Johnny Doyle and Damien O'Reilly tussle for possession.
The golden moment of the Cavan-Kildare game came well into the second half with the arrival of Seanie Johnston, a Kildare gansy on his supple back. Here was the climax of the months-long comic opera of Committees and Hearings and Appeals and Counter-Appeals and Seanie as Hurler of the Year in a county where they'd hardly know a camán from a sliothar. There was a tremor in me that he wouldn't - to say the least - be made welcome. I need not have fretted.
The crowd, unhesitatingly, rose to him, the warmth of the welcome unambiguous. And the warmth was leavened with good humour, divilment, crack. This was Cavan at its best, in my estimation. Not a trace of rancour. This was céad mile fáilte, home is the wanderer, and isn't it fine an' well he's looking and playing fine an' well, let it be said, some lovely touches.
Another marvel moment was the half-time concert of ceol tradisiúnta under the baton of the irrepressible Martin Donohoe. The age-range of the performers was instantly striking - from nine, say, to ninety. And the variety of skills on offer enchanting. This gig was, after a fashion, an introduction to the coming Fleadh but it seemed to me to be making a larger and a deeper statement. Some lovely zest and flair in it seemed to be saying - 'Listen to the marvellous riches of our musical tradition. In the middle of the last century it lay in smithereens but, a Cavan man, Dr. Galligan, in the van, pulled it back from the grave and now look at the health of it.'
Perhaps my hearing is faulty but there also seemed to be an accompanying question: have we anything more valuable than these tunes, lonesome or merry, coming up out of the ground? And the answer was audible: these are our sustaining prayers, our matchless celebrations and mournings.
But what about the football? Must we? Alright. It was the kids - in blue - against the grown-ups. Are Kildare any good? The feeling among those I spoke to after the match was that the jury is still out. They're the makings of a team, certainly, and, for example, kicked some lovely points. But look at what Meath did to them? Tore them to ribbons. Are they not beginning to get a reputation as losers? Even as 'unlucky losers', but there is little to celebrate in that. And the question is once again in the air: Does McGeeney cut the mustard? I'm not sure about the same McGeeney - he's too solemn for my liking, too much the autocrat, I want him to have a sense of humour, which he can't provide, it's just not there. Is it necessary? I belong to the battalion who insist that competitive sport without a sense of play, of the mischievous, is an empty rigmarole. The seductive antics of Joe Brolly in his Derry heyday is the idiom I'm focusing on here. The recent preaching's of a famous Kerry midfielder, advocating the virtues of the cynical, embody the wearisome reverse.
After the match there was much talk in the group I inhabited of the virtues of tradition, specifically of Cavan's broken tradition. What is tradition, we wondered? Can you define it? A tricky matter. Is it indefinable because it has to do with magic - with instinctive style - with unforcastable grace? Think Higgins or Victor Sherlock or the Gallant John Joe. Style? Can it be taught? I doubt it. Can it be cultivated? I believe so. Here's the glum news: Mending - and Sunday's match made this plain - mending the broken tradition is one slow process. Like any work of value, it takes, you might say, forever. Worth it? You have to believe it is. Cavan under-age football is healthy but, dear God, a long journey lies ahead. Do you say prayers? If you do, be lavish with them for the cause.
A word on the crowd there on Sunday, the Cavan crowd. It's true what people say, what the newspapers say, the Cavan supporters are faithful unto the last breath. There they were all around me, not without hope, never without hope, gabby, good-humoured, stoic, faithful while breath is in them. What, in God's name, drives them? What fuels their infinite patience, their belief that famine times must one day yield to plenty? Dammn'd if I know - but it's thrilling to meet, familiarity can never lessen my deference towards it. Sometime I think it must be linked to the Evangelical tradition so strong in Cavan - certainly since the 17th Century, but, if you believe the late Tom Barron, long before that. We're believers. That's the light in the Cavan eye. Credo! It's a treasure you'd wish for all your children.
Look. It's going to take a while, alright? Maybe quite a while. That's okay. Steady yourselves with recollection of that classy goal at the start of the second half on Sunday. For a moment it was like auld times. And a ten-year lassie sitting next me - I'll hear her forever - lifted from her perch and warbled as though her ship had come home, laden with treasure. As she knew it would. The Cavan cargo. Or part of it.
Maybe that's what tradition is? Belief. Maybe that's the nugget. Belief. Tiocfaidh ár lá. Takes a while. That's alright. Tiocfaidh.