“You go to any club championship game in Ireland and you’re going to get that type of physicality in the game.”
Damien Cassidy, Derry manager - last Sunday evening
Damien Cassidy is the Derry football manager this year and he was perfectly within his rights when he pointed out after last Sunday’s mean spirited and nasty Ulster championship tie between Derry and Monaghan that his team - “is not in the business of entertaining people. We don’t get paid for entertaining people. All we care about is the result and that’s all that matters in this game”.
However his first quote about seeing some of the shenanigans that we saw last Sunday, with men being kneed in the privates, kicked in the ankles from behind, and being grabbed around the throat does not take place every weekend in championship games around the country. It may happen in Derry week-in, week-out, however thankfully it is not the norm in the rest of the country.
Of course we see the wrong type of flare up now and then with a few punches being thrown - and landed - like we had in Meath and Wicklow recently, but the meanness and spitefulness that was all over the field last Sunday in Celtic Park is not what I experienced in the 15 championship seasons that I played with my club in Galway from 1988 to 2003. Or in the Connacht club championship for that matter.
Of course you had the odd needle and grudge game with another club that was the archenemy or even a personal problem with an individual player or two; but they were the exception more than the rule. And while Cassidy or his team or any other team for that matter, do not have a responsibility to entertain the people who attend in person or watch the games on TV, they do have a responsibility to their county jersey, to themselves and to the association at large, to play within the rules and not act like yobs.
The incident that sickened me most last Sunday was where Brian Mullan who had only come on as a sub, drove his knee into the mid-rift or privates - take your choice, of Conor McManus. It appeared like a callous and calculated manoeuvre and should be dealt with most severely by the Central Competitions Control Committee when they come together to review the game.
Such needless and stupid acts of cowardice are a really negative affliction on any sport. And if players are prepared to carry out such crimes, they cannot cry into their high energy drink if they get caught, and are given some severe suspensions.
No more than gouging in rugby, head-butting and sly kicks, knees and punches have no place in any sport. Some people, mainly managers, complained that the experimental rules would have taken the physicality out of the game if they were introduced, however I do not concur with that theory.
Instead it would have made coaches do more drills and training on effective tackling and covering, which are both skills of the game too, and forced players to take personal responsibility for their actions. To see the Derry captain, Fergal Doherty - who is a terrific player - engaging in nasty and malicious behaviour against and with Monaghan’s Dick Clerkin was nauseating to watch. Maybe Damien Cassidy thinks that’s what GAA people want to see in the Ulster championship. I for one don’t.
And if that’s the best they can produce, they won’t even get the opportunity to entertain anyone in the big games next August and September. A team always wants to win, however they can endeavour to do so with some style and class too. Both objectives are not mutually exclusive.
This weekend’s championship action
The big game in the football championship this weekend sees the All-Ireland champions Tyrone take on Armagh, while nearer to home Leitrim entertain Roscommon in Carrick-on-Shannon. I would fancy Sean Cavanagh, Brian Dooher, Conor Gormley, and company to see off Armagh up North despite the scoring potential of Steven McDonnell and Ronan Clarke.
In the Connacht championship Leitrim are never easy to beat in Carrick, and it will take Fergal O’Donnell’s charges all their time to get out of there with a win.
Leitrim boss Mickey Moran has selected four new championship forwards for this tie, and with top scorer Emlyn Mulligan out for the season with a cruciate ligament injury he will need those new boys to come up with the scores to advance to meet Mayo. They are solid at the back with John McKeon and Barry McWeeney and Roscommon will find it difficult to score much from play, considering that they are without David Casey and Seamus O’Neill who are both big losses, a home win would not be any major surprise.