Basic skills suffer as 'purists' take control
Published 12/05/2008 | 00:00
IF what we endured at Pearse Park yesterday is typical of what we can expect in 2008 then God help Gaelic football. Apart from a handful of exciting scores and the threat of a tight finish, this was diabolical football.
Some Longford and Westmeath people will be offended at that but let them watch the video for themselves. For long periods the match was played in near silence; in fact I could hear people talking in the stand on the other side of the ground at times.
The problem is typical of modern Gaelic football. In between the two 45m lines there were usually about 16 players close together. Both sides had so-called third midfielders and further extra players crowded into the same area all the time. When a high ball was directed to midfield, only from kickouts of course, the ball was inevitably broken down and a melee ensued as five or six players tried grabbing for the ball -- or each other at times to prevent others getting the ball. This, my friends, is gaelic football as the modern-day 'purists' are telling the players to play. These are the men with the football brains, the excellent coaches and all the other 'experts' who crowd dressing rooms nowadays.
As everybody knows short passing is taking over in Gaelic football from foot-passing or kicking, but yesterday many players on both sides could not even give simple short passes accurately.
Several times Westmeath, in particular, made a mess of the simplest of passes and often directed the ball straight to a Longford player in the non-stop orgy of handpassing.
The few players who were prepared to give a long foot pass, such as Martin Flanagan and Paul Barden, showed us glimpses of how wonderful a game this could be when kicking is well done. But for the vast majority, kicking the ball seemed to be forbidden.
Around half the Longford selected team was revamped through switches before the ball was thrown in -- another gimmick these days that usually confuses their own team more than the opposition, as was shown with Longford yesterday.
They managed just one point in the opening 20 minutes as wholesale switches were made in a desperate attempt, I presume, to thwart certain Westmeath players. This sort of thing does not show much confidence either in the team or individual players.
In the first half, Westmeath were rampant at midfield, where Flanagan and Donal O'Donoghue had far too much physical power in the trench warfare that existed in the middle of the field amid all the breaking balls. O'Donoghue made the biggest contribution by his clever tap-downs of high balls, invariably collected by Westmeath colleagues.
Longford had a terrible defensive record in the league and things did not get any better yesterday with the seventh-minute penalty concession being typical.
At the other end, Longford's star performer Brian Kavanagh was outplayed by full-back Kieran Gavin from Mullingar Shamrocks with an intelligent display against an opponent who only scored one point in this game as opposed to 2-6 in the corresponding game last year.
When Westmeath led by eight points with about 15 minutes left to play we had another example of modern football when they decided to pack their backline. O'Donoghue was changed from midfield to defence as well. The ploy backfired and was mainly responsible for Westmeath nearly losing the game in the final minutes. In the last 15 minutes Westmeath managed just one point -- in the 38th minute -- while Longford grabbed 1-3 in the final eight minutes.
Extra players from further out began to attack and the scores came rapidly but Westmeath weathered the storm in the end.
Westmeath do not like playing Longford in Pearse Park but still, as a Division 1 team next season they were expected to do better. Their obsession with short passing and the consequent depriving of possession of Denis Glennon and Dessie Dolan in particular will surely prove costly if they do not play more direct football to these talented target men.
But my abiding memory of this game will be the disappointment of both sets of fans and the long periods of silence so untypical for a local derby like Longford and Westmeath.
It seemed the teams were so programmed into how they were supposed to play and how every piece of action was to be controlled that the old 'get up and go' approach which was always a hallmark of these neighbouring counties has been siphoned out of the players' systems.
The overuse tactics is throttling over-hyped players resulting in lack of real confidence and self-belief in many teams.
The simplest example of that is the failure of so many players to give proper 40 or 50-yard foot passes, particularly to their forwards, which can open up the play and create the goal and point chances.
The two teams yesterday scored 1-8 between them from play in 75 minutes of play in perfect conditions. It took Westmeath 27 minutes from the start to score from play and Longford got their second score from play in the 30th minute.
Need I say more?
GAA pay price to keep major sponsors happy
Apart from winning the Lotto, I can't think of a quicker way of making big money for County Boards than the decision by Central Council on Saturday to apparently give any county that has a venue with live TV coverage payments this year a grant of around €200,000.
What a turnaround to just seven days ago when Longford County Board were being told from on high that their own local advertising would be barred from Pearse Park for yesterday's big game.
As I have often stated, money really talks in the modern GAA and so it is in this incident when in one fell swoop the GAA tells us that all matter relating to local advertising on county grounds with live television will be sorted out from next Sunday on -- for a price of course!
The GAA will pay county boards around €140,000 for their share of new television and sponsorship rights and €40,000 per game at least for every match on live television which is some change from last week's reports. Whether the various county boards with live television games will compensate local advertisers for blanking out their signs remains to be seen but as in all walks of life money covers a multitude, and softens many a cough!