complete joke | 

Pat Spillane: Why this year's championship is the GAA version of speed dating

Over-hyped Armagh got tactics wrong as defence a real mess

Jason McGee (left) and Michael Langan of Donegal compete with Rian O'Neill

Pat Spillane

This year's Championship is the GAA's version of speed dating - blink and you'll miss it. It is a complete joke.

Look at yesterday's programme, there were six football matches, all starting between 4.30pm and 6.30pm.

One of them was a provincial semi-final between Sligo and Roscommon which was brought forward from today because of - wait for it - a clash with the Sligo races.

The local Guards didn't want both events going on at the same time. God almighty.

Maybe it is delayed jet lag after my recent trip to New York, but I'm cranky this morning.

Two weeks ago it took me five and a half hours to travel 3081 miles from New York to Shannon.

Last Sunday it took me one hour to travel 400 yards out of MacHale Park in Castlebar.

For 35 minutes of that hour the car never moved at all, is that a world record?

Cranky or not, there are plenty of talking points from last weekend.

I'll do my deep-dive analysis on the winners when they next play.

For now, let me say that Donegal took just nine out of 19 scoring chances in the first half.

When you take away the Ballybofey factor, I'm not sure Donegal are as good as we, or they, think they are.

Galway were the better team in Castlebar.

Yet in the second quarter of the match they were hanging on to Mayo and they were hanging on at the end again, having gone six points ahead at two stages of the game.

Is that All-Ireland winning form from the Maroons? And as for Cavan - well, their shooting stats were awful.

They had one successful shot from six attempts in the first ten minutes.

And Cavan had seven accurate ones out of 18 in the first half alone. All against Antrim, a team from Division Three of the Allianz League.

I wouldn't be dreaming of a second provincial title in three years on the back of that performance.

And that brings me to the two biggest losers from seven days ago.

I'm starting with Armagh on alphabetical grounds.

That's eight Ulster campaigns under Kieran McGeeney as manager and they've won only three matches - against Down, Derry and Antrim - in all that time.

I tipped Donegal to win last Sunday, because I felt Armagh's cracking wins earlier this year against Dublin and Tyrone had much to do with them being fitter than their opponents at that time of year.

Indeed, Armagh lost four of their last five games in the league - and their top forward Rian O'Neill was struggling in those games.

He struggled to make an impact against Donegal, too. Put Armagh into the over-hyped bracket.

Their starting forwards scored four points from play. Do I need to say any more?

I feel sorry for O'Neill. He's clearly a gifted player, and Armagh ought to plan their game around him, but there is no plan.

The defence remains a right mess. Armagh have two converted midfielders at wing-back, Niall Grimley and Jarly Óg Burns. That's great for going forward, but the pair can't defend.

And the county indulges in a pet hate of mine, the roaming goalie. A cutting-edge tactic of 2022 seems to involve turning an outfield player into your goalkeeper.

Armagh did this with Ethan Rafferty. Whatever about Ethan's ability to shot-stop, he ought to have been able to get the kick-outs right. But Armagh were destroyed in that area.

The media silence from the Armagh camp at the end of the game spoke louder than any words. They knew they had gotten it all badly wrong.

Which brings me to my good old friends in Mayo.

Yes, they are warriors. Yes, they never give up. Yes, they were going hard at Galway right to the end.

But whenever I write about Mayo and I've written a lot about them over the years, I feel like using the comment of my old team-mate, Ger Power, to an inquiring media before an All-Ireland Final in the early 1980s - "put me down for the same as last year lads."

Because watching Mayo is like Groundhog Day.

Looking at Mayo, they are a one-trick pony of powerful-running forwards from the back.

Teams have copped it now. Let Mayo run from deep alright, but when they come to 30 metres out from our goal, we'll put up a defensive screen - and force them to shoot accurately.

Not enough of Mayo's players can shoot accurately and after that there is no Plan B.

There's no target man inside, there's no kicking game - and they don't have the calibre of scoring forward required to win big matches against the best teams.

One example - in last year's All-Ireland final - one in three Mayo shots for scores were successful.

Last Sunday the Green and Red converted 16 out of 31 scoring chances. That's the return of a junior club team!

The Mayo starting forwards scored six points from play, three of them didn't finish the match and Cillian O'Connor didn't score from play. Thanks to RTE's Johnny Bradley for all those stats.

That brings me to Mayo manager James Horan (right). It was only James' second-ever defeat as Mayo manager in the Connacht Championship, that's a helluva record.

But every time I look at Horan's tactics closely, I see a conservative, cagey team boss, slow to change.

A lot was made of Mayo using more players in the recent league than anyone else.

But not a single one of those new players started in Castlebar last week.

It doesn't say a lot for the confidence he had in them. I don't think Horan has a clue as to what his best XV is.

Armagh and Mayo now have five weeks to get it right for the qualifiers.

But for both teams there is a now a 50 per cent chance that they will have to beat both Dublin and Kerry to get to an All-Ireland final.

Presuming Dublin and Kerry win their provinces - and you won't find many willing to bet against that.

As for last week's carry-on with Armagh winning all those appeals, I will confine myself to these remarks.

In Ireland, when a law is created the first thing we do is look for a loophole.

When we get punished, we look for a way out.

What's wrong with accepting a punishment like John Mullane, more than a decade ago, or the two Donegal lads, Neil McGee and Odhran McFadden Ferry, who sat out last Sunday's game.

My sources tell me that in relation to the Tyrone-Armagh appeal after their league dust-up, Tyrone sent in 80 questions relating to the referees' report. That's bonkers.

My way to deal with all this? Have a citing officer who would handle all disciplinary issues once the game was over.

Not a committee, like the CCCC, and definitely not citing officers plural, but just one person whose findings would be binding.

A quick one on the Cork football venue saga.

My information is that the Cork footballers were adamant that they were playing only in Páirc Uí Rinn.

Cork's footballers did not deserve to lose hosting rights for a big match because of the stupidity of booking an Ed Sheeran concert for Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the middle of the Championship.

But then Páirc Uí Chaoimh is no longer controlled by the Cork County Board.

The heavily indebted stadium is in the hands of a committee including GAA President Larry McCarthy, and Croke Park Stadium Manager Peter McKenna.

Kerry made the concession on the basis that the date of the game has not been moved.

The Kingdom were always playing next Saturday night.

This is not like last year's All-Ireland semi-final, where Kerry were supposed to play on one date and then found themselves playing Tyrone two weeks later, under-cooked.

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