Some Kildare supporters make their feelings known, holding up a banner saying; "Spillane and Brolly can talk all day, cause Seanie Johnston is here to stay" during the Kildare v Meath clash at Croke Park last Sunday.
By Paul Fitzpatrick
It's 3.36pm last Sunday afternoon and Cavan are running in treacle and losing, badly, 0-11 to 0-7. Storm clouds are gathering by the Erne as another aimless Breffni kick sails six feet over the head of Eugene Keating and wide. A man turns to your correspondent, who tipped a four-point away win on these pages last week, in the press box and raises four fingers. "Four? You'll be lucky to lose by ten," he grins.
Suddenly, the intercom crackles - it's the PA man and, his measured delivery seems to hint, he's got a fógra that some of you dudes just might find interesting.
"Result from the Leinster semi-final in Croke Park," he announces, clearing his throat.
"Kildare 1-11 [pause]... Meath 1-17."
A cheer goes up, not unlike the one which greeted Jack Brady's final point at the venue in the 2011 Ulster U21 final. The representatives of the fourth estate chuckle and shake their heads - oh, we're above all that partisan stuff, don't you know - as supporters, in green as well as blue it must be noted, guffaw at the good of it.
Was it nasty of the 5,260 in attendance to display a little schadenfreude? Well, sometimes it's human nature to be nasty, to revel in some instant karma. Only the most biased, and there are plenty of them, observers of the situation will feel that what Sean Johnston and Kildare have done is in keeping with the ethics of our games.
It's worth stating for the umpteenth time that the GAA is built on loyalty to the home club and county; that is what differentiates it from other sports. In soccer, players are groomed to turn professional. In this country, amateur soccer is just a feeding ground for the professional game. Rugby is similar - since it turned pro, interest in and attendances at the grassroots level has dwindled radically.
The beauty of the gaelic approach is that it taps into one of the most deeply-entrenched facets of our collective psyche, tribalism. Johnston's, and Kildare's, actions run counter to everything our association stands for.
Anyway, just when we thought that the story that keeps on giving had been mined, like an old oil well, to exhaustion, the draw on last Monday morning threw up something delicious. Two tribes will go to war on the weekend after next in Breffni Park, with Johnston sure to be the main focus of attention.
Before we go any further, let's expel any notions of a fix. That idea is so ludicrous that it hardly bears comment, so we'll keep it short.
The twitterati were in uproar after the first round draw, which threw up three local derbies, Cavan v Fermangh among them.
Of course, a cursory glance at the teams in the draw showed that, out of seven matches which could pssibly be a derby (London have no local team, not until Lancashire up their game in any case), it was possible to construct all seven as such - Antrim v Derry, Laois v Carlow, Waterford v Tipp, Longford v Westmeath, Fermanagh v Cavan, Roscommon v Offaly, Armagh v Louth.
This time around, there are no local derbies (not one!) and no really appetising ties such as Kerry v Galway or Tyrone. If the draw was fixed - and one tweeter suggested that the powers that be could have used the old "two balls in a freezer trick"! - then surely "they" would have gone to the trouble of fixing it properly and not just setting up one decent gate in Breffni Park.
A little enlightened thinking could have thrown up plenty of clashes between neighbouring counties; a line-up including the likes of Longford v Westmeath, Leitrim v Roscommon, Antrim v Tyrone, Laois v Kildare, Cavan v Monaghan, Wicklow v Wexford and Galway v Tipp would have ensured record gates for a round two qualifier match.
Regardless of all that, and the huge crowd expected to descend on the big house on the evening of July 14, it's important to look at this draw realistically; in purely footballing terms, the Johnston circus aside, it's a disastrous tie for Cavan.
Don't get us wrong, Kildare aren't the fourth-best team in the country, as they've been billed. They're no superpower. Let's deal in facts and, to borrow a phrase from a soccer blog, sort the history from the hysteria. They've played genuine contenders six times in the championship under McGeeney - Dublin twice, Cork, Tyrone, Down and Donegal - and have lost every one of them.
In five Leinster championship campaigns, they've reached two finals, winning neither, and been knocked out in three of those years by Wicklow (Division 4), Louth and Meath (the former a Division 3 team, the latter recently relegated to Division 3). They're a good team, surely, but not half the side that the media, keen to focus on a football-mad county of 250,000 which is on their doorstep, would make out.
While Kildare's best championship win under McGeeney is probably one of the Meath victories, or Laois or Derry, therein lies the rub. They've built their formidable reputation (Offaly manager Tom Coffey staggeringly compared them to the All Blacks recently) on devouring poor and mid-ranking teams, usually in the qualifiers. They have beaten Cavan, Limerick, Fermanagh, Wicklow, Antrim (after a replay), Leitrim, Derry, Monaghan, Meath and Laois in the back door under McGeeney; there's barely a good side between team. A couple are moderate, the rest are downright poor.
That sort of CV doesn't an All Ireland contender make but it does mean they will be hotly-fancied to dispose of Cavan in ten days' time. Terry Hyland's team fit the exact profile of a side that Kildare can comfortably beat and unless they can sustain the intensity they showed in the final 25 minutes against Fermanagh and the first ten against Donegal for a full match, they'll struggle badly.
All of which brings us back to the conductor in the circus, the player who, after his hurling cameo, laughably told the same reporters he invited to Straffan for tea after a St Kevin's club training session that he's not really one for talking to the media. Having put in an almighty effort, Kildare are desperate for success, which is why so many were complicit in the recent debacle whereby a big name player dropped by a weaker county due to his own shortcomings was facilitated in moving to a a stronger one where he had absolutely no ties.
Johnston has erred badly, and it's impossible not to feel a tinge of sympathy for the situation he now finds himself in, if not the way it was handled.
He'll be under enormous pressure to do well if he lines out in Breffni Park and no-one in this county outside of his own family and friends will want to see his new team succeed; he's in the other camp now, the other tribe, which is a sad thing to say of a 27-year-old who has given Cavan, and Cavan Gaels, supporters plenty of joyous moments. In the long term, McGeeney will be gone at some point and Kildare haven't the underage pedigree to win an All Ireland at this time.
St Kevin's are going nowhere either, treading water in the lower reaches of the Kildare championship and in Divison 2 of their league.
It's a mess and Sean Johnston, Cavan Gaels and Kildare - already mired in debt, out of the Leinster championship and with their reputaion sullied among GAA supporters from Bandon to Brewster and beyond - will be the real losers in time.
Post script: We'd all like to think that our own county wouldn't act the way Kildare have in a similar situation. In Cavan's case, however, there were very few raising their heads above the parapet when Rory Gallagher (the footballer, not the axe god) soloed (a football, not a guitar) in and out of Crosserlough in a matter of weeks back in 2007. For a clue as to how some Kildare supporters think, though, log on to the Kildare GAA forum and check out the vitriol to which respected GAA writer Ewan MacKenna has been subjected. MacKenna, an Athy man, dared to criticise the Johnston move. Draw your own conclusions.
Follow Paul Fitzpatrick on Twitter (@moefitzpatrick).