#OTD in 2012 – Death of Sportswriter, Con Houlihan.

Despite only progressing to national journalism at the age of 46, he would become “the greatest and the best-loved Irish sports journalist of all”. A bronze bust of Houlihan was unveiled in his hometown of Castleisland, Co Kerry in 2004. In 2011, another sculpture was erected outside The Palace Bar in Dublin.

Just one of the many great, witty articles by Con Houlihan. A long one, but WELL WORTH the read, each line only gets wittier.

Con Houlihan: ‘Paddy dashed back to his goal like a woman who smells a cake burning … ‘

IF A MAN who fishes for salmon with a stake net had seen his cordage dance as often as Paddy Cullen did in this astonishing All-Ireland final, he would have been very happy indeed with his day’s work.

But there is an immensity of difference between bending to take out a salmon and stooping to pick up a ball that has got past you — and for long years to come Paddy will now and then rack his brains and try to find out what happened him yesterday.

At about 20 minutes to four he had every reason to feel that his bowl of glory was about to flow over: Dublin were playing as if determined to get a patent for a new brand of Gaelic football — and Paddy, himself, was ruling his territory with a style and authority redolent of Bat Masterson.

And the many Kerry battalions in the crowd were as apprehensive as accused men waiting for the jury to return after the judge had given a most unfavourable summing-up against them.

And well they might — because in the first third of what was surely the most extraordinary final since Michael Cusack codified the rules of Gaelic football, their team seemed faced not only with defeat, but humiliation.

It looked every bit as one-sided as the meeting of Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks — and the more it went on, the more the gap in ability was seen to widen.

In their glory-garnished odyssey since the early summer of ’74, Dublin have never played better than in the opening third yesterday.

The symphony of classical football began with Paddy Cullen — he got no direct shot in that period, but his catching of a few swirling lofted balls, dropping almost onto his crossbar, was as composed and technically correct as if being done to illustrate a text book.

And his distribution was as cool and unerring as the dealing of a riverboat gambler.

So was that of his comrades in the rear three — Kerry’s infrequent sallies towards the Canal End almost always ended up as launching-pads for a Dublin attack.

The drizzling rain seemed irrelevant as Dublin moved the ball with the confidence of a grand master playing chess against a novice.

From foot and hand it travelled lucidly in swift triangular movements towards the Railway goal — Kerry were forced into fouls as desperate as the struggles of a drowning man.

And Jimmy Keaveney was determined to show that crime did not pay: the ball took wing from his boot like a pigeon homing to an invisible loft strung above Kerry’s crossbar.

The blue-and-navy favours danced in the wet grey air — the Hill revelled and licked its lips at the prospect of seeing Kerry butchered to make a Dublin holiday.

They roared as the points sailed over — and one felt that they were only flexing their vocal muscles so that they might explode when Charlie Nelligan’s net bulged.

And such was Dublin’s supremacy that a goal seemed inevitable — by the 25th minute it was less a match than a siege.

And Dublin as they have so often done, had brought forth a new ploy for the big occasion — this time the rabbit from the hat was the swift breakdown with hand or fist. It added to Kerry’s multitude of worries.

And Kerry’s not-so-secret weapons were misfiring: Jack O’Shea was not ruling the air in midfield and Kevin Moran was playing as if his namesake Denis had only come for a close-up view.

Kerry’s map was in such tatters that Eoin Liston, their lofty target man, the pine tree in whose branches they hoped the long high ball would stick, was forced to forage so far down field that his marker, Sean Doherty, was operating within scoring distance of Kerry’s goal.

After 25 minutes Dublin led by six points to one — it did not flatter them. It seemed less a lead than the foundation of a formidable total.

But perhaps it is true that whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad — the ease with which Dublin were scaling the mountain seduced them into over-confidence.

They pushed too many troops forward and neglected their rear — and then a swift brace of passes from Jack O’Shea and Pat Spillane found a half-acre of green ground tenanted by only Paddy Cullen, and with Johnny Egan leading the race in its pursuit.

Paddy Cullen is a ‘modern’ ‘keeper — he guards not only the goal but its forecourt. And it was one of the ironies of a game that might have been scripted by the king of the gremlins that now he was caught too far back.

He advanced desperately but Johnny Egan, scorer of that lethal first goal in the rainy final three years ago, held the big trump — and he coolly fisted the ball over the ‘keeper and into the net.

That goal affected Kerry as a sudden day of May showers a languishing field of corn.

