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Pat Spillane: GAA writers denigrate this column – don’t they have original ideas?

Pat says online abuse has dried up since he left his role as a TV pundit

Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan battles with Derry’s Conor McCluskey© Sportsfile via Getty Images

Pat Spillane

I had a Road-to-Damascus moment while watching the Derry v Monaghan Ulster SFC semi-final.

It dawned on me that Derry were playing a totally new brand of Gaelic football. And I really liked it.

Without the ball, every player defended. Once they had the ball, all 15 turned into attackers.

It was this part of their game plan which caught my fancy.

Derry have intelligent footballers who play heads-up football. Critically, they are able to read and adapt to changing situations.

I love the way they ‘occupy’ opposition defenders, utilise space and use supporting runs. They are patient – and, on occasions, run hard at the blanket defence, which can expose weaknesses.

But the best bit was how they identified weak links in the Monaghan blanket and exploited them.

They had a field day exposing Conor McManus and Jack McCarron when they were part of the blanket defence.

Conor McCluskey, for example, had a one-v-one with McManus before he scored Derry’s goal.

So, hats off to Rory Gallagher and his backroom staff. It was a masterclass in attacking football.

My long-winded point is that I can appreciate modern-day football. I’m not rigid in my views and can be won over. And I was certainly won over by the Oak Leaf county’s performance.

I do not accept the provincial championships are the ugly ducklings of the GAA.

They were subjected to so much ridicule and, according to many, there is no interest in them.

I have to confess that recently I, too, was beginning to question my lifelong love of the competitions.

There are no shortage of reasons to get rid of them – starting with Dublin’s dominance of Leinster and Kerry’s supremacy in Munster.

But, having watched every day of the Punchestown Racing Festival last week, I thought maybe we are beating ourselves up too much about the inequities in the provincial championships.

In all the Grade 1 races at Punchestown, Willie Mullins had at least half the horses –and in some cases five out of six.

His wealthy owners made sure he had all the best horses. Think about how unfair this is.

What if Dublin were allowed to field 10 teams in the Leinster championship and if Kerry had five out of six teams in the Munster championship, while their wealthy supporters bought all the best available players.

My friends, that’s what’s happening in Irish horse racing. And, I don’t hear many complaining or highlighting the unfairness of it all.

Shrewd appointment: Derry manager Rory Gallagher. Photo: Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Why should they? The people involved know they are riding the most lucrative gravy train in Irish sport.

Next year this little country of ours will hand over €24m in state support for horse racing in Ireland, while the top three national hunt owners will claim over a quarter of the prize money available.

So, maybe the provincial GAA football championships aren’t all that bad after all.

Over the last few weeks at venues all over Ireland, we witnessed how much joy victories in the provincial series generate.

There is a decent pick: Offaly beating Meath; Louth reaching the Leinster final; Clare beating Cork; New York beating Leitrim; Roscommon beating Mayo and Monaghan taking the scalp of Tyrone in Omagh.

These local triumphs still mean a lot to people.

I believe the provincial championships still have a place in the GAA.

Last weekend’s action produced so many talking points. But may I start with something about myself.

I’m often asked do I miss appearing on The Sunday Game? Absolutely not is my honest answer.

The abuse on social media has all but dried up, but I have noticed a new trend.

2 September 2018; RTÉ Sunday Game presenter Michael Lyster, right, with panalists, from left, Colm O'Rourke, Joe Brolly and Pat Spillane ahead of Lyster's final Sunday Game broadcast prior to the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It has become fashionable for writers on a number of GAA websites to repeatedly denigrate this column.

I know I should be flattered. But, really, it is the laziest form of journalism. Have they no original ideas?

I have already given my views on Derry. Their opponents Monaghan merely confirmed my theory that they’re a ‘winter’ team.

I suspected that once pitches dried up, they would be found out – and that’s what happened.

They have too many players with a lot of football mileage clocked up, they lacked pace, were too passive in defence – and played into Derry’s hands by trying to mirror their set-up.

Former Donegal captain Michael Murphy suggested on TV that Monaghan had no other option. I disagree.

Managers have to think a bit more outside the box rather than just mirror what the opposition are doing. Once you do that, you are forced to play the game on the opposition’s terms.

In terms of tactics, Armagh gave us a blast from the past and illustrated that the ‘Hail Mary’ kick into the square can still be productive. In Armagh’s case, it yielded three goals against Down.

It was a workmanlike performance from Armagh, who, thankfully, have reintroduced their kicking game. As for Down, they are still a long way behind in terms of their development.

They came with one plan – to defend. Their first point from play came in the 31st minute and the first point from play in the second half came in the 70th minute. Guess what, they lost.

I guess I owe my readers an apology for writing last Sunday that Dublin were in position to win the All-Ireland.

Mind you, the hurling analysts predicted Limerick would romp home in the Liam MacCarthy Cup – and look what happened to them.

Everything about Dublin’s performance against Kildare was so unlike what we expect from them.

Their game management, shooting, decision-making and composure were mostly woeful. It was a really sloppy performance.

They had what I would describe as ‘ordinary’ players starting last Sunday.

They might still win the All-Ireland, but this team is a pale shadow of their six-in-a-row side.

They are living on muscle memory and depending on the same few whose best days are probably behind them.

In fairness, Kildare made a decent fist of taking on the Dubs, but there are no trophies handed out for moral victories. In the last 27 minutes, the Lilies were outscored five points to one.

Their decision-making was poor, as was their composure.

To be honest, they looked like a bunch of players who knew they would be competitive but didn’t believe they could win.

The other Leinster semi-final between Louth and Offaly was a very enjoyable game. But – standard-wise – it was average.

The difference between Kildare and Louth is that Mickey Harte’s side truly believed they would win. The superior conditioning of the Louth players told in extra-time.

Overall, though, it was a good weekend for the provincial competitions.

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