Irish Examiner Column August 28 2009

September 25, 2009

The latest kid in final colourful tradition

SPARE a thought this morning for the domesticated fauna of the state of Minnesota. News broke this week of an incident involving a goat, some paint and an electric razor which was enough to bring tears to the eyes.

Not, maybe, in the way you think. Police were alerted four days ago when a woman pulled into a service station in Minnesota with a goat in her vehicle painted in purple and gold, the colours of the local NFL side, the Vikings.

Furthermore, the woman had shaved a number four on the goat’s side and announced to the garage attendant that she intended sacrificing the animal to put a hex on Brett Favre, who wears the number four jersey (no, we don’t understand either).

Cue the immediate involvement of the authorities, general outcry and coverage in the national media.

To which we can only say: have these people never heard of an All-Ireland final build-up, in which painted livestock are far from an optional extra but constitute a must-have accessory?

These are the necessary late-August ingredients for the Big Day: first, The Man With The Painted Animal.

Typically this gentleman lives a life close to nature on the border of the county. It may or may not be next to the county his own crowd are playing, though it helps the overall effect if it is, because there is usually an equivalent person in the next parish over.

Though cows are sometimes employed, sheep are the optimum painted animal owing to the blank canvas of their wool. True, the odd goat gets thrown into the mix, an expression we use advisedly, but sheep have that rare absorbent quality. And they show up well against the ditches.

Then you have The Man In A Race Against Time.

For decades now there has been an unwritten rule in the GAA that you cannot have an All-Ireland final unless one of the players is in a race to be fit for the decider. Be it ever so trivial, there is no ailment, scrape or scurvy that cannot be worked up into a Race Against Time: grim medical bulletins are issued officially, while unofficially, someone’s cousin overheard a panel member in the service station saying yer man was never better and is tearing iron.

However, the Race Against Time soon reaches the next level: the Desperate Race Against Time, in which the countdown to the day of the game may as well be conducted by NASA. Those promoting the he-couldn’t-lift-
his-own-gearbag-out-of-the-boot line are opposed by the he-lifted-the-other-fella-out-of-it-with-the-sore-shoulder camp, and a hitherto obscure body part becomes an obsession.

The current case is Kilkenny’s Noel Hickey, but famous cases in the past include Tyrone’s Peter Canavan and his ankle injury in 2003. This led naturally to a subsection in the genre, Will They Start Him, though Mickey Harte confounded experts in this field by starting him, taking him off and then putting him back on.

Another parallel track is The Man Who Is Cleared To Play.

This is a more recent development, arising out of sittings of the Central Criminal Sunday Game Court, but it has led to early-August worries for several players. This year it was John Miskella, while in recent seasons Noel O’Leary occupied the role.

Then, as the great day dawns, the great white whale of All-Ireland Studies: The Man With The Two Grand Ticket. It is a truth universally acknowledged that when an All-Ireland final is played, someone is reported as paying a vast sum for a ticket.

The suspect is always the same — someone back from the States, desperate to see the game and passionate about his country, yet curiously unwilling to be named. The two grand is intended here as an illustration of the relative value of the ticket — the payer is always depicted as having forked out a multiple of the average industrial wage.

For instance, the first example of this syndrome back in 1884 got his ticket for three acres of land in Skerries, a lifetime’s subscription to the Freeman’s Journal and a couple of housemaids from Spiddal.

You’ll find sober men to tell you: “As sure as I’m standing here he was in a minute ago and bought the ticket off me. But he had to go meet lads after Mass in the Pro-Cathedral.”

We will have more tell-tale signs of the All-Ireland next week, but we leave you with the news that Brett, the goat cited above in Minnesota, has since been adopted by a kindly Wisconsin couple.

Things worked out well for Brett. Barnyard animals in the Mullinahone/Poulacapple/Ballydesmond/Rathmore areas please copy.



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