The Last Word Column - by Sports Editor Kieran McCarthy
GARDA Healy paces the room. There’s a deathly silence, only broken by the clinking of steel football studs against the cold floor, as he circles the table. His left hand covers his mouth, his index figure tapping his cheek. He’s deep in thought and flummoxed, at the same time.
He has solved many crimes in his years with the force – but this one has left him scratching his head quite a bit lately. It’s the puzzle of all puzzles, but he’s not ready to wave the white flag.
There were murmurings doing the rounds that an outside officer would be drafted in to get to the bottom of this – but Chief Superintendent Murphy has resisted all calls to date. This is being kept in-house. At least, ahem, until the hierarchy changes … at some point in the distant future.
The suspect, Cork Football, sits quietly in his chair, arms folded on the table, head bowed, not wanting to make eye contact, confidence visibly sapped (and tired from the 240k round trip from Bantry to Fermoy…).
‘Well,’ says Garda Healy, in a soft, almost whispering tone, ‘What have you got to say for yourself?’
‘Nothing? What you’ve put this county through and you’ve nothing to say?’ the garda responds, his tone shifting through the gears. He continues, raising his voice, ‘Have you not seen the online forums and that Twitter shite? They’re baying for blood. They want answers. As for those lads in the media ….’
‘I don’t know what to say,’ Cork Football offers.
‘That’s the problem alright, you don’t know what to say or do or how to fix this,’ he retorts, by now standing on the opposite side of the table, his arms grasping the back of the seat, as he looks directly at the suspect.
He’s not the first to be asked to solve this conundrum. Some have tried before and have made breakthroughs in this case, but not in recent times. Not even Inspector Cuthbert’s analytical approach paid dividends. In fact, the layers in this case are many and varied, and the evidence is still being collected.
Garda Healy marches over to the window that looks out onto Bantry Bay on this misty and gloomy morning. The sun rarely shines these days.
He pulls the string on the blinds. Swoosh. They shut.
The room darkens. As does the mood. But a light in the ceiling offers a glimmer of hope (akin to the first half against Donegal last July).
‘You know why you’re here, don’t you?’ Garda Healy asks, rhetorically, as he strides back to the table.
‘You’re here because Cork football fans have had enough and they’ve asked us to step in and find out why the hell a county of this size isn’t competing against the best.
‘Ye’re world beaters one day, the next ye’re out of yer depth.’
Holding up Evidence No 2010 – a photo of Cork’s All-Ireland qualifier loss to Kildare in Thurles in July 2015 – Garda Healy asks: ‘Is this you in this photo?’
‘Yes,’ comes the sheepish reply.
‘Christ almighty, what was going on? And then losing to Tipperary in the Munster semi-final last year….’
‘I know, I know. It’s just, it’s just … we can’t find any Consistency.’
Garda Healy pauses: ‘Have you filed a missing person’s report?’
‘What for?’ Cork Football asks.
‘For that bloody Consistency you’ve been looking for, for the last umpteenth years. It’s surely somewhere.’
Picking the chunky case file off the table, Garda Healy flicks through the evidence gathered and there, circled in bright red highlighter, is ‘Consistency’.
Records show that searches as far west as Goleen, up north past Mallow and out east past the city haven’t found ‘Consistency.’ Hopes he has surfaced in Fermoy remain unfounded to date.
‘Wherever he’s hiding, he’s doing a great job,’ Garda Healy continues. ‘There’s no sight or sound of him, no trace for years, nothing.’
Cork Football takes a sip of water and clears his throat: ‘If only we had Consistency, we’d be a lot better. That’s what we’re missing. We’re good one day, then not the next. If only we could find Consistency.’
Garda Healy draws another red circle around ‘Consistency’.
‘I think we’re onto something.’
The red phone rings. That means trouble (because it’s red, of course). Chief Superintendent Murphy is on the line.
Garda Healy listens attentively, nodding his head.
‘Yes…. Yes…. Yes …. I understand.’
He puts the phone down and turns to Cork Football.
‘That was the boss. He’s not happy. He wants this solved now. Our new headquarters is opening in the summer and we need a team to fill the blasted thing. He wants those €2k seats filled. Fast.
‘What’s worse, that shower across the county bounds, those cute hoors who’ll pack the hang sandwiches and flasks of tea instead of buying food in any of our 32 new food kiosks or gaze at our LED lights or appreciate our 72 turnstiles, they’ll come in and they’ll give us nothing, on or off the field, the bunch of yerras.
‘For the love of God, we can’t let this happen.
‘I’ll be put off the case. For good. I’m surprised I even got it, to be honest.’
The beads of sweat are starting to form on Garda Healy’s forehead. He’s no closer to solving this than the man before him. Gulp. He loosens his tie, opens his top button, and paces the room.
Sensing the growing dismay and pressure, Cork Football pipes up.
‘We’re off to Galway this weekend,’ he says, almost with a hint of enthusiasm.
‘A new year, a fresh start, and we’re gone down a league to Division 2.’
Garda Healy perks up: ‘And the relevance is?’
‘A few wins here on the trot and maybe we’ll find Consistency on our travels. It might happen in Newbridge or Ennis or Celtic Park.’
‘If you find him, don’t let the bastard go,’ Garda Healy replies. ‘Bring him straight to me and we’ll keep an eye on him until he plays ball with us.
‘We need Consistency if we’re going to crack this case.’
Garda Healy’s not satisfied. He knows himself he needs to be tougher with the suspect. He needs to show he means business. He needs Cork Football’s respect. It’s time to rattle the cage.
‘So,’ he starts, ‘let’s forget Consistency for a moment, let’s suppose he’s nothing do with this, I want to know why you’re not reaching your potential.
‘No BS here, I want to know why,’ he demands.
‘Is it because your brother Cork Hurling gets all the attention? You’re jealous, aren’t you? Admit it.’
Cork Football pauses, rubs his face.
‘No, that’s not it, he’s fine, he’s always got the attention, I’m used to that. It’s always been that way with that way with daddy, County Board.’
Garda Healy is stopped in his tracks.
‘County Board, tell me more about this County Board?’
‘What’s there to say, he just likes the sliothar and the ash, most of the family are the same, they’re from East of the Viaduct, that’s not football land.’
Garda Healy thinks he has made a significant breakthrough: ‘So, what you’re saying is that County Board has allowed this to happen and done nothing to stop it? Is that right, huh?’
‘You’re putting words in my mouth.’
‘Answer the question!’ he shouts, banging the table.
‘No … that’s not what I said … County Board has helped out … he painted for us in Fermoy a while back … but now that you say it, maybe’s he’s not as helpful, he doesn’t listen to advice and it’s his rule or nothing.
‘Uncle Billy offered to help out too, he’d do anything to help – but nothing happened.
‘We’re just young lads, we’re trying our best, but most of the older lads are gone, whether they wanted to go or not.’
Garda Healy’s reverse psychology has worked, a victory in itself considering previous psychologists tried and failed.
‘If it’s not your fault, Cork Football, that we’re in this muddle, then maybe it’s County Boards – but we still don’t have enough evidence to prosecute. It’s one word against the other.’
Another half an hour passes. Garda Healy and Cork Football talk, back and forth, across the table but it’s getting nowhere – too much talk and not enough action.
The red phone rings again.
‘Yes … yes … I will …,’ Garda Healy nods.
‘Chief Superintendent Murphy says to let you go, we don’t have enough to hold you – but I’m warning you, you better find Consistency fast ‘cos I don’t want to see you back here again.
‘This is your last chance,’ he adds, knowing only too well that it’s him more than likely to get the bullet first, if this case isn’t solved soon.