Last Sunday RTE ran a championship special show on the coming season ahead; who were going to be the winners when it came to handing out the bit of silverware come September? The usual stuff with the pundits giving their views on who would come through each province, then coming to the conclusion that it would be down to three or four who were capable of going the whole way.
Dublin, Kerry and Mayo were the first names out on everyone’s lips with the likes of Galway, Tyrone and Donegal getting a mention but they were not quite there yet compared to the big three.
Nothing really enthralling about much of what was said but Colm O’Rourke made the suggestion that the lads up in Ulster, as it was a different planet, were more interested in winning the Anglo Celt; that the All-Ireland seemed to be a ‘well, were here now we’ll give it go’ sort of tournament.
What was surprising was that no one pulled him on it. Nobody said, well hold on here a minute, Ulster is probably the only provincial championship that there is enough teams in it to make it competitive. Nothing, not a word, as if the players from Donegal, Tyrone, Monaghan and the other six counties were only interested in playing their own championship and maybe they might be overwhelmed or unworthy of going on for greater things.
Maybe those that were there didn’t hear or realise what the Meath man was suggesting or indeed maybe he meant nothing derogatory when he said what he said, but as someone who played a lot of summers trying not only to win the Anglo Celt but also to achieve the unthinkable, his comments seemed to me a bit degrading.
When Down won the Sam Maguire in 1991, it was acceptable. They had a proud history from the sixties so they were entitled to their day in the sun, but you got a sense that normality would resume the following year, one of the traditionalists would be back in favour.
Then came ourselves, Derry followed the year after, Down came back for another shot and many who remember would have felt Tyrone should have come through in 95.
But the attitude still remained, especially within the mainstream media, it was a glitch, we would soon get back to normal. You hear it a lot, Dublin need to win an All-Ireland every so often to keep the games alive in the capital,.
Kerry are the home of football and it’s in their D.N.A. You never hear that about many other counties. It’s as if nobody else should spoil the party. When Jim McGuinness came along in 2012, it was his tactics; many marvelled at the way he set up the team and it was all about stopping the other team and breaking them down into submission. Very little credit was given to the players outside of the county.
When Tyrone and Armagh came strong in the early 2000s, it was all about the blanket defence, the swarming of midfield and systemic fouling; the Ulster boys had it down to a fine art. Yes, the likes of Peter Canavan and Oisin McConville were signalled out for some praise but the capital’s media suggested that the game had changed.
It’s as if those All-Irelands were not won as well as say that of Kerry, Dublin or Meath. Maybe I am just being a bit too sensitive, but it’s not until you delve down into what is said and discussed year after year do you get the feeling that you’re not welcome to the party.
It’s become the norm for Ulster teams to be criticised for the way they set out to play the game, defend in numbers and attack at speed. Who are the best exponents of the short kick-out? Dublin. When it is discussed they don’t suggest that Dublin are unwilling to contest the long ball in the middle of the field; it’s because Stephen Cluxton has the ability to pick out players at will. If one of the northern teams, as we are affectionately known, apply the same tactic, it’s because their midfielders are not up to the challenge, or it’s the way we play the game.
In the 2014 final between Donegal and Kerry, the Munster champions had everyone behind the ball when Donegal had possession. Michael Murphy was man handled the entire day; not a word. In fact one of the headlines suggested it was football that won out on the day. Why? Because it was one of the usual traditional counties that won.
On the day Kerry got it right, but the tactics they employed were not scrutinised as much. Aidan O’Mahony’s treatment of Murphy was not discussed at any great length; no one from Donegal could suggest it because it would have sounded bitter. Indeed Dublin have employed the same tactics themselves and no one for one moment would criticise them for it; it’s the way the game has gone.
Dublin, Kerry and Mayo are the best teams in the country at the moment; they have been for a good few years now. But by dismissing every other team without giving proper reason for doing so is flippant and shows a bit of arrogance by those who present our games.
There are many different reasons why teams don’t win the All-Ireland but just not being bothered just because you won the Anglo Celt would not be one of them.