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Ray of light Finbarr McCarthy's Cork victory celebration is reminder of precious things Covid cannot steal

A beautiful postcard from happier times slipping through the letterbox of our lives, an ecstatic reminder of the precious things Covid cannot steal.


Kevin Flahive, left, and Brian Hurley of Cork celebrate after their victory over rivals Kerry

Kevin Flahive, left, and Brian Hurley of Cork celebrate after their victory over rivals Kerry


Kevin Flahive, left, and Brian Hurley of Cork celebrate after their victory over rivals Kerry

IN the viral, life-affirming clip, the vertigo of the moment dizzies and convulses the star of the show.

Mark Keane’s goal, the Cork footballer stepping into the shoes of Seamus Darby or Tadhg Murphy, is the tripwire for an uncontainable, one-man explosion of joy.

The disarming footage of radio commentator Finbarr McCarthy reimagining the Pairc Ui Chaoimh press-box as his own private palace of delirium is many things.

A beautiful postcard from happier times slipping through the letterbox of our lives, an ecstatic reminder of the precious things Covid cannot steal.

Look at the changing weather of McCarthy’s face as the understanding dawns that the goal (he has, we find out later, no idea who applied the finishing touch) has altered the course of the sporting winter, pulled down the pillars of Kerry’s temple.

All threads of restraint are snapped, as, unmoored from inhibition, he slips into an involuntary spasm of rapture.

The playhouse by the Lee is deserted, yet McCarthy flies the flag for the absent thousands, is an ambassador for all those who, watching this transfixing moment on TV, are going stark, raving bonkers in the privacy of their own front room.

He yelps and palpitates, dances and shakes and gurgles, his arms punching the air in a hyperactive samba of bliss, the adrenalin of the instant coursing through his veins.

Then, beetroot faced with wonder, an electric shock still running through his body, he vibrates to his right, bends toward a colleague and delivers the immortal line: “Who got it?”


Cork's Mark Keane celebrates his match-winning goal

Cork's Mark Keane celebrates his match-winning goal


Cork's Mark Keane celebrates his match-winning goal

Unbeknown to himself, McCarthy gifts his audience the sporting snapshot of 2020, the kind of flawless cover shot that annually adorns Ray McManus’s Season of Sundays photo-journal.

It was as if he opened the padlocked gates to Pairc Ui Chaoimh and allowed the world to enter. Flying solo, he carried us all to the stars.

Keane’s goal, the one that shifted every giddy atom of McCarthy’s being to merriment’s treasure-house, felt like the gods issuing their certificate of approval to this unique, abbreviated, championship of the short days.

In biblical, end-of-times conditions, it seemed entirely appropriate that the names of the men penning Cork’s gospel of rebirth were Luke (Connolly) and Mark (Keane).

Here was the moment when any doubts about the merits of pursuing a quickfire, two-month All-Ireland blitz during a national lockdown dissolved.

With apologies to Kerry – for dramatic conclusions must always have a victim - this was a kind of faith-restoring theatre, a riveting behind-closed-doors Broadway piece that, for a little while, made all the bad stuff go away.

Connolly spinning the roulette wheel by launching the ball from under the stands; Keane seizing the moment to ensure the ball stops on red and, somehow, the jackpot of victory belongs to the Rebels.

Down to the last coin of hope seconds earlier, every Cork supporter could now read their name on Rich Lists of the soul.

An extinction level event for David Clifford – the genius who married geometrically absurd scores with five unlikely wides – and Kerry, the Pairc now a lake of Rebel fire.

It mattered not a jot that, for great chunks of the afternoon, the contest had been a free-dominated eyesore.

Keane’s goal was the shot that was heard around the world (at least, anywhere on the planet the GAAGO footage was unspooling on a laptop or iPhone), a swing of the boot that became a national conversation.

A reminder of how sport can entrance and make troubles melt away, confirmation of the GAA’s place at the epicentre of so many lives, as the fireside hearth around which the country gathers to be warmed and sustained.

There were so many compelling storylines.

Keane, the matinee idol of the imperishable blockbuster, is a full-time Aussie Rules player, turning out only with the permission of his AFL club, Melbourne giants, Collingwood. Tommy Walsh, the opponent he held off to gather Connolly’s punt, is another former pro in the oval-ball game.

Had Keane taken a point rather than fired his extra-time kill-shot to the net, the meeting of Munster’s old firm would have been the first ever championship tie to go to penalties.

And minding the Cork net in that moment of history would have been a 25-year-old from Nemo Rangers named Micheal Martin – namesake and son of the current Taoiseach.

The Rebels’ rising from the ashes – even as the December 2020 centenary of the burning of Cork by British forces looms - felt like a signpost to the nation.

If a team that lost to Kerry and Tyrone by a combined 33 points just two seasons ago can take down opponents tipped for greatness, then maybe Ireland can overcome what can seem, in these Covid days, like overwhelming odds.

Maybe that is reading too much into what some might dismiss as just a game of football.

But, then, they have never looked into Finbarr McCarthy’s eyes, pools of happy sunshine providing light for an entire galaxy.

A timely reminder that even if life in 2020 is something of a tattered standard, the flag of hope still flies.

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Online Editors