Dublin were like climbers who had been driven back down the mountain by a rock fall — they had to set out again from a plateau not far above the base.

Soon a few Kerry points had put them at the very foot — then Dublin went ahead with a point.

And now came the moment that will go into that department of sport’s museum where abide such strange happenings as the Long Count and the goal that gave Cardiff their only English FA Cup and the fall of Devon Loch.

Its run-up began with a free from John O’Keeffe, deep in his own territory. Jack O’Shea made a flying catch and drove a long ball towards the middle of the 21-yard line.

Mikey Sheehy’s fist put it behind the backs, breaking along the ground out towards Kerry’s right. This time Paddy Cullen was better positioned and comfortably played the ball with his feet away from Sheehy.

He had an abundance of time and space in which to lift and clear but his pick-up was a dubious one and the referee Seamus Aldridge, decided against him. Or maybe he deemed his meeting with Ger Power illegal.

Whatever the reason, Paddy put on a show of righteous indignation that would get him a card from Equity, throwing up his hands to heaven as the referee kept pointing towards goal.

And while all this was going, Mick Sheehy was running up to take the kick — and suddenly Paddy dashed back towards his goal like a woman who smells a cake burning.

The ball won the race and it curled inside the near post as Paddy crashed into the outside of the net and lay against it like a fireman who had returned to find his station ablaze.

Sometime, Noel Pearson might make a musical of this amazing final and as the green flag goes up for that crazy goal he will have a banshee’s voice crooning: “And that was the end of poor Molly Malone”.

And so it was. A few minutes later came the tea-break. Kerry went into a frenzy of green-and-gold and a tumult of acclaim. The champions looked like men who had worked hard and seen their savings plundered by bandits.

The great train robbers were first out onto the field for act two — an act that began almost as dramatically as the first had ended.

In their cave during the interval Dublin, no doubt, determined to send a posse in fierce pursuit — but within a minute of the restart, the bridge out-of-town had been broken down.

Eoin Liston was about to set out on a journey into folklore — and for the rest of the game it must have seemed to Sean Doherty that he had come face to face with the Incredible Hulk.

Eoin proceeded to leave the kind of stamp on the second half that Mario Kempes left on the final of the World Cup.

People were still settling down for the second half when Jack O’Shea drove a long ball from midfield; Eoin, near the penalty spot and behind the backs, gathered, turned, and shot to the net.

Dublin’s defence is justly famous for its covering and the manner in which this score came indicated the level of their morale.

Not everyone suspected it but Dublin had conceded defeat. From then on only a few of them had their hearts in the battle.

Kevin Moran never surrendered and played magnificently all through that unreal second half. He had good lieutenants in Tommy Drumm and Bernard Brogan.

But they might as well have been trying to prove that George Davis was innocent, O.K.

Every Kerry man seemed to have suddenly sprouted wings — they seemed not members of a different county but of a different species.

And a cynic might have suspected that they had agents in the Dublin camp — some of the men in blue sent the ball to their opponents with unfailing accuracy.

Kerry’s fourth goal was both a finisher and a symbol of their immense superiority.

A high ball dropped into the apron of Dublin’s goal. It seemed to be manned by a little man with spikes in his forehead who was shouting: “Take me to your leader.”

The leader of course, was, Eoin Liston who plucked it out of a low flying cloud, gave an instant pass to Ger Power on his right and moved on to an instant return.

Eoin’s right-footed shot was executed with the panache of one who knew that he could do no wrong.

And the remarkable aspect of what followed was that Kerry did not score a dozen goals.

They got only one more — when Eoin Liston raced on to a fisted cross-goal pass from Johnny Egan on the right and planted the ball in at the far post.

And so in the grey drizzle we saw the twilight of the gods.

The Hill watched, as lively as the Main Street of Knocknagoshel on Good Friday. And it all seemed so unreal. The final score was no reflection of Kerry’s second-half superiority — neither did it tell the truth about the difference between the teams.

For 25 minutes, Dublin were brilliant; for 45, Kerry were superb. How come the change?

That wry prankster we call luck has the answer.

And in the last chapter of the minor final, he had shown his hand.

A fumble by Dublin’s ‘keeper gave Tom Byrne the chance to drive home the decisive goal. (We will write about the game on Wednesday).

The mistake that gave Mayo victory came at the Canal End too.

There was a gremlin down there who did not like Dublin.

And he was humming to himself “What a day for being in Goal”.

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