Ireland Correspondent: Gloom lifts over Dublin while sun shines on Cardiff

By Peter Lenaghan
Stop writing the eulogies, call off the undertaker, and tell the doctors they can devote themselves to reviving the ailing economy – Gaelic football has taken a turn for the good and its health is improving as the wet Irish summer drags on.
The rain was falling on Sunday afternoon when I settled into the lounge chair for a sporting feast. We had spent the previous few days in London, flitting about the Cosmetropolis Estuarine, ducking in and out of pubs, trying to catch a cricket score when the chance arose. Almost every glimpse showed Australia was at the crease, grinding out a match-winning total.
Back at home on Sunday I tune in to BBC Radio 4 long-wave to delight in the English backlash. Pietersen’s temperament, Strauss’s tactics, Cardiff’s pitch and Panesar’s tweakers are all in the gun. The erratic Steve Harmison is back in favour. It is all a far cry from the optimism of just a few days ago when the game sat in the balance. I smile as the on-air despair grows. To compound the English misery, wickets start to fall. Pietersen leaves a straight one, the skipper snicks a miscalculated attempt to cut Hauritz, and Prior follows his leader’s example. After lunch, Flintoff and Collingwood are struggling to keep their wickets intact and the match is losing my attention because the football’s starting.
I am growing increasingly enamoured with the Irish game. We arrived here just as the Gaelic championship for 2009 was beginning. And while the players have kicked, the pundits have sunk the boots in.  The game is in trouble, the experts say. No romance, no quality matches, no memories. Not this year. Kerry and Cork are underwhelming, while the west coast teams are just not good enough. The glimmer of hope, most agree, is the Leinster province championship. By Sunday evening that glimmer had broken through the gloom to light up the country.
Dublin has dominated Leinster in recent years, winning four titles in a row, but the lack of a strong local challenger has hurt successive bids to take the All-Ireland crown. This year, Kildare has emerged to not only provide Dublin with the competition it so sorely needs, but to also threaten the capital’s grip on regional bragging rights. A slightly smaller crowd than expected is filling Croke Park for the final as a marching band leads the players on a parade around the pitch. Hill 16 is full.
I try to keep an ear on Cardiff and an eye on the football, but the match at Croker is only minutes old and already dazzling the senses. The Dubs are keen to assert their authority and they take a six-point lead when Barry Cahill sprints off half-back, exchanges handpasses along the way, and puts the ball in the net. Ross McConnell is making all the right moves in midfield, the Brogan brothers are potent in attack in front of the hill. Dublin looks like it wants to better the 27-point flogging it gave Westmeath in the semi-final.
Kildare makes changes in defence and steadies. The scores start to come. First, Ken Donnelly fists the ball high for a point, then James Kavanagh hooks a kick over the bar. As Kildare close the gap, the game takes a violent turn in the Lilywhites’ favour. After a contest on the Hogan Stand wing, Dublin defender Ger Brennan grabs Donnelly’s white jersey, draws him close and belts him on the scone. Connolly goes down clutching his face. My radio earpiece is on the floor. The linesman calls over the referee and Dublin’s centre half-back is sent from the field. The hosts are down to 14 men and Kildare kicks a series of scores. Dublin stays in touch, however, when the veteran corner-forward, Jason Sherlock, escapes his marker and nets. By half-time, Kildare is in front by a point, Dermot Earley is skilfully bringing teammates into the play and Dublin’s position as Leinster champion looks shaky.
Dublin’s inexperienced manager, Pat Gilroy, has been viewed with a measure of caution ever since unexpectedly being named last October as the county’s new boss, or bainisteoir. Many doubts about the manager’s tactical nous will have been dashed by his half-time changes. Paul Cullen steps into the defensive hole left by the dismissed Brennan, and Ciaran Whelan is summoned from the bench to reinforce the Dubs’ midfield. Fourteen-man Dublin takes the ascendancy and suddenly it appears it is the Lilywhites who are one player short.
Kildare’s captain Johnnie Doyle snaps a brilliant score before a clash of heads in front of the hill leaves him bloodied, dazed and in the doctor’s hands. His temporary withdrawal disrupts Kildare’s forward thrusts. Bernard Brogan posts the Dubs’ last five scores and finishes the match with seven points. Doyle collapses on the turf, but regains his composure to shake the victors’ hands. Dublin joins Cork in the All-Ireland quarter finals, while Kildare enters the qualifying draw. The pundits agree the Lilywhites still have a hand to play this season.
Jonathon Agnew is sounding decidedly more excited when he’s reunited with my ear. The Poms are hanging on. Panesar is playing straight and unsuccessfully trying to run himself out. Ponting is telling England’s physiotherapist and 12th man to get off the ground. There are comparisons with the 2005 Ashes series. The crowd roars as Anderson and the off-spinner block out the closing deliveries.
As the players leave the field in Cardiff, heavy machinery is starting to rip up Croke Park’s pitch in preparation for a set of concerts in the coming days by the Irish rockers U2. Sunday’s football match would suggest Bono’s rose-tinted specs are not required to view the Dubs as legitimate All-Ireland contenders, to see that all is not lost for Irish football, or to look on this Ashes series as one that will increasingly capture the imagination.

Comments

  1. Richard E. Jones says:

    PETE: you are going to find this very hard to believe.
    But guess what — the Poms’ physio is a Bendigo boy. He of the incursions onto the field in the dying moments of the Cardiff Test and thus infuriating Punter.
    Surname: McCaig. Yep, same moniker as the famous McCaig cycling family of central Victoria.
    How bizarre is that.
    [For other readers, Pete Lenaghan and I used to call local central Victorian footy matches most Saturdays back in the mid-2000s for a Bendigo FM radio station.]

  2. uncle tony says:

    Pete
    Have you been to the hurling?My grand father Mathew O’Brien was, accoring to family legend a
    ” champion hurler” playing at the tender age of 16 before coming ot Australia where he adapted his hurling skills to play a few games of footy for North Melbourne.While you have nothin to do have a look at a game and do a bit of research.Apparfently another of my great great uncles on the other aide was also a bit of a hurler (molotov cocktails for an IRA Team)his name was Brendan
    footnote:Saints are still undefeated

  3. pauldaffey says:

    Uncle Tony,

    You’ll have to write a piece for the site about your grandfather. He sounds a fascinating character.

  4. pauldaffey says:

    PS. So why don’t you barrack for North Melbourne?

  5. Tony Dalton says:

    The St kilda link is paternal. Great grandfather and grand father patrons of early St Kilda and have only recently unearthed the maternal connections.The paternal side is also a bit mysterious with lots of stories stiil in the closet and murmurings of conenctions with Irish disssent and Anglers Club of Melbourne ( unable to trace ) which I think was a front for SInn Fein etc.I am going to Ireland soon and will do a bit of digging around on both fronts I think there could be a good story on both sides of family.

  6. Uncle Tony,

    May you always find safe houses when you’re in Ireland.

    And buy your nephew a pint. He’s doing it hard without you being on his back about his nine teams before his ninth birthday.

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