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Chilling out in stony grey 'Blayney

Thursday, 16th February, 2017 10:22am

Chilling out in stony grey 'Blayney

After the sun-filled carnival against Dublin, reality - and the big chill - set in last week as the Monaghan trip loomed. PAUL FITZPATRICK looks back.


Oh, Division 1. How we had missed you. For one weekend, the big house at the top of Cavan Town threw its doors open and it was like the Tiger was reborn.

We all partied and nobody knew it wouldn’t last.

And why would they think such a thing anyway? The sun was on our backs, the TV cameras whirred, the friendly hostelries were packed and, sure, the drink would never be as cheap again.

Okay, so Cavan lost to the Dubs but that was irrelevant, really. After years in the backwaters, paddling furiously, we could get used to this hob-nobbing with the hoi polloi, the football equivalent of fine dining on the deck of the Queen Mary rather than eating chips on the banks of the Kinnypottle.

The warm glow lasted till Tuesday, maybe, and then we looked at the fixtures list excitedly – “where's next boys, Killarney? We could make a weekend of that...” – and gulped hard.

Monaghan. Away. The skies suddenly darkened and children scampered inside. The oldest derby in the game requires a war footing, always – before the days of Kavanagh's “Gut yer man” and ever since. We battened down the hatches and prepared for the storm.

By mid-week, reality was setting in. The free-wheeling day-trippers from the city were long gone – although some were still sitting in traffic in Virginia till Wednesday, we heard -  and the east wind whistled through abandoned saloons, previously Dub-filled coffee shops grown silent as the grave.

This wouldn't be pretty, we were sure – it never is. The warm glow from the first game had worn off and, lo, thoughts turned to Sunday. We tried to blot it out but, in our quiet moment, it was there, looming, unavoidable, like going back to work after your honeymoon.

Game day. So, to Blayney, and don't spare the diesel (it's cheaper over that country anyway, you know). Once there, we saw no flags, heard no airhorns. The crowds – 8,000 in all, God help them – shuffled in groups, huddled together in twos and threes for warmth.

If the Dublin game was a carnival atmosphere, this felt like the morning after the bailiffs moved in to close the funfair down. No sun, no fun. Not a painted face in sight, just stony grey, everywhere...

The big top, as expected, was brimful of converts but the usual fervour was absent.

“There's a bigger crowd here than the Cork match last year but it's far quieter,” remarked someone.

“That's the cold,” came an earnest and accurate response.

Then the ball was thrown in and the match officially started. At various times over the 80-odd minutes, there were unconfirmed sightings of some football being played.

In the press box, the wizened members of the Fourth Estate gripped our tea cups tighter and hoped we'd get through it. We could see our breath but it could have been much worse.

Out in the stand, a dispatch informed us, two teenagers had brought a mini speaker and were playing the unofficial Farney anthem, Hit The Diff, on repeat. For the first time, we truly appreciated the value of soundproof glass.

“Mowing, lifting, sowing, bailing” – yeah, the commentators to our right were doing a grand job of dressing things up for radio alright but there's only so much lipstick that can be applied to a pig.

We won't dress the swine up any further, save to produce a few snapshots to prove we were there at all... Seanie Johnston missing an unmissable free – and Conor McManus then doing the same. Killian Clarke being wrestled to the ground more often than the Italian centres in Rome a day earlier. Conor Madden momentarily sparkling like a diamond in the rough. No lack of effort, it must be said.

And some numbers.... Monaghan didn't score in the first 20 minutes or the last 20. By half-time, Cavan had made three changes. The temperature? Minus one.

Cavan were two down and bravely clawed it back, each score carved out of stone, and for the last 15 minutes or so, the umpires – who would probably have welcomed a chance to wave a flag around for heat-generating purposes -  were not called into action.

And then, a comic epilogue. No sooner had the final whistle sounded than the tannoy announcer, clearly home on holiday from North Korea, lustily recorded his appreciation to both teams for a “super exhibition of football”.

“What f**kin' game was he watching?” snorted three cynical journos in our vicinity simultaneously (true story – and we were one of them).

Moments later, Malachy Clerkin of the Irish Times set off from the press box like Lawrence Oates, the man who sacrificed himself on Scott's expedition to the South Pole when he exited his tent, into a blizzard and certain death, with the pithy words “I am just going outside and may be some time.”

Oates's remains were never discovered; the bould Clerkin did, thankfully, return, and brought with him good news.

“Well, Mattie McGleenan says that was a fabulous game!” he announced through chattering teeth.

“What f**kin' game was he watching?” we wondered again, in chorus once more.

(Joking aside, that's Matt's chat. He's ultra positive. Killinkere footballer Mark Farrelly, of fame, took to Twitter after listening to his comments that evening. 

“Does Mattie McGleenan speak like his interviews in daily life?” Mark asked. “Fabulous breakfast! Two slices of unbelievable toast. What a mug of tea!”)

Thus, job done, quotes collected, thaw slowly setting in, we turned for home.
Around Shercock, a text arrived from a hardy Cavan fan.

“Horrible. Coldest I've been since Aughrim,” said the veteran, assuming the role of spokesman for a survivors' group. “Can't believe we didn't win that. You driving to Omagh?”

And that about summed it up, the Cavan follower's condition. There's always another game. We'll meet Monaghan again, for sure, and the sun will shine.
Hope, to paraphrase the poem, is a thing with thermals...

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