Thursday 8 December 2016

Colm O'Rourke: Irrelevant league semi-finals pile more misery on clubs

Cork face test of their manhood after Dubs expose soft centre

Published 03/05/2015 | 02:30

'Brian Cuthbert has a huge job, one I do not envy'
'Brian Cuthbert has a huge job, one I do not envy'

The main message from last weekend's football league finals was their basic unimportance. This is especially true of the Division 1 decider.

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Whose bright idea was it to have semi-finals in Division 1? If teams in the lower divisions had an opportunity of playing in Croke Park it would make more sense as they are very unlikely to have the chance in the summer. Giving more games to Cork and Dublin just takes away another weekend which would be valuable for club activity in those counties. They are going to get plenty of big games in the summer in Croke Park, so league semi-finals are completely irrelevant.

And it is not that there were no club games going on in those counties. There were, but clubs have almost no access to their own players during this time of year, and adding an extra unnecessary round of games only exacerbates the problem.

As part of a comprehensive solution to club and county fixtures there must be accommodation for clubs. Not just a situation where no county matches are going on, but a guarantee that clubs can use their players in all competitions.

As it is, Dublin got the best of everything from the league again. Not only winning it but also picking up a few new players on the way. Eoghan O'Gara is a significant loss for the summer campaign, but there is some compensation. Tomás Brady, Shane Carthy, Emmet O Conghaile, Brian Fenton and John Small, among others, have all featured and are additions to Jim Gavin's squad. Ciaran Kilkenny is back and so the team that probably needed least, got most. There is another long shadow being cast but it was the same this time last year and all it takes is one bad day, or someone like Donegal to set them a different type of puzzle.

Cork did not exactly die with their boots on, a failing from last year which has not been exorcised. They have plenty of good players but nothing like the bite or cohesion of Dublin. Formations are all fine until a team like Dublin come along who can get the numbers from defence to attack quickly. Last year was more a case of individual players not doing their job in defence rather than a complete systems malfunction. A simple truth still applies for defenders: mark your man. Some Dublin defenders seemed to think last year that it did not apply to them. This year it will probably be very different.

Where Cork go now is hard to answer. They would have been better off getting beaten in the semi-final than getting this mauling. Even the minibus carrying their supporters did not seem to travel last Sunday, so the most unloved team in the country were exposed without even any comfort from their own.

There is no time for remodelling at this stage. With 15 minutes to go in some big game in the months ahead there will be the suspicion now that Cork have a soft centre. That will last until they prove otherwise. The Munster championship is a big test of their manhood as much as their football. Brian Cuthbert has a huge job, one I do not envy.

The big winners were the other three division winners, Roscommon, Armagh and Offaly. According to John Evans, Roscommon will be winning the All-Ireland soon. It would be great to think he is right. Kipling wrote that "if you can dream and not make dreams your master" you are on the way to becoming a man, and Roscommon are on that road. However, without raining on their parade, it has to be stated that the football in that final and what Dublin showed are more than a country mile apart. The match also took a significant turn in their direction when the referee decided a phantom foul from Brendan McArdle deserved a second yellow card. Hard to credit that something so simple could be got so wrong with major implications for the game.

Armagh probably feel they are only getting back to their rightful place and can't be ruled out of the Ulster title race, which will be a giant mauling contest. Division 2 next year is about as unattractive as you could get, with five Ulster teams involved, although it is good to see Offaly back. Too long down on the side streets for a county with such rich tradition.

Fergus set the standard for all of us

I would like to thank the huge numbers of people who attended the funeral of my brother Fergus in Dunshaughlin. It has been a great source of comfort to all his family.

Fergus was the eldest of 12 —eight boys and four girls — and was the leader of our family. He set the standards for all of us. He got a scholarship to University College Cork in the early 1960s when farmers’ sons from Leitrim, or anywhere else for that matter, did not go to university. The rest of us followed in his path. He got his degree too. At that time there was no such thing as arriving home saying you did not like the course or that you needed a year out to find yourself. There were harsher realities to life.

Like most families of the time, our parents did not know much about what any of us were studying except that you were to get on with it and get a job afterwards.

Fergus played for Leitrim, and again that set the mark in our house in football terms. He was 14 years older than me and I wanted to play football like him, just in the way all older brothers have an influence in every family. He bought me my first pair of football boots and when he was working he was exceedingly generous to all his siblings.

Fergus was lucky in having a lovely wife, Aidie, and four children, Tiernan, Brian, Breffni and Fergus. With the addition over time of in-laws and grandchildren he had a close family unit that always sustained him.

When we moved to Meath in 1966 he continued to play for Leitrim, even though he was playing club football with Skryne. This involved long car journeys from work in Cork, in bad cars and on even worse roads, but he had a sense of loyalty to where he came from and that great love of Leitrim never left him.

I started playing for Meath in 1975 so he was just finished playing for Leitrim. If both counties played after that time I would not like to ask Fergus who he was supporting, some questions are better left unanswered.

He won senior club championships in both Leitrim and Cork and lost two finals in Meath. Winning or losing never defined him or any other footballer for that matter, he was warm, generous, always good-humoured and loved people.

Obviously thousands thought the same of him and for that we are very grateful.

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