As another golden year for punditry draws to a close, I have found myself humming that bloody song. On the bicycle, outside court, in the shower. Even in bed, where shouting out, “Joe’s winning matches” at the moment of triumph, followed by “she’s a lucky, lucky woman,” is not impressing the Ballymena woman.
“Daddy, stop singing that bloody song,” my son Rory said to me this morning as he headed out the door for school. “You’re driving us mental.”
Even as I sit here, I am experiencing waves of temptation to go on Youtube to watch the video. Never have the simple words, “Come on Donegal,” sounded more poetic.
I have also been watching that goal. Again and again and again. I have always known the boy wonder was destined for greatness. But that goal was his Bar Mitzvah, his entry into the pantheon of the special ones. It is not so much a goal from the real world as we know it, more a cartoon score from the pen of the creator of Roy of the Rovers. Lacey kicks the high ball in, the first one all year that was in front of Michael, not behind him. The boy leaps in the air, cushions the size 5 softly in the mitts, then smashes it to the net, really smashes it to the net. Kerpoww!! Watching it in slow motion is even better fun. The catch, the left arm holding off the hapless defender, the blast off, the keeper trying to dive through the air in three different directions at once. I wonder if Clarke actually saw it. They could have had five keepers and it would have made no difference. Two and a half minutes and the game was already over. After that, Mayo were held at arm’s length. Donegal’s defensive system controlled the game, with the team reverting to their habitual ultra defensive formation when they went six up in the second half after Murphy’s palmed point.
“They should push on,” commented Colm O’Rourke, entirely missing the point. Donegal do not do risk. They prefer to win. Without goals, there could be no Mayo comeback. And McGuinness was not about to give them a sniff by abandoning two years’ meticulous work.
Meanwhile, Mayo’s over-rated front six did what Mayo forwards always do and flopped. On the Sunday game, when Kevin McStay gravely announced Alan Dillon was wing-forward on the team of the year, I nearly choked on my Chateau Lafitte (a present from Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney). Alan – a hair’s breadth from Conor Mortimer – sums up the problem with Mayo football. Lacking real conviction, he goes well when the team goes well. He is, if you like, a classic Mayo forward. This was his third catastrophic All-Ireland final, the excuse this time being that Karl Lacey was his opposite number. If truth be told, Karl virtually ignored him, playing his own attacking game without hindrance. There is a fundamental lack of competitiveness in their front six, a conundrum that has dogged Mayo for generations. Until they can find a Tony Boyle or a Colm O’Rourke, someone with a bit of spunk to lead them, they are going nowhere.
Donegal meanwhile have no problems in that regard. Their focus is icy and they thrive in the heat of battle. After all, Jimmy insists on it. Yesterday, Frank Gardner, the BBC security correspondent, blurted out on the main Radio 4 news something that the Queen had told him confidentially in the course of a private conversation, breaking an age old code. On live radio, Gardner said to James Naughtie, “And actually I can tell you that the Queen was pretty upset that there was no way to arrest Abu Hamza. She couldn’t understand why not.” Naughtie, plainly taken off guard, ruminated for a second before saying, “That’s a fascinating piece of information.”
“Yes,” said Gardner, “I thought I’d drop that in.” Then, in for a penny in for a pound, he revealed, “Her Majesty herself told me.” At which point Naughtie responded, “That’s a corker.”
Within a few minutes, the storm broke around Gardner. This morning, he made a grovelling apology to the Queen. The BBC have admonished him strongly. The Director General has issued a strong condemnation of his behaviour. But he is still in his job. Perhaps it would have been too embarrassing and too ungrateful to sack a man who is wheelchair bound having been shot six times by al-Quaidi when he was based in Saudi. Jimmy wouldn’t have blinked. Mr Gardner – like Fredo Corleone – would have been dead to him.
It was perhaps the most interesting facet of All-Ireland final day, when at the moment of what most of us would imagine to be his greatest triumph, sitting in front of the country’s journalists, Jimmy refused to continue unless the journalist Declan Bogue was evicted. The gathering was speechless. Bogue left. Jimmy then embarked on a mysterious and incomprehensible attack on him, or Kevin Cassidy or possibly neither. It illustrated that he is relentless, that he will never stop.
I saw an interesting thing happen before the game. I was walking down the tunnel outside the changing rooms when the Donegal bus arrived. Jim went towards the second changing room with the Mayo name on the door only to be told that this was reserved for Mayo. “Yours is number 1,” said the embarrassed looking officials. Jim’s face coloured and he refused to budge. The officials stuck to their guns. As the boys began disembarking, he suddenly changed tact, decided the battle wasn’t worth the disruption, and led them to their designated changing room. As he walked past me and camera man John Otterson from Maghera, he winked and quipped, “There’s too many Derry men about here.”
The press conference illustrates that Jim – like say Alex Ferguson – is obsessive about loyalty and finds it congenitally impossible to forgive. When he axed Kevin Cassidy, it made no sense to the rest of us, but look where they are today. There will be no forgiveness for Declan Bogue. Nor for Cassidy. The episode teaches us that an All-Ireland may have been won, but it is only the beginning. The five year plan is in its infancy. Jimmy, this fascinating, charismatic and remote young man, is going to win a lot more matches. And as Senegal Jimmy will soon realise, luck has nothing to do with it.