The holy Indian saint Sissa, the reputed creator of the game of chess, gave it the name Ashtapada, meaning eight steps.
This Sporting Life - Colin Regan
The ancient Indian King Balhait had grown worried and concerned at the prevalence of gambling amongst the young men in his kingdom and their addiction to games of pure luck. He called upon the sage Sissa to create a game that would foster qualities of wisdom, prudence, valour, judgement, and endurance in his people.
Sissa duly obliged and returned some time later with a board of eight by eight squares, and two armies charged with the task of toppling the opposition’s king.
The story came to my mind as I reflected on Donegal’s wonderful win over red hot favourites and reigning All Ireland champion, Dublin, in Croke Park on Sunday. I used to play a lot of draughts with my father when I was younger and I got pretty good at it. Then I went to boarding school and one of my new friends introduced me to chess.
I was confident my prowess as a draughts player would stand me in good stead. He defeated in me about eight steps.
As I reflected on the game on Sunday, I realised that Dublin might hop all over you in a game of draughts and leave the board with an army of kings, but when it came to playing chess with the big boys there could be only one monarch left standing.
And at this very moment, Jim McGuinness is the King of Donegal, and his army of players are willing to fill in whatever roll he requires on the football chessboard, be it knight, rook, bishop, pawn.
There has been some predictable revisionist punditry since Donegal pulled apart an ‘unbeatable’ Dublin side on Sunday to reveal a rather vulnerable underbelly. Hindsight, as they say, is 20:20. As the journalists trudged out of the dark depths of Croke Park after the post-match interviews with both managers it was clear they were still none the wiser as to what the hell had just happened.
Almost to a man they had predicted that Dublin’s power, speed, strength in depth, scoring options, and pin-point kick-outs, would leave Donegal red-raced at the end of 70 minutes. Having listened to both managers talk after the game without giving anything away they were still struggling to figure out why the team with the ‘best’ players on paper, with a winning average in 2014 championship that reached into double digits, did not win the match.
It really wasn’t rocket science and every Donegal player that was interviewed afterwards alluded to why they won. To paraphrase them, they said: ‘we had a game plan, we believed in it, and we stuck to it’. Admittedly they were slow to put it into practise in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Like the rest of the crowd, I wondered why Donegal were conceding quite so much ground. They were protecting the scoring D but Dublin’s marquee players were proving themselves capable of shooting from outside the usual danger zone, firing home some exquisite points to race into a seemingly commanding lead.
Critically they didn’t raise a green flag, despite twice getting in on the Donegal goal.
Then Christy Toye’s introduction helped Donegal find their rhythm, followed by their range and any amount of leaders; the latter sadly lacking in the Dublin side when the game was in the melting pot in the second half.
Only Diarmuid Connolly and Paul Flynn stood up to be counted kicking some of the most impressive points I have ever seen in Croke Park. This will be amongst the most disappointing aspects of the game for true blue Dublin fans. That and their team’s inability to think on their feet and appreciate that they needed to commit fewer men forward rather than more if they were to interrupt the momentum Donegal were steadily building upon from before the half-time whistle.
In fairness, Dublin have thrilled us with that skill and athleticism, but it was great to see an immovable object stop an irresistible force in its tracks.
Mayo never quite reached the heights of an immovable object or an irresistible force and as a result James Horan has stepped down after four wonderful years in charge without ever reaching the summit he sought. Still, he has much to be proud of and he has done his county a great service.
Unlike that idiot who invaded the pitch in Limerick on Saturday. Fools of his kind should be refused the right to attend our games again for some time and should be chastised by his peers rather than turned into some Gombeen celebrity as has happened.
GAA stewards will need some extra strength and conditioning training to handle his sort in the future.