Even now, seven days after watching Kilkenny claim their first hat-trick of All Ireland titles in over three quarters of a century, I remain thankful, and as giddy as I have ever felt since I was 10 or 11 and had just feasted upon my first All Ireland final of any kind. We witnessed brilliance, greatness, perhaps the most complete performance in GAA history. I'm 46 and a half years old and this was the first time I was treated to GAA perfection.
Next Sunday's All Ireland final will quite possibly be thrilling and entertaining and, yep, Kerry will win decisively enough in the end. I've no doubt about that. They'll claim their three-in-a-row too.
And good for them. They deserve it. This Kerry team is vulnerable, magnificent in some of its parts, and amazingly gutsy but fairly mediocre in other places, although this is one All Ireland which should indeed be brought home and enjoyed every mile of the way, and remembered for many months.
Kerry look true All Ireland champs, even if there is one game left. This does not mean I think they are a great team. Nor do I believe this team, this year, or any year in the last three, has ever touched on brilliance. Let's not, in post-September days, disrespect Kilkenny by mentioning these two teams in the same breath. No matter what happens next Sunday, let's not forget what we saw on 7 September.
On that date, it was made clear there is one great art still alive and well in our fine old association. Hurling is king. Gaelic football is just some subject, especially these last nine years since Meath won the 1999 All Ireland football final, which presented two hopeless teams in the greatest abomination of a finale I have ever witnessed in, well… roughly 46 years.
Still, I'm looking forward to a game which presents us with two 'losers' (we can't forget that each has lost once this summer), but losers who have been deserving of a second chance. We've got the defending champs, all guts and glory. And we've got Mickey Harte and Tyrone – footballers, mathematicians and physicists, in their thinking and application. It's going to be some game.
At the conclusion of the semi-finals, I imagined at first that little would separate these teams. But I'm thinking a lot differently this morning, and by next Sunday I fully expect to be in a state of mind which will have me believing that Kerry will win a good contest by between five and 10 points.
Two things, really, have me honestly believing the winning margin will be in that range (or possibly greater), and these are: (1) The Paul Galvin and Stephen O'Neill factor; and (2) The Wexford factor. Let me quickly deal with the latter as I do not wish to denigrate Wexford's unbelievable summer... except to say it was not believable. Wexford were a good, well-tutored, middle-of-the-road team, who got stuffed by Meath (they really did) and Dublin in Leinster, and who should never have been within an ass's roar of the All Ireland semi-finals. And Tyrone made really, really hard work of them two weeks ago. And that worries me, and makes me worry for Mickey Harte, who is the greatest coach in the last 25 years of the game but who is going to have to conjure a 200 per cent performance from this team if they are to win a third All Ireland title in his reign. And that's not going to happen.
If I had any doubts about that, then they were throttled by the incredible decision to welcome Stephen O'Neill home, and take the fatted calf, spank his backside, and roast it in a great big 'homecoming' celebration. This has been one of the very rare occasions in which Mickey has blinked and missed something huge!
All we have to do is compare the return of Galvin with the return of O'Neill. But, in truth, there's no comparison. One case is the story of a man who was wronged, and was the victim of one of the great acts of administrative GAA thuggery of the last decade, and who will instantly add an extra 10 per cent to one dressing room. O'Neill, upon entrance, adds nothing to the other.
On the field, if he does get enough game time, and if things go Tyrone's way, and if he is able to tune himself into the team psyche, and if he does actually get two or three balls, and if he does score, O'Neill's return will have been worth it. Harte then has either blinked, or gambled. O'Neill will not be wholeheartedly and universally welcomed into the Tyrone team until he has scored, or brilliantly contributed to, the winning point next Sunday. Until then, every second Tyrone footballer will be wondering what the hell he is doing back with his kit bag.
Honestly, ignore the rallying statement from Sean Cavanagh, that it took the team all of three or four seconds to decide to open their arms to O'Neill. Cavanagh is speaking for himself, Gormley and Dooher, and one or two others perhaps, but anyone who has lived and breathed within a team knows that, in the dressing room, resentment and doubt and dislike all exist, and cultivate one another, inches below the surface.
O'Neill is a stranger to the Tyrone team right now, and that's not good. In fact, it's a bit of a disaster if you ask me, Mickey.
There is a good chance O'Neill will rob Tyrone of a vital 10 per cent, which they can not afford after, perhaps, recording their one great display of the year against Dublin and then taking two steps back in the semi-final with the mediocrity and uncertainty which had characterised great portions of their first five games this summer. Maybe Tyrone hit their high in the quarters, and maybe Harte knows it only too well. Maybe he knows he's going to have to gamble, almost everything, to win his third All Ireland title. Galvin is everyone's friend in the Kerry dressing room.
Outside of that room, he is a character who does not attract much affection. And that's a pity. As Pat O'Shea so rightly reminded everyone this week, it is wrong that any footballer or hurler should have their family's privacy, or their own good name, damaged by journalists who, really, don't know Galvin from Adam. All I know about Galvin is that he is a schoolteacher. And a decent footballer. Let's stick with the latter. Galvin likes to play the hard man, and that's fine. Except, nobody believes Galvin is a hard man. He only ever manages to be an annoying, petulant little fella who takes advantage of a 'safe' stage to throw what little weight he has about. He does not make the grade as a hard man, and that's why Gaelic football fans have precious little patience for him.
Inside, it's completely different. Inside he is also viewed as a 'lightweight' jumping out of his skin to get into a higher division, and he is the source of some amusement, some admiration, and therefore Galvin is a possible 10 per cent gain to Kerry. And a 10 per cent gain seven days before the game is even played. Quite a difference to O'Neill.
The script was written Sunday after Sunday during this championship. Galvin's dismissal for the infantile, but harmless act of knocking a referee's book out of his hands, began Kerry's season and his formal return book-ends it superbly. In between, nobody could have written it either.
Kerry were knocked left and right, and they were knocked on their rear end. The team took three games to overcome a brittle Cork during the months of July and August. But Kerry were strong against Monaghan. And Kerry were stronger still, and powerful, against Galway.
It perfectly sums up the mediocrity of the modern game that this Kerry team might clinch a hat-trick of All Irelands. But if and when Galvin lifts Sam, nobody can doubt they have worked and sweated, and won the admiration of the country this season.
This season, and this season only, they've won my complete and total admiration too.