I got it wrong here last Sunday in respect of the Tyrone and Derry game. I said that it would be tight for the first 20 minutes and that then Tyrone would pull away. Derry, in fact, held out for 15 minutes and the game was over.
I genuinely find it difficult to understand why many people including a good number of Tyrone followers forecasted a tough game throughout. Tyrone for two years or more have been operating at a different level than most teams including Derry. I suppose as the championship comes around people get revved up in expectation of close encounters. This doesn’t happen nowadays until July and August when the provincial final and All-Ireland quarter-finals takes place respectively.
Looking at last Sunday’s game in Celtic Park one would have to ask if Derry are that poor or if Tyrone is that good. Well, it’s a bit of both. The final margin was eleven points but in truth it could have been much more.
The modern game has evolved in the a power running game where defenders become attackers when going forward and forwards become defenders when in retreat. It’s as simple as that. It requires high endurance levels and peak conditioning. It means that players attack and defend as a unit.
For three years I watched Jim McGuinness make our lads sprint from one 13m line to the other and back again repeatedly. When Derry had possession of the ball they played laterally passing from one side of the field to the other. Their players were not getting ahead of the ball and just stood waiting for this handy ball. They would attempt to go forward by running into tackles but were constantly pushed back by Tyrone and more often than not Derry conceded possession and stood with their hands on hips as they watched Tyrone scythe through their defence time after time. They hadn’t got the fitness to track back or perhaps it wasn’t in their brief to chase back.
Either way, Derry got a lesson from Tyrone. The only other teams in Ulster who can match Tyrone are Donegal and to a lesser extent Monaghan. Armagh and Cavan go head to head this Sunday but neither are serious contenders for Ulster. There was much talk about a revival in Cavan but we saw what Tyrone did to them in the Division 2 League final. Cavan will meet Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final if they beat Armagh on Sunday which they most likely will. It has become very predictable in the championship unfortunately. If Donegal can overcome the Monaghan hoodoo then we will have a Donegal versus Tyrone Ulster final.
One doesn’t have to be an expert GAA pundit to see that there is a massive gulf between the elite and the ordinary in both football and hurling throughout the country. Here is a headline from the GAA’s own website on October 16th 2015 after the championship draws were announced: “Stand-out ties from the early rounds of fixtures in each province include the clash of neighbours Tyrone and Derry in the Ulster SFC and the meeting of Cork and Tipperary in the Munster SHC”. Who are they kidding? Themselves obviously. Derry and Cork were both hammered in their respective games.
The GAA is trying to make the competitions interesting. There’s certainly not much to get the GAA fan sitting on the edge of his or her seat yet. It has been boring and dull (except for the fifteen minutes that Tyrone pulled Derry apart) to date. We can pretend that everything is great with the GAA and some will right through the championship pretending.
Leitrim got a right old hammering from Roscommon at the weekend and Leitrim’s captain Gary Reynolds is now that “weaker counties need more big games”. How will this solve the problem? This will only add to the misery. They need more big games where the competition is tiered in a round robin system.
If Donegal hadn’t appointed Jim McGuinness as team manager we too might have dropped into the mix of ordinary teams. Work starts at under-age where sound structures are put in place. Centres of excellence coupled with a bottomless pit of financial resources are the way forward if teams are to compete at the highest level.
When the current championship is done and dusted at the end of September there will be more calls for a restructuring of the championship format. The game has certainly evolved. I do not believe that the quality or quantity has improved in 20 years as a result though.
I felt sorry for the Derry players last Sunday as they trudged around Celtic Park. I didn’t always feel sorry for them but it was a sad spectacle for the GAA.
There are many more of these types of one sided games to come in the All-Ireland series.
The writing is on the wall and it’s difficult to keep the faith at this time but I will, as always!