Monday 24 October 2016

Eugene McGee: There is life in Leinster beyond silverware and beating the Dubs

Published 08/06/2015 | 02:30

Niall Donoher of Laois falls to the ground under pressure from Kildare’s Eoghan O’Flaherty
Niall Donoher of Laois falls to the ground under pressure from Kildare’s Eoghan O’Flaherty

Sport lends itself to over-reaction and exaggeration mainly because it allows us to do so without any serious consequences.

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The recent hysteria regarding the Leinster football championship, especially after Dublin's 27-point demolition of Longford, emphasises this point.

Based on the comments of many GAA experts, the end is nigh regarding the state of football in that province simply because Dublin are seemingly about to win their fifth successive Leinster title.

But the end of Leinster football? Give me a break!

Dublin actually won six-in a-row from 1974-79 before Offaly halted their bid for an all-time Leinster record of seven successive titles in 1980.

Since then, Dublin have only won three All-Irelands so their domination of Leinster football was not a factor in those years.

More interesting is the diabolical record other counties in Leinster have over the second half of the GAA's history.

Wicklow have never won a Leinster senior title. Wexford haven't won one for 69 years and Carlow's first and only title was won in 1944. Westmeath and Longford have won one title each since 1884 And it is only because Mick O'Dwyer descended from on high to land in Kildare (1998) and Laois (2003) that their record of success improved to two titles in 58 years and 68 years respectively.

Over the decades, only Meath and Offaly have consistently challenged Dublin. The reality is that not enough counties in that province are capable of winning the title and the blame for that must lie at the hands, and feet, of the counties themselves.


Yet on Saturday night in Tullamore we saw that winning Leinster titles is not a pre- requisite for watching and enjoying big championship games. The Laois-Kildare game merely emphasised the importance of the provincial system in providing local derby games of intensity and enjoyment that do not depend on the contestants being serious All-Ireland or even provincial title contenders.

The Kildare-Laois rivalry is one of the most deadly in the GAA going back many years. On Saturday we saw how that rivalry inspired a lot of moderate footballers raise their game to great heights in order to beat the old enemy. Neither was able to deliver the killer blow even though Laois in particular had several chances to do so.

Both managers tried to put in place elaborate systems of play involving their key players but, thankfully, events overtook the tactics. So we got plenty of old-style, man-to-man physical action that referee Cormac Reilly often rightly let go on and the large and volatile audience enjoyed this game immensely.

This has been a disastrous couple of years for Kildare with successive relegations from Division 1 to 3. In addition they lost key players through Australian Rules signings, injuries and walkouts, so they were a nervous bunch lining out in O'Connor Park. It showed with Laois getting early control to lead by three points after 17 minutes.

But the first of the rallies then arrived from Kildare to level things and they pushed on to lead 0-8 to 0-6 at the break.

The role of their leading players is crucial for middle-grade county teams such as Laois and Kildare.

Laois had Donie Kingston, a really good player - big, strong and skilful who scored three from play - listed at full forward, but he did not line out there very much.

Instead it was Ross Munnelly, the smallest player on the team who later stood in front of the Kildare goals with Kingston moving farther outfield.

This was a monumental error. In the second half, backed by the wind, high balls should have been directed in on top of Kingston inside the 20-metre line. Of course such style of play is regarded by the 'experts' as not smart enough for modern tactics. Tell that to Kerry people regarding Kieran Donaghy in the two games against Mayo and the final against Donegal last year.

Kildare, for a change, did use their heads better with regard to getting the ball to their full-forward Alan Smith and it really paid off. It will be interesting to watch how the two attacks line out for the replay.

It will also be played in O'Connor Park which has a great atmosphere and is now one of the most popular small stadiums in the country.


Here's hoping that Michael and Shane make speedy recoveries

Even though sports people often assume an air of invincibility, we got a stark reminder at the weekend that this is not the case. News that Michael Lyster had entered hospital on Friday night has upset a lot of people.

As moderator of the three 'performers' - Spillane, O'Rourke and Brolly - on the Sunday Game's live matches, Michael has proven a genius in that role. Reining in those three would test the patience of most people, but Michael has always remained unflappable despite sometimes severe provocation. We all hope he will be back to full fitness as soon as possible.

Then we heard that Shane Walsh, another Galwayman and possibly the best footballer on the Galway panel suffered a broken wrist - not playing football, but in a serious car accident last Friday night.

He will probably miss the rest of the season and certainly will not be in action against Mayo in the Connacht semi-final at Pearse Stadium next week.

He's one of the best young players in the country and all football followers will miss him and wish him a speedy recovery.

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