As the Mayo players, management and supporters come to terms with falling at the last hurdle yet again, they have to wonder what they have to do to get their hands on Sam.
They did everything that was expected from them in the first game and were certainly not shy about getting stuck in last Saturday evening but just when you expected them to kick on, they stalled. Maybe they just didn’t believe, it’s hard to know.
Many of the commentators had it down as a classic; one of the games of the year. Rubbish. It was littered with turnovers, poor fist passing, some dreadful shooting for scores and the foot passing left a lot to be desired.
The refereeing was not at the standard that you would have expected either. The referee is an easy target for suggesting when a game turns out like the replay; the first 20 was let go and the game flowed. After the Johnny Cooper black card the game disintegrated; the tackles started to fly in; nothing that malicious but you got the feeling it wasn’t that far away from getting out of control.
Then Lee Keegan got another black card, like Cooper’s, a poor decision. I have listened to all the experts; I have done a piece on the black card where I have studied the rule inside out and if the referee wanted, every tackle could be a black card. I agree with those that say it needs to be done away with; it will make the game easier to officiate. We must define the tackle, define what exactly a player should get a yellow or red card for.
How many times last weekend did we see players strike, yet a yellow card comes out? I am not so sure that many of the modern officials have the faintest idea what exactly is a good tackle and what isn’t. The crowd roars, they reach. Both Johnny Cooper and Lee Keegan had their final appearance cut short last Saturday night because of poor calls. James McCarthy, the week before; it’s the same every year. We all give out, yet those who control our games don’t seem to give a toss; they’re right; they know all the answers yet the game is dying on its feet. You’ll find the real hurling people don’t allow the rules to be changed quite as easy.
Of course your heart would go out to those Mayo players who gave everything and they have to get over the final hurdle but sport is like that, you don’t always get what people might think you deserve.
Dublin are a great side; they have won back-to-back All-Irelands. Regardless of the pick of players, regardless of the amount of backing they have, the management and especially the players have to have the hunger to go out and get it. They probably had to work harder this year than any other. They have excellent players on the bench that would start for any other county team. Their discipline has been excellent under Jim Gavin who reluctantly takes any credit for his input.
I have no doubt the Mayo players will have another go. What else can they do? This defeat will increase the hunger and desire to finally break that cycle. Whether it’s with the same squad, time will tell.
But Dublin will want to be stronger next year. They will be driven by the three in-a-row. Their younger players will want to get a taste of the big time and the more experienced lads, who have driven this side, will want to walk away on a high.
Looking back on the All-Ireland series, was it all it was made out to be? Were there that many outstanding games? Only a few of any great note. Football has changed; players are fitter than ever before. The game is being played at a greater pace and the gap between the strongest and weaker counties is wider than ever before. You will often hear people suggesting that there are only about three or four teams that have a serious chance of winning the Liam McCarthy Cup; the same can be now said in football. Counties that have the put in place good structures and have the financial backing with good sponsorship deals have a huge advantage. Should they be punished for it? Of course not, it is up to the other counties to catch up.
We all know that is not humanly possible as the small counties can’t compete, so nothing will change. For the rest of the year we will hear how important the club players are; how they are the heartbeat of the organisation; yet they are asked to play their football or hurling in the depths of winter.
I heard an interesting conversation about the replay of the Glen-St Naul’s Intermediate quarter-final. The game had to go ahead on a Wednesday night with 23 players having to travel back from all around the country to take part. The chat, or argument, whatever you want to call it, was whether this game should have been fixed or not. The blame was laid fair and square on the fixtures committee but after a bit of checking up it seems that is not the whole picture. It seems the clubs were offered alternative fixtures earlier in the year as there would have been no need for a midweek fixture in the case of a draw. The clubs didn’t go with any of the alternatives so we ended up having to get lads to travel back for a game that could and should have been played at the weekend.
The county board are under enough pressure from every angle when it comes to playing fixtures; sometimes they can get it wrong but if the clubs don’t think ahead and work together this carry on will continue.
Whatever about midweek games during the summer there certainly should be none this time of the year and while club officials blame county board and vice versa, club players need to organise themselves better to make sure their opinions are heard and their interests protected. The blame game needs to stop if we are to improve things for all parties.