Donegal in another Ulster final; Kerry with another crown in Munster and Kilkenny win another Leinster hurling crown. You could be forgiven for thinking that nothing changes much in the GAA.
You would be right; not that I am giving out about Donegal going into their sixth Ulster final in-a-row. God knows we went plenty of years without the hope of any.
Donegal went into last Saturday night’s game against Monaghan with a lot of doubters. The critics have been gathering for a while with this Donegal side. Many have questioned whether the older lads have still the appetite for the battles; whether the younger lads have what it takes to reach the highs of the Jim McGuinness era. The discipline of the team has been put in question over the last few years with many of the tactics highlighted by the Sunday Game and other such programmes placing a lot of pressure on officials to take extra caution when it came to Donegal.
Donegal have changed under Rory Gallagher; his view on the game is different. Donegal are definitely more attack-minded with Ryan and Eoin McHugh being given the task of carrying the ball at the opposition and drawing their defence out. The likes of Frank McGlynn and Martin McElhinney come along on the next wave and force the opposition to come out some more. Then the likes of Murphy, Paddy McBrearty, Mac Naillais and Marty O’Reilly get on the ball and hopefully come up with the scores.
While much of what Jim McGuinness did was similar in the defensive aspect of our game, there seems to be a greater emphasis on attack with a lot of pace. Monaghan could not handle the speed in which Donegal put the ball through the hands in either game and when we drove at them down the middle we got plenty of opportunities to score.
However, because we commit so many bodies to the attack, if the ball breaks down we are open to conceding goal chances. We kicked 17 points on Saturday night, a great return for any championship game. We played well and were dominant throughout, yet we only scraped through.
I have no doubt in the next week or so the Donegal management and players will sit down and tighten up the defence and set out a plan to combat whatever Tyrone will throw at them. It’s a great testament to the players involved that there is still the hunger and commitment to continue to compete at the highest level and regardless of the fact that many of the players have won whatever the game has to offer, they still pursue more and drive on those around them. Their commitment to the Donegal cause can never be measured in titles won, games played or any of those silly stats we get all the time now. For players, who will get very little else out of the game, the satisfaction is that they gave the best they had to offer and were the best they could be when it mattered most.
This group of players have raised the bar maybe beyond a point that can be followed. Younger players who come into the squad from here on in will have to make huge sacrifices, and in fact I am not that sure the commitment that many of the modern players, not only in Donegal, can be maintained never mind improved or bettered.
As I said at the start, very little changes in the GAA but that’s not true when it comes to the players. It’s interesting to note that when Ireland beat Italy a few weeks back at Euro 2016 pictures and videos were shown of the players having a few drinks with family and friends after the game.
Of course, very little if any criticism was levelled at the Irish lads and rightly so; it would do no harm to let the hair down for a while. I wonder would GAA followers be as understanding towards their own county players if they were seen celebrating after a victory.
While I will touch on the Ulster final next week, it goes without saying that it will be a hard fought encounter and whatever team goes through they will have earned their victory. The same cannot be said about Kerry. Yes, they did deserve their victory because they were better prepared and conditioned for the level they are expected to play at. Tipperary are getting there, but defeats like last Sunday will only slow that progression forward. Yes, they have to learn and only by defeat do you learn anything about how to succeed . The players will find out more about themselves in defeat than they will ever learn by winning all the time.
But what stood out is how easy at times it was for the Kerry men. Even after conceding an early goal they opened up Tipp at their ease and the gulf in class was evident for all to see and while Tipp did give it a go, they were wide open and to be honest I doubt if Kerry ever got out of third gear.
It was no shame for Tipperary but if they want to compete at the highest level they have to start playing smart football with a great level of tactical awareness.
Kilkenny proved again far too strong for a Galway team who, after the management saga of last year, looked under pressure to succeed from the start. Kilkenny are past masters at this sort of stuff and are, without doubt, the best team of hurlers in the game today. But what I didn’t like was the view issued by many commentators after the game. The Galway players were called gutless.
It must be an Irish thing that we have to jump on those who try to better themselves and when it looks as if they have failed we jump all over them. Such punditry is common practice now on sports programmes in this country; so-called experts who have their own agendas and who make little of the efforts of others. I know who should be called gutless.