Pundit Watch: Martin McHugh bursts Mark Sidebottom's Championship balloon
AT HALF-TIME of Cavan v Monaghan over on the BBC yesterday, Mark Sidebottom was slapping on the sun cream.
Ready to wax lyrical about 35 minutes of free-flowing, intense, attacking yet oh so close Ulster Championship football, Sidebottom could hardly contain himself as he put it to Martin McHugh and Oisín McConville that, essentially, ‘jeez, this is great stuff lads, isn’t it? Sure where else would you get it? And on a Sunday in June, too?’
Enter the world weary McHugh to burst the balloon Sidebottom had bought especially for the summer’s inevitable blockbuster fare. All-Ireland winning footballer, Ulster-winning manager and all-round cynic, McHugh oozed ‘it’s not all that’ as he slunk back in his seat, visibly uninspired by it all.
“There I was getting all excited, there you go getting all realistic,” mumbled Mark as McHugh slipped his pin carefully back into the front pocket of his suit, leaving Sidebottom holding the remnants of the new balloon in his hand.
Martin was ruthless in the face of Sidebottom’s pleas for a carefree summer: “I wouldn’t get too excited about it now,” he remarked, complacently flicking a shard of rubber balloon off of his kneecap.
“There’s been a touch of class, a couple of very good long-range points… but Cavan are playing very defensive and you just say to yourself ‘Will they live to regret this?’ because a two-point lead with the breeze that’s out there today doesn’t look like it’s going to be enough… but not a great game Mark.”
There was a moment’s silence and then, maybe after a word in his ear, an “I’m going to try it one more time,” from Sidebottom, “Oisín, it’s not been a great game, but it’s not been bad,” he shouted enthusiastically but needlessly across at McConville.
“I’ll give you this, it’s a bit better than we expected,” was as enthusiastic as the south Armagh man was going to get about the first-half at Breffni Park.
“Towards the end, we were seeing the forwards having a lot more success going forward. It hasn’t been as bad as I thought it was going to be and I think, the next 35 minutes, it could open up.”
Suitably chastened, Sidebottom returned us to the action on the pitch: “I must learn to ask questions and not make statements. Thank you for the metaphorical slap from both of you.”
Neither McHugh nor McConville said a word. Then came full-time and Sidebottom decided it was time to play hard ball: “Ronan’s been in touch to say ‘Mark, I’m with you. This is a good game of football, for the second week in-a-row, in Ulster’.
“Martin, it turned into a bit of an epic. I know you will query the level of football but, nonetheless, compelling,” and there wasn’t a question mark in sight, just another statement left hanging there like the limp rubber of his burst balloon.
“Yeah, but the style of play and the system, Mark, is the big thing,” replied McHugh as he drew his favourite pin from his pocket.