Very soon, the elephant in the room will have used up all of the oxygen available to the Mayo football team. At that point, if John O'Mahony is the only man able to put two or three words together, we must hope that he does a little bit better than he did last Monday when, 24 hours after a performance in an All-Ireland quarter-final, which must rank extremely high on the list of Mayo's 'Top 100 Most Gutless Performances', he spent far too much time talking through the personal performance of referee Joe McQuillan and drawing reference to a series of questionable decisions which fell in Meath's favour.
The referee, in my opinion, had an all round rotten game. And, O'Mahony was quite right to feel aggrieved at pretty much every one of the five or six decisions he publicly brought to our attention, including the inexplicable call which led to Cian Ward's absolutely brilliant penalty kick. The Right Honourable Mr McQuillan, bless him, had a disastrously uneven, heavy-handed role in this game of football.
It's true, he super-humanly helped Meath win their place in what might possibly be a fascinating All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry in a fortnight's time.
The Mayo football manager, unlike me, did not come out and announce to the Gaelic football world that Joe McQuillan was simply awful. No, not at all. As a sitting TD, John O'Mahony is far too polite and self-aware, and like any good politician he is not going to be rude and controversial when there is absolutely nothing to be gained, right now, by being rude and controversial.
All O'Mahony asked for, in the future, was transparency when the GAA's hidden, nameless 'assessors' of referees are putting their judgments down on paper. O'Mahony, furthermore, wants these judgments to be made public, which is an extremely silly request because he knows, as you and I do, that there would not be a handful of referees left in the country if this weekly flogging became part and parcel of the league and championship.
Let's return to the elephants!
Yeah, there are two of them, y'see, which is even more reason for the oxygen deficit being experienced these last few days by everyone who has ever known and loved the Mayo football team. The bigger of the two beasts is the aforementioned gutlessness of the average Mayo footballer who has presented himself for inspection in Croke Park over the last decade.
Last Sunday's game was painful and quite distressing to watch, for Mayo folk, for neutrals and, believe it or not, for quite a few Meath fans. There was a period, for four or five minutes, when even this proud, forgotten Meath soldier (that's me) thought it would be okay if Mayo won the game. Anything! Just end the spectacle of Mayo forfeiting games when they actually still have half a chance of winning them. With 15 minutes to go, everyone in the ground knew that Mayo would not– would never, ever, ever – win this quarter-final. All that remained to be seen, with all that time remaining, was the strength of Meath's desire to take their semi-final place. I'm happy Meath did so.
However, I'm still unhappy that Mayo made it so easy for them.
The other elephant in the room, the smaller of the two, is the little matter of John O'Mahony's three-year reign as Mayo team boss, and the question...is the hugely admired and richly decorated coach at his wit's end and all washed up as a team boss?
As much as I have always admired O'Mahony, and still do, I find it quite beyond belief that he did not admit last Sunday and Monday that the men in his dressing room were collectively either gutless or spineless, or perhaps both, when they failed to defend their four points lead with 20 minutes remaining in the quarter-final, and further failed to fight to the death in order to defy the injustice which the referee was regularly dealing them.
The time has long since passed when a Mayo football team badly needs to face up to their own insidious deficiencies as grown, athletic men in search of an All-Ireland title. John O'Mahony was the latest in a long line of Mayo football managers, to pass up on this most necessary admission.
Someone in Mayo, soon, is going to have to voice this truth, if the appalling spectacle of Mayo football teams ridiculing themselves is to ever end.
Moving to a more pleasant subject, let us now talk about the Meath football team of 2009, and wonder what exactly this team is about and what it might become in the remaining weeks of this long football season. Last Sunday, the lads excelled themselves when it mattered. I was proud of them. Everyone who had the massive honour of playing for Meath over the last 30 years was as content as could possibly be, and Seán Boylan especially must have been bursting with happiness.
