trio of giggly teenage girls at the best of times, are being sexist. Male-on-male sexist, that is.

Diarmuid Connolly is out there wearing a sleeveless top during the warm-up and the lads are positively swooning.

It as though George Clooney has descended among Gaels.

“Jesus,” Pat Spillane goggles. “Biceps. Triceps…” His voice trails off. Joe Brolly echoes him and is unable to muster anything further, so stunned he is by this vision of Irish masculinity.

Fair enough, it’s refreshing to see these deeply middle-aged, deeply anorakish men embrace their inner metrosexual, but am I the only one taken aback by such objectification?

Lads: Diarmuid Connolly is not just a highly toned and taut body. He has feelings too, you know!

Get me out of here for a few minutes, please. A quick push of the buttons takes us to Sky Sports. Two marks for the

adjective Senan Connell, pitchside, employs to describe the atmosphere on All Ireland final day. Correct: ‘electric’, of course.

“The fill is hilling up,” he adds. Six marks to Senan for the Spoonerism of the day.

Who’ll win?

Mayo, says Peter Canavan, who still believes in “a bit of romance”.

Mayo, says James Horan, because of their “sheer force of will and determination”.

Back on RTÉ, where they don’t do romance except when it comes to Dublin substitutes, the favourites are the choice. “There’s more of an x-factor about them,” Pat opines.

The Hill now being entirely filled up and the atmosphere having moved up a level to “truly electric” (Dessie Dolan, on commentary duty with Ger Canning), Joe McQuillan throws in the ball and off we go. Within 90 seconds Con O’Callaghan slaloms his way through the heart of the Mayo defence for a goal that can only be described as Messiesque. Or Austin Gleesonesque, for Waterford viewers.

We know enough of Stephen Rochford’s side at this stage to realise they will not be daunted by such a blow. Sure enough, they come storming back and go in at the interval a point ahead after comprehensively deconstructing Stephen Cluxton’s kickout game.

“Controlled ferocity,” Colm O’Rourke terms it. “Dublin don’t look up to match speed. Maybe all those easy games haven’t been good for them.”

Sharp and snappy as the challengers have been, however, there’s a caveat. With Mayo there always is and their former manager provides it. “Dublin are living off scraps,” James observes. “Mayo should be further ahead. That’s the one worry you’d have.”

Brian Carney furnishes a useful stat. Dublin normally go short from their kickouts two thirds of the time. Today Mayo have forced them to go long two thirds of the time and have hoovered up the crumbs.

When the teams return it turns out that Jim Gavin has summoned the Calvin Klein — sorry, I mean the cavalry. Yes, the RTÉ panel’s favourite supermodel, Naomi Camp-olly, is on and the trio are doubtless reaching for the smelling salts. Unfortunately he’s wearing a jersey, not that warm-up thing. Boo. Hiss.

Dessie immediately diagnoses a “more fluid” Dublin. They hit the ground running and proceedings swing to and fro from there to the end, a signal moment being Donal Vaughan’s dismissal after John Small’s second yellow card. It is ludicrous indiscipline on Vaughan’s part and McQuillan doesn’t cop out. Down the straight they go, neck and neck yet again, until Connolly — who else? — wins a free in the fifth minute of injury time.

Dean Rock converts it. Three is a magic number.

Champions are champions not because they do the most amazing things but because they do the basics correctly when the pressure is at its height. Mayo failed to secure possession from their last two kickouts; Dublin won the decisive free from the first of them and turned the second one over, thereafter running the clock down in signature style. You do not have to love them; you cannot but admire them. Not that Gavin is moved to crack a smile. Cheer up, man. You could be Rochford.

Sky, as if determined to have a Tipperary man on the field at Croke Park this September, hand over to Damian Lawlor. He’s nabbed Rock, who’s commendably sanguine about the free. “It’s my job to put it over the bar. I love being in those situations.”

All in a day’s work.

Yet this final is as much about the losers as the winners. It is the most sorrowful of the myriad sorrowful mysteries of the rosary on Mayo’s beads.

Pat: “This is going to be the hardest to take.”

Joe: “The most savage.”

Colm: “The sympathy of the world goes out to Mayo.”

Indeed. (Note to self: inform Sports Ed well in advance you’ll be washing your hair on the big day next year. Cannot keep writing same article again and again.)

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.


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