OpinionPat Spillane

Ulster monkey business ugly but enthralling

Neil Gallagher and Sean Cavanagh
Neil Gallagher and Sean Cavanagh

Recently I wrote about Dr Steve Peters and his Chimp Paradox theory, which centres on the idea that the key to success is controlling your inner chimp.

Well, last Sunday evening in Ballybofey I was struggling to control mine! Sitting behind the wheel of my car, which hadn’t moved an inch for 45 minutes, all I could think of was the 293-mile, six-hour drive which lay ahead of me.

Thankfully I kept my chimp in check and was able to enjoy the untarnished beauty of Drumcliffe, Benbulben, Galway Bay, Bunratty Castle and Lady’s View.

So what did I think of the match? At times in the second-half I was struggling with the chimp. Overall, though, I enjoyed the match and the occasion.

I was far more annoyed when I read the comments of former Armagh footballer Tony McEntee in his Examiner column on Monday than with anything I witnessed in Ballybofey.

He wrote: “What is it that TV commentators want? Their patronising approach to Ulster football is wearing thin and the constant kindergarten observations towards player positioning is so 2013. Accept how the game is being played and dial down the negativity.”

He didn’t personally name me, but I’m sure I was among his targets. Well, all I can say is that his comments were a typical Ulster response, portraying a siege mentality and a very sensitive disposition.

They were also inaccurate. I was full of praise for the game, particularly the first-half, which produced 16 scores in total – 14 of which came from play.

The quality of the game dropped in the second-half when the fear of losing permeated throughout the field.

There was more than the average number of off-the-ball incidents and the sledging was particularly ugly, but this type of behaviour is not unique to Ulster football. 

As I have alluded to previously, there is a world of difference between how these kind of games are viewed by the TV audience as opposed to having a ringside view.

I’ve met many knowledgeable GAA fans since last Sunday who didn’t enjoy watching the game on TV, describing it as a typical game of attritional Ulster football.

In contrast, I enjoyed the game.  Defensive systems and hand passing were the order of the day. Sometimes, though, there are other features which can make a great sporting contest.

It was full of intensity and passion; there was a tremendous atmosphere, some heroic individual displays and best of all not a single person left the ground until the final whistle sounded because the outcome was in doubt right until the end.

At the same time, let’s not get carried away. As far as I’m concerned, what we witnessed in Ballybofey is not the way I want to see Gaelic football being played.

I accept the right of any team to use whatever tactics they deem necessary, but it saddens me that an all-too simplistic approach of attempting to stop the other team from playing is now coached at all levels of the game, particularly in Ulster.

A herd mentality now prevails among Ulster coaches, where they have accepted that the only way to play football is to be negative.

The minor match between Donegal and 

Tyrone was a carbon copy of the senior clash. It was sad to see athletic, skilful players being instructed to play in such a negative way. These are rubbish tactics. You think

I’m exaggerating? Well then can anybody explain why Tyrone minors failed to register a single score in the second-half? 

The statistics from the senior game don’t make for pretty reading. Despite a wind advantage, the Donegal forwards scored one point from play in the second-half. 

Tyrone failed to score in the last 23 minutes despite dominating possession. The hand/kick-passing ratio was even more depressing. 

Overall there were 318 hand passes compared to 79 kick passes; a ratio of almost 4:1. Donegal executed 175 hand passes and just 31 kicks – a ratio of 6:1.  

Considering that the teams each had the advantage of a gale force wind for 35 plus minutes, it made little sense not to kick the ball more. But in 21st-century coaching, safety-first dominates and possession is king. 

I’m not naive, I accept that this is modern-day Gaelic football – it is effective and Donegal, in particular, are damn good at doing it.

But regardless of what Tony McEntee or others say or write, I don’t see why I can’t criticise it. 

In fact, I am merely reflecting the views of the vast majority of GAA players and supporters.

None of us are prepared to accept what now constitutes modern-day Gaelic football and we had plenty of examples of what I’m talking about during the second-half last