Saturday 21 October 2017

Ciarán Whelan: The doomsday scenario painted last weekend has been a load of rubbish

Eoghan O'Gara of Dublin in action against Colin Walshe of Monaghan
Eoghan O'Gara of Dublin in action against Colin Walshe of Monaghan

Ciaran Whelan

If you were to buy into the narrative, last weekend was a doomsday scenario for Gaelic football. The lopsided nature of all the games has led to a severe over reaction.

The ‘Super 8’ is apparently dead on its feet before it has even started. The top four are so far ahead of everyone else, sure what is the point of having extra lopsided games? Scrap it before it is even given a chance. An Irish solution to an Irish problem!

Well, I certainly do not concur and I think the reaction last weekend was way over the top. Yes, it was not a good weekend for Gaelic football but as Van Morrison would say “there will be days like this” and trust me they have been many days like that over the years. 

A Dublin team of ‘startled earwigs’ lost by 17 points in 2009 against Kerry. That same year Donegal imploded against Cork going down by 14 points. Two years later in 2011 Dublin were All-Ireland champions. Donegal would take the crown the following year in 2012.

I could go on with examples of teams who bounced back from heavy defeats. A quick review of the quarter-final scores since 2009 will tell that every year will throw up lopsided results. So, this is nothing new so.

Yes, there is no doubt the championship structures need to be reviewed. That drum has been beaten for many years at this stage but the doomsday scenario painted last weekend has been a load of rubbish.

Trust me, a lot of the commentators will be back on track once the ‘Super 8’ gets up and running next year. A home game and away game will offer a different dynamic to each of the top-eight teams and the extra games will be needed to invigorate our national games after the World Cup takes centre stage in June and July of 2018. I have always wondered who tagged the restructure with the name ‘Super’?

It creates an illusion of elitism when it is simply a restructured competition for the provincial winners and the four teams who progress through the qualifiers.

Colm Cooper scores against Dublin in 2009
Colm Cooper scores against Dublin in 2009

Two extra games for eight teams. The same terms and conditions apply when every team gets together to prepare for the 2018 Championship. Every team will have an equal chance to be in the hat for August.

Getting consensus for radical change at the GAA Congress has always been difficult as we all know. There is no doubt there is a problem with the weaker counties and viable solutions need to be bought into if they are to have a purpose going forward.

The question is, are they willing to buy into a second-tier system that exists in the hurling world? That is currently a huge hurdle that needs to be cleared and that is an argument for another day.  The GAA hierarchy still have a huge amount of work to do in that regard.

But I for one will hold my counsel presently. I hope the introduction of the new ‘Super 8’ next year will the first step in more radical change to the overall championship structures.

Getting back to last weekend, I just do not buy into the fact that all of a sudden there is a gulf between the top four teams and the remaining counties.

At the outset of the championship most felt the top four of Mayo, Tyrone, Dublin and Kerry would be left standing. Should we really be surprised that is the case they are now the last four standing?

Whilst the results may indicate a big gap based on the scorelines, we need to consider one key factor in my opinion.

The Croke Park factor!

I have mentioned this before but the experience of playing in Croke Park is immeasurable for the bigger counties. The top four are all very comfortable in headquarters and all have huge experience in winning big games there.

Learning to use the Croke Park stadium and dimensions to your advantage is a huge psychological battle and lesson for all players. 

It is the ultimate in a GAA players career. It was where the spotlight shines. Any game in Croke Park is a big game. With that comes added scrutiny from all quarters of the media and public.  The mental imprint that a game in Croke Park leaves on a team or an individual player can be huge.

Play well and it is like been carried on the crest of wave and your confidence will grow. However, suffer a heavy defeat or multiple heavy defeats and it can damage some players beyond repair.

When low on confidence Croke Park can suffocate you and drain every bit of energy from your body. Young players coming into successful teams have a much easier path as the environment of Croke Park will be a positive one.

So, take the teams that played in the last eight and lost last weekend.

Galway? Well what can you say. For the last 10 or 15 years, when Galway play in Croke Park, they lose, simple as. Their seasoned experienced players must hate the place. Once the game now begins to go against them, the demons kick in and their self-belief becomes drained. 

Ditto Monaghan, three quarter-final defeats during the tenure of Malachy O’Rourke.  Pitted against Dublin they looked like a beaten docket coming out of the tunnel last weekend. 

Roscommon put it up to Mayo two weeks’ ago on the back of two early goals but last Monday the demons returned.

The memories of a 21-point defeat to the Dubs in the league last April or the 10-point defeat to Kerry in the 2016 league semi-final kicked in for Kevin McStay’s young team once Mayo hit the front foot early for a change.

As Kevin said himself his team fell off the cliff. They landed beside Armagh who had done likewise following a performance that was tactically a shambles against a strong Tyrone team. 

These teams can all take positives from the year but playing in the new ‘Super 8’ competition will only benefit them in closing the gap to the top four.

We have seen in the past that it can be done with great efficiency depending on who is steering the ship and have no doubt it will happen again.

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