Before last weekend’s All-Ireland semi-finals a well-known Donegal GAA supporter told me he didn’t care who won the All-Ireland “as long as it wasn’t Mayo, Kerry or Tyrone!”
And before the Donegal-Mayo Super 8 game in Castlebar, one of the national journalists covering the game intimated that “the only thing worse than Dublin winning the five in-a-row was Kerry stopping them!”
Well, both the supporter and the journalist are riding on the favourite in the final and even taking into account the tradition that Kerry have, anything other than a Dublin win in the decider will be a major shock.
The poor Mayo supporters were again given hope by their team’s first half performance but then it was cruelly whipped away in a 10 minute spell in the second half. The demolition was spectacular. The physical condition of the entire Dublin team is so far ahead of the others; and then you add in the skill level of the likes of Brian Fenton, Con O’Callaghan, Ciaran Kilkenny and Paul Mannion.
Rather than moan about the fact that they are going for the five in-a-row, we should be enjoying the level of performance which they are producing, especially on the big occasions.
I know it is hard to get any enjoyment out of listening to Jim Gavin in his pre or after match interviews. There is little sense that he is enjoying it; you could even call the interviews dour.
But behind the facade, he obviously has the leadership qualities and he has surrounded himself with a backroom team that are getting the very best from, albeit, a very talented group of players.
What is frightening is that this Dublin team is relatively young. And Gavin is in a position to be ruthless as regards anyone not pulling their weight. However, I was sorry for Kevin McManamon last week as he watched Diarmuid Connolly used as a substitute. Many wondered if the return of Connolly would cause ripples in the squad, but outwardly, at least, that doesn’t seem to have happened.
Gavin obviously sees a future with Connolly (for the six in-a-row) while this year could be the end of the road for McManamon, Bernard Brogan and Eoghan O’Gara.
SUPER 8S CHANGE
While Dublin look set to lift the All-Ireland, there are major questions around the Super 8s and especially the scheduling of the games. Hopefully, there will be further changes for the final year of the three-year trial next year.
It is clear that having no break before the All-Ireland semi-final is something of a disaster. That can be rectified. The change this year to allow the provincial winners have the opening game of the Super 8s at home was welcome. A suggestion put forward that rounds 2 and 3 of the Super 8s be at neutral grounds would be an improvement. It would avoid many of the pitfalls which can arise (Dublin playing two games in Croke Park; Newbridge or Nowhere, etc).
There may also be a need to start the provincial championships a week earlier to allow some breathing space towards the end of the quarter-finals and semi-finals.
But whatever changes are made will not lessen the fact that Dublin are dominant at the moment and all of the other contenders (including Donegal) have work to do.
Next year, as I was reminded by Edmund Brennan this week, will see a different type of draw in the Ulster championship with Derry and Tyrone not included in the first draw for the preliminary round (they are exempt after being drawn last year).
However, winning the provincial championship will still remain the easiest route to the Super 8s and Donegal will be going for a first ever three in-a-row.
BIG NIGHT FOR HARPS
Finn Harps will mark a major milestone on Saturday night when they gather to remember their entry into the League of Ireland 50 years ago. There were some remarkable years for the club, especially in the 1970s, when there was some great talent in the team, mostly from Derry. We remember with fondness Brendan Bradley, Jim ‘Chang’ Smith, Jim Sheridan, Jim McDermott, the O’Dohertys, Terry Harkin, you could go on and on.
It was a major achievement to get the team into the league and they have endured. A good number of the players will be there on Saturday night to take part in the celebrations. There will be plenty of stories, like Richie Kelly’s article elsewhere in this edition, where Brendan Bradley was transferred from Derry City for the momentous fee of £100!
Enjoy the night.