During the long goodbye to John Bowman's Monday night political shoot-out Questions and Answers, a month or so ago, I stayed extremely quiet. Not one word from muggins, who is not a man to spoil another man's lap of honour, was uttered. Until now!
You see, in a former life as an... ahem... national newspaper editor, I was invited to sit with John Bowman, on his long top table, on four or five occasions. And let me tell you now that it was neither a breeze nor a brush with near death. It was actually quite pleasant. The topics on each occasion were supplied to me each Monday morning, as they were to all of the guests and I had a whole day to research, copper-fasten and eventually spill out my answers when they were asked by someone deep within the Questions and Answers audience later that evening.
And as you all surely know, many of the audience had political affiliations which led them to ask soft questions of their own candidates at the top table.
Getting the full picture?
So before and after Bowman's very last offering of Questions and Answers I was very interested to hear politicians and journalists queue up to describe the fearful, if not quite terrifying ordeal, of being asked onto the show – to be asked questions (most often, by one of their friends or acquaintances) which every politician already had asked of them and answered for them by one of their many handlers earlier the same day.
My, oh my, the glory of make-believe!
Out of respect for the host himself, and due to a smidgeon of cowardice as well I suppose, I chose not to throw myself in front of The Bowman Express earlier this summer. It feckin' well hurts when you throw yourself in front of a train. Last time I performed such a one-man act was when the Kerry team was on its way to the fourth of its five consecutive All Ireland final appearances in the middle of this decade.
Remember that? Footballers, journalists, butchers, bakers and candle-stick makers rolled all over me. Nobody stopped for a word. Nobody appeared very interested in asking me why I was saying that the Kerry football team was not as good, not at all as perfect, and not nearly as strong and resourceful, as everyone was concluding.
It was much easier for everyone inside Kerry, and outside, to also make-believe that this Kerry team was one of the great wonders of the GAA. Nobody asked any questions. Everyone believed what they were seeing, as Kerry appeared in, and won a series of, the most forgetful All Ireland finals in modern history.
This week, last week, the week before that, everyone is talking about Kerry. The train is off the tracks. Looking back over the last few years it is, all of a sudden, quite clear to everyone that Kerry were heading for some trouble. Too many positions on their All Ireland-winning teams were filled by characters who were barely credible as inter-county footballers. In the whole of The Kingdom, shockingly, over a 10-year period, not one decent midfield pairing could be found. Luckily, the Ó Sé's were the Ó Sé's, all three of them!
But despite Darragh, Tomás and Marc, the Kerry team we have witnessed over the last decade has clearly been inadequate by the county's own high, righteous standards. Then there was the young man called The Gooch! And after him, there was the young man called Star! And, I promise you, I'll get to these two fine young gentlemen in a minute or two.
But first, welcome to the summer of 2009.
Kerry have neither a full back nor a settled full-back line. Kerry have neither a centre back nor a recognisable half-back line. They still do not have a midfield pairing and, soon enough, once Darragh Ó Sé accepts that it is all over, they will not have even one fully seasoned, completely believable midfielder on the team. As well as all of this they do not have a captain who is sure of being on the field either at the start or the end of any game. Longford could have beaten Kerry in the qualifiers. Sligo should have beaten Kerry in the qualifiers. Today, Antrim?
Personally, I fully expect Kerry to annihilate them. The stories we have heard all week long about Kerry footballers ordering drinks and asking bartenders to leave the bottle lead me to believe that this bunch of Kerry men are going to take all of their anger and immense frustration out on some unfortunate souls before the summer is over.
Antrim look ripe, easy targets for a bad-tempered Kerry football team and during the course of last Sunday's Ulster final it was pretty clear that Liam Bradley's plucky, hearty bunch have just an average defence, an adequate midfield, and only one forward. This afternoon's game in Tullamore might be a blood-bath.
So Jack O'Connor walks out of O'Connor Park and into an All Ireland quarter-final. What then? Will he know for sure even 10 of his starting 15? He might. Or he might not. O'Connor has made almost every mistake in the book since his return. But it is his indecisiveness in building almost every line of his team, more than his foolishness in deciding upon Tadhg Kennelly (left) as a central component of his team, which must be so worrying for the demanding army of Kerry football supporters whom Jack O'Connor is also lecturing, in recent weeks on the subjects of patience and loyalty.
