21 September 2006 Edition
The Matt Treacy Column
'Not with a bang, but a whimper'
The All Ireland football championship of 2006 ended in the manner that T.S. Eliot envisaged the end of the world. "Not with a bang but a whimper" - appropriately enough from his poem entitled The Hollow Men.
In the absence of anything else to argue about, GAA anoraks inevitably resort to the history books and statistics. The topic last Sunday was: "Was this the worst ever performance of a team in an All Ireland final?"
We were inclined to agree. There are a few other contenders. Meath perhaps against Galway in 2001? But the score line was more respectable. Certainly Dublin had not covered themselves in glory in 1978 and 1979, but it was a great team in decline that flattered to deceive for periods in both matches. Legs surrendered, not hearts.
Armagh took a hammering from Dublin in 1977 but they had been up for it and were only overwhelmed in the last quarter. From the record books, Monaghan's 18 point drubbing at the hands of the Kingdom in 1930 is compelling, but I have never heard anyone claim to have been there, or to know anything about it other than the score.
Only Antrim in 1911 managed to take a worse beating than Monaghan and beyond that you have a couple of teams who never bothered to turn up on the day. Literally, as in did not travel and conceded a walk over, rather than spiritually as in the Mayo sense.
Apart from the almost surreal period immediately before half time when they got two goals, at no stage did Mayo look as though they were there to provide anything more than a practise match for a Kerry team that clearly set out to exploit the vulnerabilities that other teams from Leitrim to Dublin had identified but were unable to take advantage of. However, even Kerry must have been astonished at how easily Mayo surrendered, and to have found themselves ten points clear at the end of the first quarter.
Kerry players were first to every ball and were coming out with breaking ball that ought to have been safely in the possession of their opposite numbers. They also seemed to have acres of space, especially through the centre. So inviting was the chasm that Seamus Moynihan was tempted into forward forays that reminded us of his younger days. Indeed, he might have had a goal when he found himself with only Clarke to beat but opted for a point. A decent and considerate man is Seamus.
Besides Seamus, nine other Kerry players scored and astonishingly all but two points came from play - an indication in itself of the supine and anaemic nature of Mayo's resistance. For a brief period at the end of the first half David Heaney did get the better of Kieran Donaghy, but for the most part Mayo players seemed to be under the impression that an emergency Congress had adopted the basketball restriction on physical contact.
The most damning statistic of all, however, was that only one Mayo forward, Kevin O'Neill with two goals, scored from play. And bizarrely he was taken off. Perhaps Mickey Moran had a bet on the winning margin. Ciaran McDonald was industrious but his shooting was wayward and he often found himself bottled up by Kerry defenders. Despairing eventually of the dubious benefits of trying to find his inept fellow forwards with a pass, the Crossmolina man gave up as well. He must wonder at times why he even bothers. It is like serving Nuits St. Georges to a teetotaller.
Kerry will not be bothered by the nature of the match itself. It was partly a testament to their own power and talent and it is hard to imagine any other team beating them last Sunday. So poor were Mayo that it is difficult to say for certain, but Kerry were not to know that and were awesome when they needed to be. The most devastating performance in a final by a Kerry team since the late '70s.
Which begs all sorts of comparisons. How good are they and how do they measure up to the great teams of the past? Having endured those eleven long years between 1986 and 1997, Kerry have now won four of the last ten finals and been beaten in two more.
Of course it is not the same team. Moynihan, Darragh Ó Sé and Mike Frank Russell were the only survivors from 1997 to play a part last week. Moynihan and the much, and unfairly, criticised Mike Frank are the only players to have played in all four final victories.
Kerry have successfully made the transition from the Páidí era and overcome the considerable internal questioning that followed the hammering at the hands of Meath in 2001 and defeats by Armagh in 2002 and Tyrone in 2003 and 2005.
Nor will Kerry be overly sensitive about the fact that for the third time in four finals it was a timid Mayo team that was cast in the role of the sacrificial lamb. The old adage tells us that you can only beat what is in front of you. Kerry aesthetes would have preferred a better, if not necessarily a closer, match but what can you do? No county these days is going to turn up its nose at an All Ireland.
As for Mayo, when the dust settles they will find little comfort. They may cast their minds back to that Sunday in late August when they beat a Dublin team that committed collective hara-kiri. Little comfort for either.
For the rest of us, we can get back to club games as county championships reach their final stages after the distractions of the summer. Most appealing is Sunday's Armagh football final between Crossmaglen, who are chasing their 11th title in a row, and Clan na Gael. It is sure to be a lot closer than last Sunday and no one will be leaving early.