All of the characteristics which Boylan single-handedly listed for himself, and for us, 10 years ago, and 20 years ago and further back, were there in this Meath team last Sunday.
It's now a number of years since Seán was boss, but last Sunday was like he had never budged from the sideline. For snatches of the game which really mattered, this was Boylan's Meath!
This Meath team is quite limited and low enough on self-belief, but it is also daring and brave, and while Kerry are good enough to win the All-Ireland semi-final by anywhere between 10 and 20 points at the tail-end of this wonderful, surprising and entertaining season, there is a sneaking feeling that Jack O'Connor and Co are still an unhappy, irritable, tired bunch and that they may struggle before falling over the line and into another All-Ireland final. They might even fall short.
This is a semi-final which could have everything, or nothing. That's the way this summer has gone. It has been fooling us and thrilling us for three months, and no pairing in a penultimate game of the championship best summarises what has just passed, better than Kerry and Meath. For starters, both lost their opening games, and got well and truly sickened by Cork and Dublin. In the good old days of 'one bullet and your dead' championship football both teams would, by now, have had maggots coming out of their ears and nostrils.
It's proper to classify Kerry and Meath, therefore, as two zombie football teams. Each has played six games this summer, and since losing in the first round neither team has beaten an opponent whom, in hindsight, hand on heart, could ever have been seriously considered as All-Ireland contenders in 2009.
After losing to pumped-up Cork, Kerry have beaten Longford, Sligo, Antrim and poor, old, sad Dublin. After a losing to pumped-up Dublin, Meath have beaten Waterford, Westmeath, Roscommon, Limerick and poor, old, even sadder Mayo. The common denominator in the list of opponents Meath and Kerry have defeated is a patent lack of quality and genuine All-Ireland pedigree.
Accepting that, Meath have done very well to get to this point. First-time manager Eamonn O'Brien, who only got the job in the first place after a dreadfully tacky and under-handed selection process by the Meath county board, has done well by simply staying calm, and remaining well tuned to the basic principles which have guided and protected Meath football teams in recent decades. It has helped that everyone around him, from selectors to masseurs to physios to head-shrinks are, all, Boylan men and true. O'Brien has done things sensibly.
He has played it safe enough. There is nothing reckless about his Meath team. In fact, Meath's sure-footedness is one of the reasons they got off to such a sluggish start in last Sunday's quarter-final. As Mayo were buzzing, Meath were finding their feet, and it took the team 17 minutes to do so and finally put one point on the scoreboard. For a team which such a massively talented forward division, this was a potentially catastrophic beginning to the game.
Such cautiousness, in an All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry, or an All-Ireland final against Cork or Tyrone, could leave Meath trailing a game by seven or eight points or more. The greatest difficulty Jack O'Connor, or Mickey Harte or Conor Counihan, might have in preparing for this Meath team, on the evidence of the season to date, will be in digging through the general mediocrity of the team's performance over vast stretches of this championship.
The Meath defence looks loose and appears utterly dependent upon the physical presence of Anthony Moyles in the number three shirt. In the middle of the field Nigel Crawford has stepped up in the leadership stakes quite impressively, at this late stage in his career, and with Brian Meade beside him putting in brash and energetic performances, Meath can acquit themselves well enough in this department against Kerry or Tyrone, but would probably find Cork simply too powerful.
Up front, Cian Ward is the star of the show and yet, and I am quite ashamed of myself for writing this, he is no Graham Geraghty!
Geraghty, for all his ego and selfishness, and other unfortunate bits and pieces, was a supreme catalyst. Ward, and Joe Sheridan or Brian Farrell – all three of them combined – lack the mesmerizing, and energizing, quality which Geraghty brought to Meath affairs.
Meath somehow scored a fine total of 2-15 against Mayo last Sunday, but on the evidence of this same performance Kerry will be wondering who exactly they should be fearing in the Meath line-up. And, guess what? Eamonn O'Brien, and Donal Curtis and Bob O'Malley, will probably be quite happy that it is so.