I’m not writing off Tyrone’s All-Ireland chances – but they look like a one-in-row team
I WAS a worried man last watching the start of the football championship.
The first eight matches played in the provincial championships were mostly one-sided, pedestrian affairs.
Granted, Limerick’s victory over Clare was a minor surprise. But it did not provide sufficient material to fill a newspaper column.
Salvation came in the ninth match. Not for the first time, my good friends in Tyrone rescued the situation.
During the noughties – when Tyrone were in their prime, winning All-Ireland titles in 2003, 2005 and 2008 – I was public enemy No 1 in the county. But there was a positive side to being cast in the role of villain.
The more I gave out about them, the more they paid me to speak at GAA functions.
The organisers at these clubs always gave me one bit of advice: don’t apologise.
The audience hated what I had to say – but they still wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
My opening salvo was always the same. Of course, it was a joke, but I sounded deadly serious when I delivered it.
I recalled how privileged I was to be involved in Kerry’s All-Ireland winning teams between 1978 and 1981, as well as the three-in-row side between 1984 and 1986.
Then I would pause and invariably somebody would shout, ‘You forget to mention 1975.”
I’d reply: ‘Actually in Kerry we don’t count one in a rows.’
The remark always went down like a lead balloon. On more than one occasion I was invited outside to settle the argument.
Today, I’m returning to the one-in-a-row theme.
Actually, I’m not writing off Tyrone’s All-Ireland chances just yet – but, right now, the heroes of 2021 do look like being a one-in-row team.
It takes a very good side to win an All-Ireland. But only great teams manage to win back-to-back titles.
Ex-Tyrone boss Mickey Harte failed to do it on three occasions.
The so-called ‘messiah’ Jimmy McGuinness was a classic one-hit wonder as a manager with Donegal.
In the season after their All-Ireland success they were humiliated by Mayo, and then beaten by an ageing Kerry team in the 2014 final. Hardly the work of a messiah.
Winning back-to-back All-Ireland titles is very difficult because it’s not easy to replicate the hunger, commitment and drive which secured the first win.
The players might be giving 98 per cent commitment in season two, but the missing two per cent will drag you down to defeat.
In professional sport more success means more money. In the GAA it just means another medal.
The fact that seven Tyrone players left the panel this year suggests they were not prepared to put their lives on hold in pursuit of a second Celtic Cross.
This is why we’ve got to marvel at Dublin’s achievement in winning six championships in a row.
They succeeded because they had a huge squad. Players couldn’t afford to become complacent.
Furthermore, they had leaders in every line and a brilliant manager.
Tyrone were very flat against Derry, failing to replicate the desire and work-rate which characterised their successful 2021 campaign.
With the exception of Darragh Canavan, they had no impact substitutes.
Losing those seven players from the panel meant there was no real competition for starting places.
Surely, last year’s first team got comfortable?
When they were in their prime and winning many All-Irelands, neither the great Kerry or Dublin teams depended on a handful of key players.
In contrast, Tyrone are hugely reliant on Peter Harte, Conor Meyler, and Kieran McGeary to drive them on.
These players struggled against Derry – and so did the team as a whole.
And, of course, Mattie Donnelly is out injured now.
Tyrone couldn’t even get the basics right. One forward, Darren McCurry, scored from play. Not nearly good enough.
It was a classic example of the hunter being hunted down themselves. Eleven of Derry’s points came from Tyrone’s turnovers.
Discipline has been a problem all year – Brian Kennedy was their latest player to see red.
Their decision to challenge earlier red cards in the boardroom was ultimately counter-productive in my view.
They have a lot of soul-searching to do in the weeks ahead.
I will look at Derry in more detail before their semi-final against Monaghan.
Their victory wasn’t a fluke. Far from it; Rory Gallagher had his forces well marshalled.
Granted, their defensive set-up was ultra-conservative.
But when they broke out, they did so at speed, with at least three players getting into position up front to score.
I liked their physicality, their pace, and their long kicking game.
Gareth McKinless and Conor Glass are a serious combination in the middle third.
I don’t think there is an All-Ireland in the team, but they are certainly in the hunt for an Ulster title this season.
The less said about the other provincial games the better.
It is pointless attempting to do any serious analysis of Dublin, Kildare, Meath or Monaghan – as they were facing such inferior opposition.
Sligo’s loss to Roscommon reminded me of Mike Tyson’s famous quote about every opponent having a plan until they got a punch in the mouth.
All Sligo’s plans went out the window when David Philips was red-carded in the first half.
It was sad to see how a proud GAA county like Down were so out of their depth in their game against Monaghan.
As regular readers know I abhor the idea of any team being eliminated from the championship via a penalty shoot-out.
It is no better than drawing lots. My sympathies are with Clare.
Speaking of missing out on a crack at the main championship, we now have a good idea of the counties that will miss the Sam Maguire series and have to conclude the season in the Tailteann Cup.
And my niggly doubts about the second-tier championship are resurfacing by the day.
Why isn’t there a separate sponsor for the Tailteann Cup? Will there be an All-Star trip for the winners of the competition?
And why not revert to the original idea of playing the final as a curtain-raiser to the Sam Maguire decider?
What’s happening in the lower-tier hurling competitions does not fill me with confidence.
There is no TV coverage and a very limited amount in the national print media.
It seems to be a box-ticking exercise; the fixture schedule is nothing short of a joke, for example.
In the Joe McDonagh Cup – the most important of the subsidiary competitions, in that two of its teams get into the Liam MacCarthy Cup – Antrim played Carlow at 12.30 and the Down v Offaly and Kerry v Meath games both started at 1pm.
Pray tell me, who goes to matches in the middle of the day on a Saturday?
What I fear most for the Tailteann Cup is the attitude of the players from the weaker counties.
The counties have all suffered heavy losses in the provincial series.
Here’s the list: Louth (beaten by 16 points), Carlow (15), Antrim (13), Wexford (13), Sligo (12) Down (10), Wicklow (10), Waterford (8) and Fermanagh (7).
I’m not sure players from these counties will be very motivated to give the second competition a serious crack.
A couple of weeks ago more than 700 players had received temporary transfers to play abroad – most in the United States this summer.
I imagine that by the time the deadline expired last weekend that number had doubled.
And it will be the star players from the weaker counties that clubs in the US will target.
All told I fear that the Tailteann Cup faces big challenges this summer.
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