I don’t know about you, but I have been bored out of my tree watching Gaelic football in this year’s championship so far. As a viewing spectacle it has been very poor fare. Of course it is up to the various counties to raise their standards to those set by the likes of Dublin, Cork and Kerry, but watching the championship over recent seasons suggest that the gap between the elite and the rest is widening. The suggestion from both Colm O’Rourke and Kevin McStay, on last weekend’s Sunday Game, for a two or three tier system is surely going to become a reality sooner or later.
I have always been a great believer in moving the ball as quickly as possible into the scoring zone. Ultimately the game is about getting more scores than the opposition and the use of the footpass is the best way of moving the ball into this danger zone so as to exploit both space and defence. However, the script has been changed for several counties. Now, it seems to be all about ball retention and the handpass is used so often that you almost feel like cheering when someone actually kicks the ball! Teams are being coached not to give the ball away to the opposition at any cost and also to populate the defence with several players in an attempt to deny the opposition any chance of scoring. Whatever you think about Pat Spillane, he is right when he talks about the handpass being the ruination of football. Incidentally, I do hope that the committee, chaired by Eugene McGee, makes some strong recommendations about curtailing the number of handpasses allowed before a player must kick the ball. If we don’t address this issue soon we will end up with fewer numbers coming out to matches.
Those playing direct have been the exception
Of the games so far this year two teams in particular have caught my eye, Galway and Dublin. They both play a direct brand of football that is thoroughly enjoyable to watch. Dublin, last Sunday, were a revelation. They have set the benchmark for the season and have issued a statement of real intent. I have to be honest here that I thought, when watching them in a few matches during the league, that they looked completely out of sorts. There were questions about the appetite of some players, the indiscipline of others and, with a few of their biggest stars opting not to play during the league, many felt that they wouldn’t be the same force as last year. And this is not to mention the well rounded appearance of a few others from the excesses that comes with the champagne lifestyle of first time All-Ireland winners.
In fact the Dublin performance last weekend was by far the most complete of this year’s championship. Okay their opponents Louth were very poor, but remember Louth had quite a good league campaign in division two and when I heard their manager, Peter Fitzpatrick, sound so bullish in his pre-match interview, I thought we would have a real rip roaring contest.
So much had been made of John O’Leary and Brian McEniff’s involvement in the build up to the game that many smart pundits were giving Louth more than a squeak of winning this match. As a contest, however, it was over within minutes of it starting. In fact if it was a boxing contest, the white towel would have been thrown in 20 minutes into the game. The Dubs on last Sunday’s form look unbeatable. There might be an argument made about them having an ordinary midfield but this, their weakest sector, hardly mattered as in all other 13 positions they won their duels comfortably. Pat Gilroy, the Dublin manager is coolness personified on the sideline. Why wouldn’t he be as he has, currently, a panel of players bursting a gut to grab a jersey, irrespective of the number on its back for this year’s event. The young talented generation of fellas coming through the underage ranks won’t find it as easy as they might have thought to join the party!
Excitement doesn’t equal quality
You could argue that last weekend’s match involving Wexford and Longford held the spectators’ interest until the very end because of the uncertainty of the outcome. As it happened neither team deserved to lose. In fact you could also say neither of them deserved to win! The quality of football was poor with the exception of a couple of spectacular scores from both sides. But where was the crisp passing possession game, with long direct kicking that carried the Wexford footballers to such lofty heights a year ago? You will recall that they had Dublin in all sorts of bother in the Leinster final last year and, were it not for a comical own goal after a terrible mix up between goalkeeper and full back, they could possibly have gone on and won that final. Watching them play last Sunday evening was like watching paint dry! The short hand passing game plan with so many players behind the ball is damaging the good name of Gaelic football and it now appears that Wexford are the latest in the ever increasing line of teams to adopt this negative and dour style of play. In contrast, Wexford last year were like a breath of fresh air, playing delightful football, with their talented forwards causing a real stir with their flamboyant footballing style, not to mention some flamboyant hairstyles. I make an exception for the wonderful five points scored by Wexford wing back, Adrian Flynn who just had an amazing afternoon putting practically every attempt at a score whether with left or right and irrespective of what angle he was kicking from over the bar. I don’t think you will see five better points scored by a single player in this year’s championship. Jason Ryan has proved himself over the last five years to be a clever and astute manager, going about his business of getting the very best out of his players. His reputation is founded on his excellence as a coach and his man management skills in getting every last ounce out of his squad. But for some reason quite a number of his players looked more than a little out of sorts last weekend. I am unsure who will win this replay but I won’t be racing home to watch it on TV.
Tough to keep going in the face of defeat
I was chatting to a friend from Roscommon during the week when he mentioned that four of the current Roscommon senior football panel had departed for one reason or another. I can understand completely why they decided on this course of action. Most inter-county players put in an enormous effort for months prior to the championship and then to be annihilated in the manner that they were by Galway a few weeks ago means that they are light years away from winning any kind of a title. The penny has more than likely dropped with these fellas that it was pointless staying involved for another number of weeks training, particularly with the possibility that they could be involved in something similar in a month’s time if they were unlucky enough to be drawn against a Kerry or a Cork!
Speaking of those two, I am really looking forward to their encounter this Sunday. Kerry’s display left a lot to be desired two weeks ago and I am beginning to get the impression that it is they, more than any other team with notions of winning Sam that are looking jaded and worn. Their defence, in particular, looked threadbare and porous against Tipperary and I am sure Jack O’ Connor will be hoping that his charges can deliver a performance of real substance which is needed to get them going. Despite my earlier comments regarding the current All-Ireland champions, these two teams rank very highly in everyone's order of merit when it comes to deciding where trophies will rest for the season. A Munster championship involving the big two has the potential to shape a championship like no other. Not to be missed!