A week, they say, is a long time in politics. A week in football can be an eternity. Wee James McCartan was being championed as the Messiah last week before the final, the man who resurrected the fortunes of a Down side whose season was full of mediocrity up until the back door stage. He was being hailed as the man who re-energised his troops after they were beaten in the Ulster championship by Tyrone. In fairness, his Down side were liberated once they went in through the back door to begin their tour of the country and there was an incremental improvement in each and every performance as they progressed towards last Sunday’s final. This week McCartan’s performance as manager is being scrutinised in great detail with many in his native county questioning some of his decision-making on the line. I can understand why, as a narrow defeat normally means a huge post-mortem of the losing team’s performance. Before last Sunday’s match everyone suggested that the midfield sector was going to be crucial. It was generally perceived that if Down could manage a supply of decent ball into their pacey forwards, they would be in with a mighty chance of success. Last Sunday they were annihilated in this crucial sector. Cork won 70 per cent of the kick outs and the scale of their dominance was key to their triumph. The Down goalkeeper, Brendan McVeigh, on the other hand, never varied his kickouts throughout the afternoon and it does beg the question why he persisted in making heroes out of both Nicholas Murphy and Aidan Walsh. A more puzzling decision was the substitution of Paul McComiskey with 15 minutes remaining on the clock. He was playing brilliantly all afternoon, kicking three points and giving his opponent the run around. That decision left many perplexed.
Contrast that with the plaudits coming Conor Counihan’s direction this week. Every decision he made was the right one. Nicholas Murphy’s introduction was timely and hugely effective. Their inspirational captain, Graham Canty, really galvanised the Cork side when introduced in the second half.
Cork went into last Sunday’s match under enormous pressure. The general consensus in the media centre before the game was that if they were to lose this final, the show was over for many in the Cork set up. It would have done enormous psychological damage to the county. The team had not played that well all year. They played in fits and bursts and never with the same confidence as last year. They did not play that well last Sunday either, but they did not have to. The Down challenge just ran out of steam. They could not sustain the effort over the 70 minutes. The first half in particular was very average. It lacked the real intensity that you would normally expect from a final. Yes it was exciting because of its closeness, but I, along with many others, would have scored it at most a six out of 10 because the quality was exceptionally poor at times. Now that this Cork side have the monkey off their backs, there is every likelihood that they could go on and win many more, such is the quality of the players at their disposal.
The best there ever was
I have had the pleasure of doing co-commentary with Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh on a number of occasions over the last few years. He has been a marketing revelation for the GAA and RTE radio. In fact I suspect that RTE will struggle to hold onto its huge listenership on Sunday afternoons now that he has decided to retire from broadcasting. I was again in his company for a number of hours last Sunday working at the finals. Once he finishes his match commentary he normally spends an hour or so preparing match reports for radio. He had little time to do so last Sunday as a large crowd had gathered around the press area as if attending a wake. People from around the country just gathered to shake his hand and to wish him well in his retirement. He will leave a huge void as he has played an enormous role in the lives of GAA enthusiasts both at home and all over the world.
And then there were four
I believe the Mayo manager’s position has four contenders at this stage. Tommy Carr told me last Sunday that he did not present for the vetting process, so I took it from that that he was no longer interested in proceeding any further. As it is no secret that Dennis Kearney has also withdrawn from the contest that leaves Tommy Lyons, James Horan, Anthony McGarry, and myself. Apparently we will be interviewed by a committee that will be selected by the Executive of the County Board. At least that is my understanding of the procedure. At the time of writing I am unsure when the interviews will take place, or indeed the formation or the members of the interviewing committee, but I am looking forward to the process and will be putting my best foot forward!