Sunday 4 December 2016

Colm O'Rourke: Armies of future and present on the march

High mileage caught up with Donegal and Monaghan last night, writes Colm O'Rourke

Published 09/08/2015 | 14:00

Mayo’s Andy Moran consoles Donegal’s Michael Murphy after last night’s game at Croke Park
Mayo’s Andy Moran consoles Donegal’s Michael Murphy after last night’s game at Croke Park

A thoroughly modern game. Monaghan and Tyrone lined up in defensive positions like it was World War One 100 years ago. They dug in on the 45-metre line and one army in blue and the other in red easily carried possession to this position but found it hard to get beyond the trenches.

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Monaghan had a lot of the ball but Tyrone had better forwards - and Darren McCurry, Seán Cavanagh and Peter Harte were very dangerous. Monaghan had some great early long-range points from Dessie Mone and Kieran Hughes, but their ace attacker, Conor McManus, was being shackled by sheer weight of numbers despite continually making great runs off the ball.

Referee Marty Duffy made a big call with a black card to Tyrone's Conor Meyler. Meyler ran into Kieran Hughes after passing the ball over his head and while Hughes did not help the situation, the referee got it right. This might help to cut out the new practice where a player runs into an opponent and lies down in the hope of getting that player a black card.

Tyrone are still prone to the dramatic dives which sully a lot of their good work. And their sideline people should keep off the field.

There was plenty of niggle in the game and a scattering of yellow (and red) cards; it was obvious that there was no love lost between these two.

Monaghan never got to grips with the Tyrone kick-out and also gave them too much easy possession. It was very hard to get the ball back and every time Monaghan got close Tyrone were able to tack on a couple of points.

McCurry and Kavanagh were always dangerous while Tiernan McCann, like Mattie Donnelly, is an unselfish, mobile link-man. If he could shoot he would do a lot of damage. Owen Duffy kicked two monsters for Monaghan but they needed a goal and ended up shovelling the ball over and back across the field. They looked like an army who had fought their best battles and gave way to a younger more mobile unit. There may not be any more big days in Croke Park for some of Monaghan's greatest and bravest servants.

Mickey Harte has fashioned a team on the road who are a side of the future. Kerry will have a job ensuring the future is not now.

In the follow-up contest between Donegal and Mayo, Donegal had a lot of early possession but some bad wides, a pattern of earlier games. Mayo were patient in their build-up and they have a team of strong runners.

Strangely, Donegal allowed Mayo to take short kick-outs and many scores led from this, while Mayo put pressure on Paul Durcan to kick long and there was some great tussles in the air off the Donegal kick-out.

There was also a contrast in defensive style. Donegal backed off until the attack came to the 45-metre line while Mayo pressed further up the pitch. It left gaps at the back but Keith Higgins often acted as cover while bursting forward as well.

There was a bit of an old-fashioned battle between Neil McGee and Aidan O'Shea, and Mayo were not afraid to lump balls in on top of their big man. It paid off in spades just before half-time when O'Shea caught it, threw a couple of defenders out of the way and stuck the ball in the corner of the net. It brought the big Mayo following to life and every team needs someone like O'Shea to get the crowd excited.

Michael Murphy was doing his best on the other side and was part of most good Donegal play, but while every touch was valuable he was not on the ball often enough.

Mayo have a lot of physical power and were putting a lot of pressure on the Donegal ball carriers, earning turnovers that Donegal would have been proud of. Yet the first half was poor football - even if Mayo were not complaining.

At the start of the second half Neil McGee had to go off and, within seconds Lee Keegan had the ball in the net when his shot for a point looped over Paul Durcan and into the corner of the net. Keegan was creating havoc marauding forward all during the game and at this stage Donegal looked to visibly tire. There's a lot of miles in some of those legs.

A mistake by Karl Lacey in punching the ball across his own goal and in the process handing Mayo a point showed the wheels coming off Donegal.

Donegal kicked in a lot of high ball in the second half but it was easy meat at that stage for the Mayo defence, who funnelled back in numbers and had the speed to break out and set up attacks.

However, for a long while in the second half, Mayo were sloppy in possession and kicking into the goalie's hands. One flowing move ended with Durcan after a weak kick - it summed up a lot of the Mayo play at this stage of the game.

When Andy Moran kicked a great point it settled things down and Alan Freeman followed with another as Mayo had far too much pace for Donegal, who are like Monaghan - a team who have seen their best days, and it is likely that when Donegal pitch up in Croke Park again it will be without a lot of the current side.

They have served their county with distinction and, unlike some of the Monaghan old guard, have gold crosses to show for it.

The Mayo dream lives on and they have a very good team. Nobody has any better than Higgins, Keegan, Boyle, the O'Sheas, O'Connor and Kevin McLoughlin, among others. Tom Parsons has added a new dimension too at midfield with Barry Moran. The Dubs lie in wait, but Mayo should have no fear.

But, oh dear, while all this is going on, what on earth is happening in Cork?

When the Cork County Board came out with that statement last week thanking football manager Brian Cuthbert, which was the least he deserved, they managed simultaneously to carry out a character assassination on referee, Pádraig Hughes, break the cardinal GAA rule of bringing the game into disrepute and make themselves look entirely stupid. All at the same time.

Will the GAA at central level be requesting an appearance by the Cork board at the next meeting of the CCC? If it was a club in Cork that is what would happen; they would be called in before the board and probably end up having to apologise and pay a fine.

In the drawn Munster final referee Pádraig Hughes awarded a controversial penalty to Kerry when the flow of the game was clearly going Cork's way.

The Cork County Board statement attempts to equate that decision with all their troubles since then - beaten in the replay and hammered then by Kildare - and claim that, only for this decision, they would probably be in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Most rational people will wonder how they came to this conclusion.

The dubious penalty was in the 52nd minute of the match. When James O'Donoghue scored it the match was level. In the remaining 20 minutes or so, Cork scored one goal while Kerry scored three points.

If they had issued such a silly statement immediately after the game, when passions were high, that's one thing - but in the cold light of this remove it is really delusional.

Everyone in life needs someone who is calm and rational at times of stress to say, 'don't do it'. Is there nobody on the Cork board who fits that description?

Lucky for Cork there are big games like last night to draw attention away from them. The board appear to lurch from one crisis to another without seeming to have any idea how to deal with them.

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