Farney Army in freefall as Fermanagh cut loose
Published 26/05/2008 | 05:00
The decline of the Monaghan football team in the past few months has been astonishing and yesterday marked the lowest point of all when they were absolutely outclassed in every area of the field by Fermanagh.
This was the best performance from Fermanagh since their glory days in Croke Park a few years ago brought them to an All-Ireland semi-final. But what really impressed me was the style of play used in the magnificently redeveloped Brewster Park in Enniskillen. Forget all the talk, real or imagined, of Ulster football. This was simply wonderful open, exciting and, above all, brave and adventurous football, the sort of play that is all too rare in these days of packed defences and negative play as a tactic.
Fermanagh played with total bravery in the physical stakes but, more importantly, in the psychology factor which was crucial for a county that rarely wins a major game n the Ulster Championship.
All over the field Fermanagh ran faster, chased back harder and jumped higher for the clean catch than most of the Monaghan players did. It was an astonishing day for the wearers of the green and white and a wonderful tribute to their manager Malachy O'Rourke and his helpers.
The way Fermanagh's forwards, brilliantly marshalled by Liam McBarron, dismantled the previously highly rated Monaghan defence was astonishing because we must remember that, apart from scoring 2-8, Fermanagh hit three frees and three easy shots from play wide in the final 15 minutes of this game.
Monaghan showed all the signs of a team that was on edge from the very start. Even the faces of many of the players seemed to indicate that they were worried men and they lacked the fluency and sense of adventure that brought them so far in the championship last year.
Maybe they have been too intense in their training and preparation and a little bit of divil-may-care approach might have been better. The warning signs for Monaghan were clear in the concluding stages of the league when they drew with Dublin, and lost to Cork and Westmeath. Obviously these results increased the pressure on everybody in the camp and the price was paid yesterday.
As the clear underdogs, Fermanagh had no option but to cut loose as soon as the ball was thrown in and that's exactly what they did. They threw caution to the wind and when Liam McBarron scored their first goal after three minutes, it changed the whole complexion of this contest straight away. The first telltale signs came when Monaghan's Vincent Corey was unable to win his trademark high balls because of a mixture of poor outfield deliveries by Monaghan and terrific man-marking by Hugh Brady and his colleagues.
Deprived of this tactic, Monaghan's forwards seemed to panic and make untypical decisions that left them with only three scores in the opening 29 minutes. When you see the brilliant Tommy Freeman looking just like an ordinary forward then Monaghan have problems, even though an injured hand did not help the Magheracloone player.
But really this game belonged to the Fermanagh players. They dominated midfield, lock, stock and barrel with Mark Murphy bringing off marvellous catches and getting the ball away quickly before the hordes descended upon him and forced him to be blown up for frees in the modern style.
I thought Mark Little, the wing-forward, did an enormous amount of intelligent covering back in defence in the early stages without ever neglecting his role as a forward, while the work-rate of Marty McGrath was simply phenomenal all through what was a very tough, robust and physically demanding game.
Some of the scores from Fermanagh were brilliant -- both in their planning and execution. A string of tightly angled scores showed great confidence in the heat of battle and their only worry must be the fadeout of easy scoring chances in the final quarter which really should have been punished severely by Monaghan as Fermanagh got no score for the final 15 minutes.
But Monaghan, playing with the wind, had only scored two pointed frees in he last 22 minutes. The wind was particularly contrary at one end of the field yesterday and cost each team easy scores, while the magnificent new pitch was probably a bit on the hard side following the recent drying weather as there was a lot of mishandling in both minor and senior games.
But this was a wonderful occasion for Fermanagh in their lovely new home and the crowd enjoyed a hard but fair game of football from both sides. Monaghan can, of course, recover from this and their players will probably recover their fluency and composure in the quieter waters of the qualifiers.
Softer approach to paying fans is just the ticket
For years the biggest question that exercised GAA people, both members and non-members was: 'What does the GAA do with all its money?'
There always seemed to be an air of mystery with people as to how the GAA could spend the apparent huge sums of money collected at the big inter-county games every year.
But for the past 10 years in particular the GAA has gone to extraordinary lengths to explain to everybody how every cent taken in is spent. As a result there is no national organisation that I know of that is as transparent about money as the GAA.
But that does not mean that GAA fans are now without any queries regarding GAA money and this year in particular I have received a lot of complaints abut the admission charges for the opening rounds of the championships.
A woman who came to me about the Longford-Westmeath game claimed that when she brought two children, who had been charged €20 admission, to look for the expected refund for children the person she dealt with told her that no refund was to be given.
In Pearse Stadium last Sunday week there were many complaints at the charge of €30 admission. There are also a lot of complaints as to why pensioners and young people first have to pay out the full admission charge and then start looking for somebody to hand back the refund.
Why can the GAA not issue tickets to cover the exact price of the various category of tickets rather than start messing with cash payments to people who qualify with refunds? Rightly or wrongly some GAA people are not happy with the sight of an official with bags of cash waiting to dispense these refunds.
And a lot of Kildare people were less than happy a couple of weeks ago when their county board imposed a levy of €1 on every ticket sold by the board for the recent Leinster championship games to raise funds for future ground development.
Economic times have changed drastically in the past year and many less than fanatical GAA fans are influenced by the price of admission for the early round championship games, particularly those shown on live television.
It is time the GAA took a more benevolent attitude to those who have to pay for every match they attend -- both in good financial times and bad.