Allowing Kennelly to walk back onto the Kerry team, after spending the best years of his adult life as an Australian Rules footballer, was madness. Whether it was mild lunacy borne out of desperation, only O'Connor himself can honestly answer, but the manager made a horse's ass of the notion that Kerry had a large stable of young, trustworthy bucks only dying to prove to the entire country that Kerry were a sure thing to win another four, maybe five, All Ireland titles in the next decade – same as the last.
Due to injury Kennelly has only been a bit-player in the Kerry year to date, but by naming him in the very nerve-centre of his team – in the middle of the field of all places – at the start of the championship, Jack O'Connor proved himself to be as innocent, if not arrogant, as the summer is long. He also is in the process of demolishing, all on his own, the fairly stout reputation he held as being one of the game's very best managers.
It's beginning to look as though O'Connor was indeed very lucky in winning two All Irelands in his first run as Kerry team boss. The people of Kerry are privately convinced this is the case. Soon enough, they may make their opinion public.
I'm not so sure that Kerry can steer this season to a wholly safe place and neither am I sure that their manager can save his own neck by the end of 2009. Once one-man demolishing jobs commence, they are hard to stop. Who else can save Jack?
There are, in fact, two groups.
In the first there is a long list of names, beginning with the first choice team captain Darren O'Sullivan, and including Donnacha Walsh, David Moran, Aidan O'Shea, Seán O'Sullivan, Bryan Sheehan, Michael Quirke, Daniel Bohan, Killian Young, Pádraig Reidy – all of the fringe names and new names which take up so much space on the official Kerry panel. Despite the open insult delivered to this group by the all-too-easy return of Tadhg Kennelly, this lot have to prove to themselves and to their manager that they are good footballers and that they can do good for Kerry at this most decisive time for their proud county.
Two or three of this group coming through and proving that they are worthy of wearing the Kerry jersey, can make all the difference for Jack O'Connor. They might even save his neck as boss this season. But, more likely, Jack O'Connor will have his immediate future decided by either Colm Cooper or Kieran Donaghy.
The two boys!
Let's now talk about them, and let us hand out a few home truths. Before we even get that far, however, let's decide Cooper deserves more than the ridiculous alias of 'The Gooch' and, even more urgently, let us agree that no man should have to suffer in the Irish media the hopeless notion of being identified as 'Star'.
Donaghy is no such thing. His career to date barely extends beyond a wet week, and he has produced just a few months of excellence as a Gaelic footballer. Other than that, he exists as some sort of media creation and in 2008 and 2009 he has been as relevant and productive as Frankenstein's monster. Jack O'Connor's monster, in truth.
It was O'Connor who threw him into a Frankenstein-like full-forward role, three years ago, in the summer of 2007. In Pearse Park in Longford just three weeks ago, he played the role of target man and knockdown merchant superbly. However, there has been nothing sustained nor surprising nor energising about Kieran Donaghy in the intervening period. Donaghy is both a short-lived memory and a promise of future success and nothing more than that at this time.
He has yet to become a real, live, Gaelic footballer. How on earth can a man live up to the notion of 'Star' when he has, right now, not fulfilled his own reputation or even matched 10 per cent of the brilliance, all-round ability and leadership which Darragh Ó Sé has shown in his lifetime as a Kerry footballer. Problem for Donaghy and Jack O'Connor is that 2010 might be the earliest chance he gets to live up to his super hero status.
Colm Cooper on the other hand has to do it now, today, next week and every week. It is simply unacceptable that someone of his stature can miss scoring opportunities from inside 45 metres, and often 30 metres, repeatedly and still be excused.
If Cooper is the most skilful forward of this generation, as we are led to believe on a weekly basis by an adoring media and a faithful Kerry public, then he had better start winning a few games for Kerry. The great footballers I have watched, and known, over the last 47 years, regularly won games all on their own.
Cooper's career is heading for a dead end and only he can do something about it. With Colm Cooper, we are back in the land of make-believe! Is he the real thing or is he a part-man, part-cartoon character? Jack O'Connor would like it to be the former. We'd all like it to be true. Gaelic football needs Colm Cooper to live up to his extraordinary and maddeningly superior classification as one of the greatest Gaelic footballers the game has ever seen.
These days, unfortunately, this still young man is not even one of this summer's greatest footballers.