GAA Football

How Pat Spillane single-handedly saved the GAA

Pat Spillane featured in 10 All-Ireland finals  
Pundit Watch with Seán O'Neill

ANOTHER chapter was about to be added to perhaps the most storied rivalry in Irish sport, as Michael Lyster opened up The Sunday Game coverage of this year’s All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final. 

It was Dublin versus Kerry for the 13th time in the football decider and RTE were laying it on as thick as jam on hot buttered toast. So there was Micko and Heffo, Paddy Cullen and Mikey Sheehy, the Bomber Liston and Sean Doherty. That old glorious footage is as seared into the national sporting consciousness as Ray Houghton finding the roof of the Italian net in Giants Stadium or Barry McGuigan beating Eusebio Pedroza at Loftus Road.

But pundits Colm O’Rourke and Joe Brolly were in no mood to add to the air of reverence nor to doff the cap to the nation’s footballing blue bloods. Although Pat Spillane had also attempted manfully to set the game in its proper legendary context, it was clear that his fellow pundits were itching to puncture the balloon.

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Spillane, (what else could he do?), reminded us that he himself was as integral to the history of the contest as anyone else.

“[It is] one of the great days in the sporting calendar in Ireland,” offered the Kerry man.

“I have been privileged to have been involved in 10 finals. It is 40 years ago, in 1975, since I was involved in my first final. In the early 70s in Ireland, the GAA were struggling [with]‘Match of the Day’ [and] cross-channel soccer teams and then the Dubs changed everything with Kevin Heffernan...they brought the media onside and suddenly people were focussing in on Gaelic football.”

Sensing that he was about to be verbally set upon, Spillane then told host, Michael Lyster: “I know Joe only appeared in one All-Ireland final so he wouldn’t be quite au fait with All-Ireland finals.”

The Derry man, unable to contain himself further, simply assured Lyster: “Pat’s too modest to say but he, Pat Spillane, single-handedly rescued the GAA.”

Things were hotting up. When Lyster brought O’Rourke into the debate by surmising that, although rules and tactics may change, “some of the big rivalries and some of the big days like this remain the same?” the Meath man too remained un-misty eyed.

“Yes, they remain the same,” he agreed.

“Whether it’s good for the life-blood of the GAA to have Kerry and Dublin dominating to the extent that they do is very much open to question because it’s very much an insider’s club at the moment” before in fairness, conceding, “but yes there is something special about a Kerry/Dublin final. I suppose it’s up to everybody else to drag themselves up to that same sort of level.”

Talk then soon turned to whether the match-up was “a dream final.” Spillane was naturally asserting that it was, arguing: “A dream final in soccer is Barcelona/Real Madrid. A dream final in any sport is where you have the two greatest exponents – the two best teams in it and this what you have in the All-Ireland.”

He was quickly interrupted (is he ever anything else) by an incredulous Brolly, who scoffed: “For Kerry people it’s a dream final – why should we care about it in Derry?”

Dream final or not, Dublin claimed their 25th title in what was a poor final played out in fairly dismal weather. O’Rourke told us that “I know people say, ‘you’re always saying this about Dublin,’ [but] Dublin could dominate for a long time...they’re a young team. They’re not going anywhere. They’re going to be around to win All-Irelands for the next five or six years.” They do always say it Colm, they do...

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