Pundit Watch: Pat Spillane rides off into the sunset with the last word

Pat Spillane with Colm O'Rourke and his old nemesis Joe Brolly
Pat Spillane with Colm O'Rourke and his old nemesis Joe Brolly

MAYBE knowing it was Pat Spillane’s last day at the office caused the nerves in the Kerry camp. But the lads got it together in the second-half. They couldn’t let Pat down on his big day.

After three decades in the hot seat, it was fitting that Spillane would ride off into the sunset as the sun rose on a glorious new day for Kerry football, two of his nephews among the victorious Kingdom crew. Thirty years is as a long time, so long that, as fellow analyst Sean Cavanagh remarked looking back at some old clips, it was easy to forget that Pat actually used to play the game. Not that Pat would let you forget in a hurry.

For most of the afternoon, despite the retrospectives and presentations, Pat did his best to treat this like any other All-Ireland final. But eventually, the occasion got to him.

“In 1964, my father was a selector for Kerry against Galway [All-Ireland final, which Galway won],” he said on the final whistle, audibly choking back tears, “and the night before the game, he’d a pain in his chest, wouldn’t go the doctor, went to the game the following day and was dead on Tuesday, and Kerry-Galway matches, to me, always bring back this memory.

“My father never saw us play – the three sons [Pat, Mick and Tom] – and today the three sons have 19 All-Ireland medals and his two grandsons, Killian and Adrian, have two more. He would’ve been a proud man to have 21 All-Ireland medals, senior football medals, into his house, so it’s just a special day.”

Despite all past dissension, the nation was surely at one in taking Pat to their hearts in this moment as Cavanagh and Ciarán Whelan offered moral support in the studio – but that was a détente that came only after the usual north-south sparring.

"I think we're set up for a great day," was Cavanagh’s introduction, "and then you have Pat's retirement, which is even better!

“From people in the north of the country, I have to say thanks for all the motivation you’ve given us over the years. I know we love to hate you but I think we’re going to miss you at the same time, so I think there’s a compliment in there somewhere.”

Wearying of the broad smile on Cavanagh’s fresh face, Spillane was quick to put an end to this faint praise, “Can I just say, I haven’t died you know, I haven’t gotten to the end of the road either, I’ve just gotten to a turn in the road.”

Getting down to business, when it came to weighing up this Kerry team, Spillane knew where the difference was between last year and this, “Paddy Tally is the grain of rice that can tip the balance, their hard work off the ball, their tracking, their tackling is what he brought to this Kerry side,” and Cavanagh just couldn’t take it, “It was puke football 19 years ago,” the Tyrone man tried to interrupt, “What I see with Kerry this year is a hard working team,” continued Pat, blissfully unaware, “That’s exactly what we did in 2003, there’s no difference,” said Sean, slapping a finger against the palm of his hand for emphasis, while Spillane pretended he wasn’t there, that there was even any such thing as a Cavanagh, a Tyrone, an Ulster even.

But then Spillane – ever the man of contradictions, like the rest of us poor souls – did concede that Peter Canavan was the best player he’d had the pleasure to watch over the last 30 years, beyond Kerry men of course.

And his parting words? “We are reclaiming the game from the bluffers and spoofers and snake oil salesmen, slowly but surely.”

Slán leat Pat.