Meitheamh 29th 09
THE LONG ROAD TO CLONES.
Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!! What joy! What sheer unadulterated totally wonderful bloody joy! What a game! What a team! What a victory. I saw it in the Fiddlers Green Pub in San Francisco just before our big Unite Ireland Forum. Me and Mairtín óg and Benny and Richard. At 11 0 clock in the morning. We were joined by Paul and Seamus from Tir Éoghan. They comported themselves with the grace of princely Gaels. All Ireland champions. And they didn’t mind who knew it.
Seamus is a good hearted young man from Coalisland. Paul a much older dude from the same parish. Paul told us maybe we would be better going some where else for coffee instead of wasting our time thinking we could beat Cavan. I told him we had our sights on Croke Park in September. Seamus laughed.
I told him the old joke about Peter Canavan. You know the one? From the era before Tyrone were the Champions? When they were like Antrim.
‘What’s the difference between Peter Canavan and a Falls Road black taxi?’
‘A black taxi can only carry six passengers’.
Seamus stopped laughing.
‘I see your point.’ Said Paul.
‘You’ll see lots more points in the next seventy minutes’ I shot back at him.
We can win, I told myself. This time we can win. Other times in the football we drew the big hitters in Ulster but Cavan was doable. All winners need a wee bit of luck sometimes. Our luck was the luck of the draw. A game against Cavan. A winnable game. I could hardly dare to believe it. But I did. Win. We could win. Antrim could get through to the Ulster Final.
There were two Cavan people at the table behind us. A man and his young son. A couple from Kerry and some Galway folk on high stools at the bar. Me and the Cavan duo wished each other luck. Then the game started.
I can’t remember the detail of it. I need to see it again. A hundred times over. We started slowly as I recall. Cavan were more assertive. They had more possession. But their first effort at a score was a wide. That looked promising. Then another few wides and I felt that things could turn out ok. My confidence grew. Even though we were on the defensive.
Then we started to exert ourselves. The rest is a blur. I remember screaming a lot. And shouting advice. To Terry O Neill. And Tomás McCann. And Niall McKeever. James Loughrey and Justin Crozier. And Kevin Brady.
At half time Maírtín óg ordered a fry. Bacon, sausages, black and white pudding, soda and potato bread. I ate half of it on him as Paddy Cunningham stroked over a point or two. Seamus ordered a fry as well. I ate most of that on him also as Cavan came back at us in the second half. He didn’t seem to mind. I could see he was impressed by the Antrim backs. I was lucky we weren’t drinking. A Coalisland man and his drink would not be so easily parted.
‘We need to watch out for the soft goal. A sneaky goal wud have us in trouble’ I announced to no one in particular but in the hope that the Aontroim defenders were listening.
‘Five points is nothing in football’.
I could have done without that observation, true and all as it might be.
How many times were we here before? Ahead. Playing like demons. Then our focus goes, our coherency disappears, we stutter and stop playing as a team. We get overwhelmed. We lose.
‘Up Antrim’ I screamed. ‘C’mon lads. Aontroim abú. Youse can f***ing do it’.
Seamus looked at me disapprovingly. Then Cavan scored the goal.
The Cavan duo behind us applauded like men gone mad.
I never flinched. I was back in the Falls Park playing for Saint Finian’s against Saint Galls. I was nine. Saint Galls had just scored a goal. I was left half back. Seán Loughran’s quick kick out found me. I went off on a long penetrating solo run before sending a perfect soaring ball forward. Failey Magee fielded it perfectly. He got a point. The winning point. The next day in the back row of Brother Christopher’s class me and Seán Loughran discussed how we would win two All Irelands for Antrim. For hurling as well as football.
So Cavan’s goal didn’t rattle me. But I had fifty one years of almost being an All Star to re assure me. Minnie Mo who texted me every five minutes from Clones broke. She couldn’t watch the rest. And all the while Saint Finians Under Tens were alive and well and running at the Cavan defenders like deer. And then Paddy Cunningham gave us another point.
Two minutes into injury time and all Cavan needed was another goal. But I never gave up hope. My heart stopped a few times but the sight of our team playing like dervishes revived me. At least seven times. And then the ref blew it up.
I phoned our Gearóid at Clones. On the mobile. He was jubilant. I was crying.
‘Youse have no chance against us’ Seamus declared as we left the Fiddlers Green.
But I could see he was shook.
‘See you in Clones Seamus’ I said.
‘Once every thirty nine years isn’t bad’ he retorted.
‘There was a war in between’ I reminded him.
‘You can’t fight a war and play football’ Richard cut in.
And he should know.
‘Remember the black taxi’ I said ‘ I love Tír Éoghan but…….’
‘I know’ said Paul. ‘It’s all on the day.’
Paul is right. Which is strange in itself. But I have to agree.
As David told Goliath, anything can happen on the day.
Aontroim - Ulster Hurling Champions.
Aontroim - Ulster Football Champions.
See you in Clones.