The Tyrone versus Derry game lived up to expectations last Sunday. It was dull, boring and very one-sided. It was just exactly what it was, a Division 1 team playing Division 3 opposition. When Donegal played Antrim, at least there was a bit of a fight in the Saffron men.
The Derry players trudged about the field without urgency or passion. I appreciate that they were short a number of players due to varying reasons. Some, I believe, cried off due to lack of interest. In times past, Derry and Tyrone were at each other’s throats and at the same time served out a feast of tasty football. Derry did rally for a short period after the break but didn’t seem to have the confidence to drive on. Mind you, Tyrone did not set the world alight. They were the much superior team but they will certainly have to move up a few gears for their semi-final meeting with Donegal.
For the life of me, I don’t understand what has happened with the senior Derry inter-county football team in recent years. One cannot blame their manager Damien Barton who took over the reins two years ago. He is a former All-Ireland medal winner, is articulate and knows the game inside out.
We often hear rumours about club versus county in Derry. They always seem to produce good minor teams as was evidenced last Sunday when they beat Tyrone. There appears to be a difficulty bringing these players from the minor stage to senior football. I don’t know what happens within the county but to onlookers like myself these players are not coming through to the senior ranks.
For as long as I remember, Derry were always one of the main contenders for the Ulster championship. In recent times, Donegal, Tyrone and Monaghan have pulled away from the other Ulster counties. Of course, they got the financial backing to enable them to progress which is a prerequisite for modern day success. I believe that there are other factors involved too. Because the GAA has edged into a professional era where demands on players are extreme, many potential inter-county players are opting out of the pressures required nowadays. Derry certainly did not have their best team on display last weekend. Some players pulled out during and after their league campaign. Just recently, Johnny Munroe left the Tyrone panel. We’ve had our own departures too namely, Brick Molloy, Anthony Thompson, Leo McLoone, Stephen McBrearty and Odhran McNeilis.
I genuinely believe that players will not hang around if they are not getting game time or especially if they know deep in their hearts that game time is not a genuine prospect. Others, I feel, don’t want to take on the pressures, commitment or sacrifice of playing for their county.
Then there are those counties where players know that they do not have a genuine chance of success. Because of the gulf that has developed between those who do have a chance and the others who do not, players are not committing to their county.
One has to realise that the game has evolved to the point where inordinate time has to be expended by players, managers and back-room staff to the detriment of any semblance of normal social intercourse with family and friends.
In July 1989 on the Saturday before our Ulster final against Tyrone, I spent the day raking my garden preparing it for sowing. It was a hot day and Sunday was even hotter. I got the ‘Man of the match’ award that day. We were a tough bunch back then. I probably should have done landscaping every Saturday! Times are different now.
Teams are holed up in an hotel the day before game, including the National League. Training camps take place every weekend when there are no inter-county games. Players go to the gym on alternate mornings and train harder, longer and more frequent. Hours of video analysis have to be deciphered by managers and players. Nutritionists and psychologists are frequent visitors to collective training sessions. Players’ work rates are measured at every training session and at every game. Once in a blue moon a weighing scales was produced for us back in the day. Our current inter-county players still have to hold down permanent jobs and must have a very understanding boss to facilitate the time required to train.
As a spectator now, for all the modern technology, systems and tactics, the entertainment value has certainly decreased. I had an avid Tyrone supporter in for treatment last Monday morning and obviously the topic of football was discussed. He hasn’t missed a Tyrone game in 30 years, except last Sunday. He lay on his couch at home and watched the game on television. He said he got a sore back from lying bored on his sofa. That’s why he was with me. “It’s like basketball now” he said. “They have the ball for a while and try to score. When they lose the ball, every player retreats until they get the ball back again. Over and back they go, fist passing”.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s frustrating for us to watch but as I said last week, it’s there now and we have to accept it. Weren’t Tyrone and Donegal the architects of this modern game? We sure were.
Armagh and Down collide this Sunday and it’s really immaterial to the overall scheme of things who will win, suffice to say that it will be a close game. My Tyrone friend and I are waiting for our respective counties to meet in a couple of weeks’ time. He won’t be on the couch that day. Surely this game will provide some excitement, frills and spills.
For now, I’m keeping the faith!