We've never had it so good
Published 19/11/2010 | 05:00
The standard of Gaelic football has never been higher and will continue to improve in the years ahead.
That's the firm view of Kildare football manager Kieran McGeeney, who is adamant that Kerry and Tyrone, who have dominated most the last decade, have the right to take their place among Gaelic football's greatest teams.
McGeeney believes that the skills of the modern player are broadly superior to those of any other era, though he agrees there were exceptions.
"I wouldn't accept the argument that Gaelic football skills are in decline. The pace of improvement in defending is probably quicker than the pace of improvement in attacking over the last 20 years but, overall, the current player does things better than the majority of his predecessors," he says.
McGeeney illustrates his point by examining the role of the modern corner-back.
"Just look at the evolution of corner-back play. Look at the likes of Ryan McMenamin and Marc O Se and how they play the game. In the past, a corner-back's only duty was to man-mark or to stop. They were designed for that. Now they are much more than that.
"Corner-back play was evolving in the 1980s but now you must have someone who can run and pass as well as mark.
"You look at half-backs and how often they are getting on scoresheets now. Half-backs are the new half-forwards. The modern Gaelic footballer must do a lot more things better than his predecessor to succeed and that has raised standards," says Armagh's All-Ireland-winning captain.
"I played football 20 years ago and I know that the standard is better now than it was then. I played 10 years ago and I would also contend that it is better now than it was then.
"I'd also say that if the players of the past had the same opportunities as the players of today they'd be just as good. That goes without saying. I know I was a better player at 32 and 33 than I was at 22 and 23."
McGeeney finds it hard to understand the term "negative" being attached to football.
"A half-forward drifts back into his own half looking for possession and that's deemed negative. It's not negative, that's football. The half-forward is defending. Isn't defending just as important a part of the game as attacking? Not every game can be 19 points to 18. Maybe that's what most people want to see but those don't always make the best games in terms of standards.
"People criticised the kicking in the International Rules series, but how many of those kicks were made under pressure from an opponent? In our game, tackle an opponent who is about to kick a ball and it's an instant free against you. That's the way our game has gone."
McGeeney signed up for another three years as Kildare football manager in a somewhat surprise move after the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Down.
Such a relatively long-term commitment was, he says, based on loyalty first to the players he has been "asking so much from" over the last three years.
"I'd value loyalty very highly. So there was no way I could walk away from players who have given me so much. I think we can be successful but that depends on your definition of success.
"Silverware is important over the next couple of years, for sure. But raising the profile of the county's football team is important too. Creating the legacy is important for the future. Many of the players I'm working with now, their interest would have come from what Mick O'Dwyer did with Kildare teams in the late 1990s.
"The same correlation is there, I'm sure, between Armagh seniors in 2002 and Armagh minors in '09 (both All-Ireland champions).
"Kerry and Kilkenny have that regularly. Louth and Sligo didn't win championships in 2010 but look what they did for football in the county. It's important."
McGeeney disputes the perception that he 'gambled' on getting by Louth in the Leinster championship quarter-final by tailoring training for peak performance later in the season.
"Yes we tailored training in a specific way. But we didn't lose to Louth because we trained wrong. We lost to Louth because we defended poorly. We recovered well but we still only had what I could call an average year."
McGeeney leads a Rest of Ireland team in tomorrow's fundraiser in Newbridge (2.0), which will raise money for two local charities and the team's training fund. They have come up with novel ways to raise money and occupy their time during the off-season.
McGeeney is supportive of the concept of a closed season but believes education rather than a blanket ban is the best way forward.
"I wouldn't want the players out on the field at this time of year but I'd like them doing something," he said. "Strength and conditioning has a much bigger role to play in the management of teams. Full-time strength and conditioning coaches and full-time physiotherapists could actually save the GAA money in most counties."
- Fionn Dowling will make his senior debut for Kildare in tomorrow's fundraising match against a Rest of Ireland selection. Dowling was a member of this year's minor team that edged past Dublin in a three-game Leinster championship thriller.