Every year the GAA and the sponsors of the National Football League, Allianz Insurance, spend a small fortune trying to promote the league competition. I have no doubt they hire Public Relations companies who send both brand names out into the public and hope they can entice supporters to follow their team.
This year’s slogan goes something like “be there all the way”. Another one I heard was ‘support them all the way in good times and bad’. The National League has never being helped by the sheer fact that the teams who play in the All-Ireland semi-finals are only going back to train when the league starts and many managers would let you believe that they are only using the league to promote a few of the younger lads or trying out players in different positions.
A lot of it is just talk; managers like to deflect the attention away from maybe a few bad results by suggesting that the league doesn’t matter or if they are going well in the league you will hear them say that they’re just trying out a few things before the championship and if they win the league it’s a bonus.
This year is no different with the same old rhetoric coming from the men in charge. However, after watching seven live games in the last two weeks I am not so sure that those same managers have told their players that the league doesn’t matter. While I will talk about the Donegal-Dublin game, the other games I watched this weekend, Mayo versus Tyrone and Monaghan versus Cork, were by no means four sides just turning up to fulfil a fixture. The intensity, the tackling, the score taking and the level of frustration both from the supporters and the players when something went wrong would suggest that every game has to be won.
The Mayo-Tyrone game was similar to that of the Dublin-Donegal game the night before. Tyrone were criticised last weekend for not being physically strong enough to stand up to Monaghan. Their own supporters suggested that many of the players weren’t up to the task and that maybe Mickey Harte had lost a bit of the edge. Mayo, on the other hand, were lauded for their powerful performance against Kerry in Killarney the Sunday before so you would have expected the Connacht men to build on that performance. Not so. Tyrone came out of the blocks like men with something to prove.
I have no doubt the criticism from their own hurt harder than anything you might hear on a sports bulletin or read in a paper. Tyrone went at them from the start and were never in any trouble and if their score taking was a bit sharper they would have been out of sight long before the end. That sort of desire and energy only comes from your senior players and a manager asking for everyone to stand up a be counted. They did and while it was only two points on the league table, they sent out a message that every game counts even in the league.
Cork were no different against Monaghan and even though they won the first game against Dublin there has been a lot of questions asked about the Cork footballers in the last few years. Many suggested they hadn’t got the bottle or just didn’t want it enough. Me personally I have never known a Cork man who wouldn’t go through you for the red of Cork. I have no doubt this set of players are no different.
Monaghan is never an easy place to go either in the league or the championship so to come out with a win, especially after the performance that Monaghan gave against Tyrone in week one, was again, like Tyrone, sending out a message that every game counts and regardless we’re going to win as many as we can.
The game between ourselves and Dublin wasn’t for the faint hearted either. I would have no doubt that every player would have come out of the game feeling sore and extremely exhausted as the amount of running and tackling was similar to that of a championship game. Right, fair enough, there were a few articles last week that the Dubs would be out for revenge; paper talk. Players or managers do not get involved in that sort of stuff but what they might do is lay down a marker for the year ahead; this was certainly that sort of game.
Players from both sides went into tackles at a hundred miles a hour; tackles, I would say, were certainly over the edge and it would be fair to say that Donegal give as good as they got. Players were none too worried about picking up yellow or black cards; it was like the other two games I mentioned, this one mattered.
Donegal started well but just like our last visit to Croker if you concede goals you will struggle to win games especially if you don’t get any at the other end. On the first goal there was a suggestion that Paul Durcan’s kick out led to it. Bull! There were enough defenders between the time that Dublin won the ball to the time it was in the net. Yes, it was a bad kick out but they happen all the time in every game. We, as supporters, like to pick someone out a say it was his fault. The movement of the Dublin forward line when they got the ball was superior to the way we defended and like the second goal scored by Jack McCaffrey, it was of exceptional quality.
Dublin were missing a good few of their more established players but such is their strength-in-depth that they looked just as formidable. Donegal played well at times but while they got plenty of men behind the ball to defend they struggled in front of goals with only Paddy McBrearty, Christy Toye and Michael Murphy looking anyway capable of taking a score.
If we look at the positives there were good performances from Paddy McBrearty, Christy Toye, Hugh McFadden and Michael Murphy. While we could say that it’s only early in the year and it was only a league game, the way in which the players contested every ball and decision it meant a whole pile more.
It’s only a league game; don’t believe it!