News Eugene McGee

Saturday 23 August 2014

A model performance

Eugene McGee

Published 23/06/2008 | 00:00

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Wexford’s Redmond Barry swarms all over Laois’s Padraig McMahon during yesterday's Leinster SFC semi-final

The common perception this morning around GAA Ireland is that Dublin will be laughing all the way to this year's Leinster title when they consider that only Westmeath and Wexford stand between them and that fourth successive Leinster crown.

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But that might be an over-simplistic assessment because, whatever about Westmeath, Wexford footballers showed yesterday that are right up there with the top 10 counties in the country.

That is no exaggeration. When you looked down from the stand yesterday you saw a powerful set of athletes wearing the Wexford colours, men who are big and strong, yet mobile. And lest one might think that Wexford are relying on physical power to win matches, this is far from the case as the skill level in this side is the highest I have ever seen in a Wexford football team.

Often in the past when Wexford, inspired by great colleges teams from the county, began to put their heads above the parapet in Leinster but were beaten, I mentioned that there were some hurlers on the team playing football.

This drew criticism, but I was simply implying that the finesse and guile that comes naturally to solely football players was sometimes missing in Wexford football because of the dual player thing.

That has changed now and the old Wexford flaws of poor kicking, having kicks easily blocked down and awkward tackling are gone. That is the main reason why they are now in the Leinster final for the first time since 1956.

So, when they face Dublin or Westmeath on July 6, Wexford will go there on their merits, having beaten Meath and Laois. Yesterday's game was dominated from start to finish by Wexford. They simply swept Laois aside in all parts of the field.

The majority of their scores came from play and even the failure of Mattie Forde to convert some chances did not upset the balance of the attack, something which surprised a lot of people. I thought PJ Banville and Redmond Barry made massive contributions in this game and could certainly test the Dublin backline.

Laois were atrocious for most of this game, easily their worst championship performance in this decade. Both teams did the usual playacting before the ball was thrown in by switching players around and I believe Laois ended up confusing themselves more than damaging Wexford. The whole demeanour of the Laois players did not indicate a set of men ready to die for the Laois cause, and the future of the county looks very uncertain based on this terrible performance.

Colm Parkinson was an exception and the damage he did against Wexford full-back Philip Wallace will cause some sleepless nights in the county before the Leinster final. Typical of the desperate cause of Laois yesterday was that Ross Munnelly, who scored 0-8 against Wicklow, was confined to two pointed frees this time.

Wexford with their young manager Jason Ryan and Fermanagh under Malachy O'Rourke have brightened up a dull championship this year, and who knows what way the Leinster and Ulster finals will unfold yet.

Managers must stand up to red card 'victims' - not support them

Most GAA people from team managers to players to the fans never quantify the high price paid by teams who have players suspended. There is a feeling that it is merely the fault of the referee or some committee or other such as the CCCC and the cost to a team by a player being suspended is rarely discussed.

This is a serious error of judgement. For example, Fergal Doherty of Derry was banned for Saturday's game against Fermanagh after he was suspended by the CCCC against Donegal.

Doherty is one of the most influential players on his team and who is to say that were he playing in Omagh he could have swung things Derry's way. Not during the second half when Fermanagh were rampant but early in the first half when Derry were leading by a few points. Doherty's presence at that stage might have influenced a Derry win.

The Meath players suspended after the NFL game with Dublin surely cost their county a Leinster championship game against Wexford. After all, Meath had gone 10 points clear and, with the help of some suspended players, they could have wrapped up the game at that stage. Meath without the suspensions could have been waiting for Dublin in the Leinster final.

There have been many similar examples over the years and, of course, Kerry's All-Ireland bid may also depend on a suspension. The moral is that suspension DOES hurt teams. What amazes me is that so few managers control players who are in risk of being suspended and take action against them. If a player is playing badly, he can be taken off or dropped for the next game in order to improve the overall team effort.

So why do managers not punish their own players if they incur suspensions for the sake of the team?

Surely they are damaging their team and may often cause them to lose a big game. But managers or their back-up teams rarely put pressure on players to avoid cards and suspensions.

How high a premium is placed on sporting behaviour by players in order to improve the chances of the team? My guess is sweet damn all!

Many managers are afraid to control players with a bad reputation either before a game or after a match where the player has been sent off. That's why we see managers hugging players being sent off as if they were either heroes or victims. Then immediately every stunt in the GAA rule book is invoked by manager and Co Board to avoid the player being suspended thereby not discouraging him from doing the same again.

The surest way to stop violent play is for managers to discipline their own players. Managers have the power to take off or drop a player which is the ultimate sanction. What a pity so few managers ever look at things like that rather than glorifying the offender.

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