GAA Football

Cahair O'Kane: Perfection doesn't exist, but that doesn't mean you stop trying to find it

 Kerry, Dublin and Mayo have generally offered wonderful spectacles when they've faced each other in recent years, but the rest just need a little encouragement. Picture by Seamus Loughran

THE truth in any situation usually lives in the middle ground.

The thing about that is the middle ground has become such a huge echo chamber. Unless you’re taking a strong stance on one side or the other, you’re only wasting your breath.

Nobody’s interested in reason. If they had been, the western world perhaps wouldn’t have turned upside down in the way it has of late.

Better to do nothing, wait on the outcome and then scream about it, or to live in the echo chamber and go crazy with no-one listening to the sound of your sanity?

There are few middle grounders in the debate on football.

You have the hardliners on the right, gowling about defensive football and ticket prices and fixtures and all of the ills no-one has solved.

Then there are the leftists, those that will defend the sport’s first 0-0 draw when it arrives as merely another step on the evolutionary process to take us where we need to go, and who will hang Saturday night’s events in Tralee from every pillar and post from now until the next classic as proof that nothing needs to change.

Here, the truth definitely lives in the middle. Saturday was like any other day, except sportier. The rugby was unfulfilling.

The Premier League didn’t excite. The Scottish League never does, and the Irish League… were they playing? Who won?

It became a very good day for the GAA. That has had a habit of happening when Kerry and Dublin meet.

But it was far from just them. Cushendall almost hammered down a door that looked reinforced by 10 inches of steel at the break.

Then St Enda’s and Kilcummin bared their spirits out on Croke Park. What a first half of football. Whichever team was going to win that All-Ireland was going to win it right.

And finally, Tralee, where the ghosts of teams gone inspire rather than haunt. Kerry is not a county that would find itself heading an economic recovery, and it’s a struggle to keep the young lads from migrating here, there and everywhere.

But what keeps them home, what keeps them living, is nights like Saturday. A shot at the Jackeens. Where once ’twas only the League, now it matters.

The stand was jammed an hour-and-a-half before the game, before the teams had even arrived.

Even though Mayo’s presence has deflected theirs away from being the defining rivalry of the last decade, the Kingdom have done a fair bit of troubling. Just a bit less winning than they’re used to, is all.

Their 2013 All-Ireland semi-final is the best game of Gaelic football ever played. Not for one second did it relent.

There was barely a wide kicked. It sucked every breath of air from a captivated nation and you could argue that it sucked just enough belief from the green and gold too, given how subsequent meetings have turned out.

Their latest duet was a masterpiece. Gaelic football was dressed in its Sunday best. It was one of those peaks that climbed through the clouds. The kind every sport experiences every once in a while.

It’s Nadal-Djokovic in the 2012 Australian Open. It’s Australia-New Zealand in 2000. It’s Istanbul, it’s The Miracle at Medinah, it’s last summer’s hurling.

Times we need to step back and remind ourselves that while we may strive for perfection now, it’s an alien concept.

Perfection doesn’t exist. There is no perfect sport, no perfect man nor woman, no perfect home, no perfect lifestyle, no perfect anything.

But that doesn’t mean we stop trying to get as close to it as we can.

Gaelic football’s puzzle is not whether it’s perfect, but whether it’s just too imperfect.

The voice of reason in the middle ground says that it is, because the weight of public opinion has caved in on top of it.

The attendance figures released last week are of grave concern, such as to quiet even the shrillest of supporting voices.

Saturday was a shot of helium for them but when it wears off, there must come the recognition that with a little bit of help and a nudge in the right direction, more greatness can follow.

There must also be the admission that coaches and players are never going to do what’s right for the game. They’ll do what’s right for themselves, and that’s exactly what you’d expect.

Jim Gavin publicly supported the removal of the soapbox given to the directly affected. Turkeys don’t see the snow arriving and hand the farmer the gun.

In its very best form, when two teams like his and Peter Keane’s, or James Horan’s as they have, encounter each other it tends to make exhilarating viewing.

It’s naïve to think that they’re doing so for the betterment of the sport. They do it because they have the best resources and they see it as the best way to win.

Others don’t have as much cloth to cut, and so they shape it as best they can to shield their modesties. We’re a reserved people by our nature, in sport and in life, but there’d be a greater attraction in everyone saying stuff it and working off the laws of naked attraction.

That’s basically what it comes down to.

Gaelic football, right now, is the game that’s standing in the airport, six foot two with a chiselled frame and gleaming smile, but with its entire suitcase pulled out and put on over its head.

Layer upon layer upon layer. Sweepers, transition, handpassing, short kickouts.

None of them offensive on their own, but together an often unsightly combination, and masking the beauty beneath.

The game doesn’t want to strip itself.

But if it was forced out of its layers, we’d see more of its true colours.

Kerry and Dublin will always give us that because they’re happy in their own skin.

The rest just need a bit of encouragement.

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