OMAGHA, NEBRASKA



Last year, Tyrone were being accused of narrowing the pitch at Healy Park to suit their own purposes, i.e., to make their home patch as little like the wide prairie under the big sky of Croker as possible. They duly put their Red Hand up, but claimed it was at the behest of Sky TV.


As the one-hit pundit of that celestial channel, one Senan Connell, might succinctly put it:


-Simple as.


Yesterday, they seem to have adopted quite the opposite policy if one is to judge by the 15 acres of space provided for the Dublin player at midfield with number 20 on his back. Many unfamiliar young men of twenty were picked to play for Tyrone but, oddly, none were detailed to pick up the elegant maestro from Marino who was refused a Bexit visa to Boston on arrival at Dublin Airport from an inland start.


For long periods he was bestowed the freedom of this vast acreage of prairie to himself, so much so that one could be excused for thinking he was stationed at Omagha, Nebraska itself.


We are, incidentally, talking here of Diarmuid Connolly, and just to show his heart belongs in his native place, despite the draw of Uncle Sam, just before half time he rose like a Phoenix as high as the Wellington Monument, to truly make his mark on a dry pitch.

A signature point in the second half questioned the score on his gansey’s back as indeed had his nonchalant aerosolling of the ball in the first half with that all too rare phenom, the accurate foot-pass. And then, that late, late rugby tackle. Sadly, the ruck in hurling has been joined by the r-tackle in Gaelic football: much preferable to grant an entry visa to the Shoulder to Shoulder aspect of the oval-balled game.


It could have been worse, but luckily Diarmo (a long overdue neologism coined by Jonny McGee) had his Kilkenny father to call / fall back upon: thus, black was the shade of his true card’s colour. Nor of course did the red mist descend, if the wry grin was anything to go by, being more an amber shade as he ambled off.


To be replaced by a young giant from Cuala, one Peadar O' Cofaigh Byrne whose causeway to glory had been done no favours the previous day when he, no blackguard either, was black carded during the Under 20 (that recurring number) final against the rebels. And as he duly did the dead man walking gig to the sideline, the TV4 cameras focused on his Mammy’s distraught face in the stand at Port Laoise. (Where Liam Rushe, Uasal, was on microphone duty, a la Senan).


Hopefully, Bean Uí Cofaigh Byrne was in Omagh (to put the ma into Omagh) for a happier outcome involving a go on.


-Black is black, I want my baby back.


Which brings to mind another song, of Kerry origin: Many Young Men of Twenty. Which might, yerra, suggest the sloothery, cute-h. chicanery of the pitch narrowing / widening malarkey. Wrong, as one had suspected. Which in turn brings one to the full name of the stadium: Michael Healy Park. That last punctuation reads: Full Stop. Hurray for there being no hyphenated Rea.


The complete turning off of the home team’s fire power prior to the game put folk on full notice that what we were about to witness was play-acting, rather than full-blooded championship play. In other words, Tyrone Power, but in the filmic rather than the footballing sense. Which oddly enough reminds one that the Hollywood (neither Down or Wicklow but County California) legend made his exit from this world at the untimely and less than super age of 44. Which is the untimely number towards which the Super 8s appears to be destined.


Happily, some Dubs from the subs bench put their hands, not to mention, heads, legs and feet up: not least of whom were Sean Bugler, Paddy Small and Bernard Brogan, more of whom anon.


Unfortunately, Rory O’ Carroll had a torrid afternoon. But a classy footballer does not become a horrid footballer overnight, or indeed, overyear. No more than a classy pop song – look no further than that truly great Neil Sedaka pop song:


- Oh, Carol.


Incidentally, that particular Carol was the other song-writer Carol King who dwelt in Dublin’s fair city for a spell and became, in fact, an acquaintance of a regular reader of this blog. Fact.


Talking of song-writers, the arrival of Brian Kennedy as a substitute for Tryone on the pitch brought to mind another Kennedy, also associated with Omagh, Jimmy. Who travelled as a young man, south of the border down down TCD way. Where he penned ‘South of the Border’ without ever having been to Mexico or even Wexico itself.


O’Gara scored a true Eoghan goal when he totally ignored the craftily erected distraction for visiting forwards by palming the pin-point pass from Man of the Match, Sean Bugler, for a three- pointer to the back of the Tyrone net. Thus, securely garaging the victory. Bugler seems set to become a regular bugle boy of Company D.


The distraction, of course, is the name painted in bold letters on the roof of the ‘ome club bar. It looks sorta like ‘Sallys’. But with a difference. I think it must be written in the Omagh version of Ohm. Take a gawk.


To conclude with a brief look forward to the too-soon game on Saturday, raising the malarkey of the needless narrowing of the time span. When either of two veteran corner forwards could prove to be game changers – as super substitutes.. Both are aged 35, both are former footballers of the year, both are of Mayo stock and, most crucially of all, both belong to the dwindling band of a virtually vanished breed: players who wear their stockings pulled up.


Thus, there will be two prizes on offer at the weekend when Croagh Patrick comes to Croke Park: the larger one for the teams, a place in the Final Climb / Drive; and the smaller one, specifically confined to one of the pair just mentioned:


-The Order of the Garter.

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