Club culture benefits from non-appliance of science
The absence of cynicism in last weekend's club final was a joy to behold, says Colm O'Rourke
If there are better games of football this year than last Sunday's All-Ireland club final then we will all be lucky.
The club finals' day is always a marvellous occasion, though not often blessed with a great game. But this had it all and the result was a fitting reward for players like Shane Curran and Frankie Dolan. Two men who have laboured long and hard with various sides – and sometimes gained national prominence for the wrong reasons – had a chance to enjoy the greatest reward of all in winning an All-Ireland with their club.
Looking at Monday's papers, Frankie paid a high price for victory as a photo showed him getting a right smacker of a kiss from Shane Curran after the game, maybe the rest of the St Brigid's team ran for cover when they saw their infamous goalkeeper on the move. Curran's demonic energy, rabble-rousing approach and great kickouts, especially in the second half, helped ensure that the spirit in this Brigid's side was never going to flag. If any of the older Brigid's brigade decide never to kick a ball in anger again, they have ensured that their names will be forever etched in the memory around Kiltoom, and indeed all of Roscommon can rejoice.
Other clubs can take great heart from this. St Brigid's have built steadily, suffered aching losses but still kept coming back. And they won this the hard way, beating the greatest club of all, Crossmaglen, in the semi-final and another great side in the final. Indeed there were times early on when it looked as if Ballymun were going to swamp Brigid's such was the quality of their attacking play. But the Roscommon menhung on and like most games where a team are brave and spirited, the tide turned.
This was such brilliant entertainment that a part of me wanted a draw and a replay. However, nobody could deny that St Brigid's were deserving of a break as they played with a ferocious hunger. At times they did not look as if they had enough good men to go around. Ballymun's Ted Furman caused a lot of problems early on and Philly McMahon put his hands on a lot of ball. James McCarthy was not his usual self with injury but for quite a while it looked as if it was a question of how much the winning margin would be – and not for Brigid's.
Cometh the hour, cometh the men and the Kilbride brothers and Karol Mannion did not let the moment pass. In the end it was helter-skelter football with plenty of mistakes on both sides which must have caused seizures in both camps but made for fantastic viewing. In a way it was what football is supposed to be. Whatever tactics that were well-rehearsed in advance went out the window in the last quarter and it became a raw battle for survival and glory.
Instinct takes over at those times. Good players do the right thing when the pressure is at its most intense and the name of Francis was always going to win out last week. Francis Dolan and the new Pope have something in common: they both reached the top of their world last week with the Roscommon version being credited with the first miracle: that last kick turned the water into wine.
Now is the time for Hollywood to make a blockbuster movie with Shane Curran and Frankie as the main men. A remake of Cool Hand Luke with Shane and Frankie or Gunfight at the Croke Park corral. I suppose it would really have to be a western, except with no baddies.
This match also came at a good time to make a comparison between club and county football and in the context of Congress yesterday. In general, club football and almost all underage games are relatively free from a lot of the cynical play that is very much evident in county football, and last week demonstrated that for the most part. There are those involved in the county game who feel that their model of football is far more sophisticated and should not be compared with club stuff which is miles behind in science and technique.
For me, this scientific approach has killed the enjoyment a lot of people had in the game. Instead of a free-flowing spectacle like last Sunday, we are treated in many cases to what coaches suggest is percentage football. This means holding on to the ball with short passes at all costs and any player who takes a risk in kicking the ball will have it highlighted to him when he gets his stats at the next training session. It will detail how many times he gave away possession, so the obvious response in
the following game is to just handpass the ball, the low-risk strategy.
Anyone watching the Tyrone-Dublin match last Saturday night could rightly argue that there is nothing wrong with football at county level when it is played like that. Of course that is true but there is a difference between what is played in spring and summer and most of all in the players' attitude.
Which is why some of the more progressive rule changes which came before Congress should have been given some sort of trial. There is a very real danger that the views of many county team managers, combined with views in hurling counties, is becoming enough to stifle change. That is a pity.
County managers should have no more influence than a manager of a club team while football and hurling rules should have no relevance to each other.
Totally separate rules are needed and if the hurling fraternity think football has gone soft and they want to mill all round them, then let them at it. The problem in football is physicality has been replaced by cynical fouling. Games like the one between St Brigid's and Ballymun show the potential, but unfortunately they don't play every week. That is why we need rule changes.