24 January 2008 Edition
First shock of the year
IN WHAT was officially heralded as the “First Shock of the GAA Year”, Antrim hurlers beat Kilkenny last Sunday in the Walsh Cup. And not only that, but the match was in Freshford. The Cats were without most of their big guns – with only five of the All-Ireland team starting – but even so, a win over Kilkenny is always something to be cherished.
I am not sure what the betting was but you would probably not have been refused 20/1 had you sought to invest your money on the Saffrons which, in bookmaking terms at least, puts it up there with some of the bigger shocks of recent years, albeit not in a competition or at the time of year when many never pay much mind.
Which got me to dwelling on some other upsets of recent and not so recent times.
ULSTER is probably the most treacherous province for favourites and Armagh, as All-Ireland champions, were at the receiving end in 2003 when caught on the hop by Monaghan. But then perhaps they had been lulled into a false sense of security by listening to all those Monaghan folk who seemed to have been under the impression that they, and not Armagh, had beaten Kerry the previous September.
Armagh were also ambushed by Fermanagh in the 2004 All-Ireland quarter-final when shrewd chaps like myself had them backed at 5/1. I celebrated my winnings by running home from work a few days later wearing my ‘Tracey Concrete’ Fermanagh jersey. I noticed an IL registered car slow down and then stop on the side of the road.
Having weighed up the possibilities of my being abducted or asked for a lend of money, I kept going and when I came abreast, a chap leaned out the window and said “Whereabouts you from?”
“Finglas,” I replied cheerily. They drove off with puzzled expressions.
OF course, Dublin have been the victims of several surprises over the years although the more you see the less surprised you are.
An early shock for me was when Laois beat Dublin in 1981. And it happened again a few years ago. There’s just something not right about that. It’s like seeing a horse riding a bicycle.
Portlaoise in the 1990s was a bad place for Dubs when there were lots of upsets. It seemed that every county that had never won anything before had to beat Dublin as a rite of passage. 1992 with Donegal was the worst but of course I saw the whole thing through with dignity.
My favourite shock, however, was when Clare beat Kerry in the 1992 Munster final. We were locked up in Portlaoise Jail, listening to it on the radio and it had just finished before they let us out. A certain now elected representative was walking nonchalantly along ‘The Threes’, affecting not to notice the considerable number of chaps who were shouting at him, asking him who won the match, Porky Lynch being the worst offender. “Who won the match, hey? Who won the match?”
In fairness to the said elected rep he managed to get halfway down the landing before exploding. “For fuck’s sake! Clare are going to beat Kerry once every 50 years!” I tell you. It was no place to be when your team lost.
Two of the biggest historical shocks also involved The Kingdom on the wrong end.
The first was in 1957 when Waterford beat them in Fraher’s Field in Dungarvan. It was later claimed that former Kerry player Mixie Palmer had brought some of his former team mates on the tear the night before.
The other Kerry-related upset came the following year when they were beaten by Derry in the All-Ireland semi-final. Derry had just won their first ever Ulster title and had only ever been in three previous Ulster finals so it was a massive surprise when they overcame Kerry. Thankfully, that was the end of it as Dublin beat them in the final.
HURLING’S unpredictable years have been rare.
Galway and Offaly in 1980 and 1981 and Clare and Wexford in 1995 and 1996 have been the only truly remarkable upsets in a long time, although it could be argued that both hurling and football have been relatively more competitive in recent times than historically.
Seven different counties have won the Liam McCarthy in the past 20 years, the same as in the previous two decades, while in football ten different counties won between 1988 and 2007 compared to seven for the 20 years before.
In truth, though, there is little prospect of major upsets in either code in 2008. Despite their minor slip to Antrim, it is difficult to see Kilkenny being beaten this year, especially as the new draw will, if anything, favour them and their closest competitors are perhaps past their best days, or – in the case of Galway – not quite ready to ‘step up to the plate’ in that awful cliché. Next year though...
LIKEWISE in football, everything seems to favour Kerry. Competitors are in decline and it could well be, given Tyrone’s ongoing injury malaise, that Dublin and Monaghan might again prove to be their main threats although whether either are capable of unseating them is another question altogether.
But there will be surprises along the way even if they no longer have the same cachet as they once had, given that even if Waterford or Clare do beat Kerry in the Munster semi-final, it will mean probably little in terms of the actual final destination of the Sam Maguire due to the innovation of the ‘back door’.
I, meanwhile, am off to join the other sturdy and intrepid band of souls in Parnell Park to watch Dublin and Carlow engage in some mud wrestling. I trust that there will be no surprises there. But if there is, you can take it from me you will not be reading about it here next week!