OpinionPat Spillane

I have to call it as I see it and standards have taken a nosedive

Atrocious: Mary Lynch of Derry in action against Brendan McArdle of Down
Atrocious: Mary Lynch of Derry in action against Brendan McArdle of Down

RECENTLY my wife Rosarii woke me up with the news that the GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghail was after having a right cut off me in the newspapers.

Years ago, having a pop at yours truly was a popular parlour game among GAA officials, but I thought we had all moved on. 
 
Besides, I haven’t said anything controversial for years; Joe Brolly now has a monopoly in that department. In fact, I haven’t even been that cranky of late. 
 
So I was at a complete loss to understand how I had upset the newly elected GAA President. Apparently, he had taken grave offence to a remark I made FOUR years ago about Donegal and the Taliban.
 
I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry! For the record, what I said was “Donegal had a Taliban-like defence”, meaning it was very extreme. Now, that’s a world of difference from describing Donegal as the Taliban and I reject the President’s assertion that it was a “dangerous comment”.
 
During my 22 years as a GAA analyst I have made a deliberate effort never to personalise criticism.  I make a lot of tongue-in-cheek comments and at times I have been out of order and deserved the criticism I received.
 
However, a lot of my critics – including the GAA President on this occasion – misinterpret what I say. Hopefully, the comments by the President were a once-off, because otherwise the GAA is heading down a very dangerous path. 
 
They are many challenging problems facing the GAA, but the opinions of analysts is most certainly not one of them! These days I struggle with my conscience nearly every time I appear on The Sunday Game. I have to cast aside my romantic notion of football and accept that I won’t see it.
 
But in order to be positive I end up using generic words like ‘enthralling’, ‘intriguing’, ‘intense’, ‘competitive’, ‘exciting’ and ‘tactical’. The truth is that using those adjectives is a cop-out; it avoids saying that the game is downright awful.
 
Last Sunday I arrived at a point during the Derry v Down game when I said to myself ‘enough is enough’. There is no point in trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and this was a brutal game of football.
 
Granted, there were some redeeming about the contest. The performances of the Derry pair Mark Lynch and Eoin Bradley stood out. Down’s Conor Laverty impressed in the second-half, while his team showed commendable resilience in taking the game to their opponents after being reduced to 14 men in the third quarter.
 
One of the problems with the blanket defence is that Donegal are probably the only team who have mastered how to use it. So while Derry and Down got plenty of bodies behind the ball, the players didn’t know what their precise role was.
 
For example, Eoin Bradley waltzed through the ‘blanket’ on several occasions with scarcely a hand being laid on him. On other occasions the two teams gave away cheap frees by fouling players who were going nowhere in possession.
 
Save for the individual brilliance of Bradley and Lynch, and on occasions Laverty, neither side had a discernible attacking plan. 
 
The match statistics prove my point: Down managed four points from play, they kicked 11 wides and some of their shot options and kick techniques were woeful. Derry were only marginally better: despite having an extra man they failed to score for 23 minutes in the second half and neither side had a shot at goal in the entire game.
 
Remember, this was a match between a team that played in Division 1 this year against a team that will be replacing them in Division 1 next season. Never mind a two-tier championship. We probably need a four-tier championship as we have in hurling because the gulf between the counties is so vast.
 
Anyway my message today is that I’m no longer Mr Nice Guy. I’m not going to pretend that a game is something that it isn’t.
 
Finally, my response to the criticism levelled at me by the GAA President is that the next time he wants to have a pop at me, just give me a ring beforehand and I will explain exactly what I meant.