Autumn or the ‘Fall,’ as they called it in America, has well and truly set in. It’s now known as club ‘Championship Time’ or the ‘Fall’ in relation to GAA football. I went to Letterkenny (a big day out) to watch St. Eunan’s and Gweedore play in a group championship game last Sunday evening in the hope that my faith in Gaelic football would be restored.
I cannot pretend or make excuses. It was boring, tedious and uninspiring. There were many talented players on show. The prospects of a great game were hyped up by all and sundry in this past couple of weeks. It was supposed to be an exciting contest. For a neutral, it deteriorated into a defensive chess game. Blame cannot be attributed to either the managers or the players. Our game has gone downhill in respect of technical skills, fluency and freedom of expression. I don’t think that the players even enjoyed playing this type of negative football. This is not ‘old-school’ thinking, this is fact. Gweedore got ahead and parked McGinley’s and Feda O’Donnell’s buses in the second half. I would have done the same myself. We’re in control, break us down if you can.
I saw Declan Bonner not far from me and I’m sure that he was thinking how I was. Declan played positive and attacking football all his life with Na Rossa and currently with Donegal. This is why I believe that Donegal will be a serious threat in the near future.
St. Eunan’s lacked the ‘know-how’ to penetrate a stubborn and solid Gweedore defence. The Letterkenny men are young and will learn from this game. If we all truly want to learn, we need to watch the best. Dublin have conquered all the systems with fluency, extraordinary fitness, purposefulness, dexterity and decisiveness.
They say that we “caught them on the hop” in 2014 in the All-Ireland semi-final. Yes, we did and didn’t. Jim McGuinness simply out-thought Jim Galvin. Galvin learned a lot from this defeat though. He decided that lateral football was the way to go but that he must inject pace when the time was right. One has to watch Dublin playing in the flesh. Their approach is not appreciated on television. All of the players may be supplied with cars but on the field, they are constantly moving on their feet. They cover much more ground per player than their opposing marker.
I watched players from both St.Eunans and Gweedore standing. It was robotic. Again, it’s not their faults. This is what happens when teams are instructed to play ultra-defensive. I’ve coached players to do the same but I always said that the player needs to be moving to receive the ball. Don’t be static. This gives the opponent a chance to close you down.
Please, closely watch Dublin’s tactics. They shift the ball at speed even when an opponent isn’t close. It’s bang, bang, bang. They create a rhythm. It tires the opposition because they make their opponents constantly chase. Sure, they will concede but they are confident that they will score more than they give to the opposition. They work on percentages. Just take a look back at the All-Ireland final. Tyrone tried to score from anywhere inside the 45m line. Dublin patiently worked the ball into more productive areas where their chances of scoring were optimised. They were obviously instructed to shoot from only certain areas.
Gweedore and St. Eunans were very evenly matched. There were a lot of ‘verbals’ and unsavoury incidents during the game. This is to be expected in any championship encounter. On the day, these unnecessary but accepted side-shows did little to enhance the quality of the game. I heard a lot of insults and jibes from both sets of supporters which is customary for most championship fayre. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter to me or any other neutral spectator. Gweedore will be delighted to have beaten the Letterkenny men in their own back yard. But, sure isn’t that all that matters? And if I was a manager or a player, I would say the same thing. It’s about winning and who cares?
Well, as a long-past player and manager, I still care. The Gweedore and St. Eunan’s game was a testament to the current state of Gaelic football in Ireland. I believe that our players and managers care too. In fact, any of us associated with Gaelic football care an awful lot. We can moan and berate our players, our managers, our officials and administrators. I have listened to and debated with GAA enthusiasts all of my footballing life.
In recent times, I’ve listened to arguments about Dublin’s dominance. Split Dublin into two teams? Change the game from 15-a-side to 13-a-side? We need to face reality. Dublin have raised the crossbar. They have shown us how to beat defensive teams and manage teams who like to bully and play on the edge. A monster may have been created by the GAA but monsters are there to be brought down. We need to change our mindset, our defeatist approach and above all admit that we need to match the standard that has been set.
Let’s keep the faith!