Friday 2 December 2016

Colm O'Rourke: Replay skirmish just the beginning of Tyrone's long war

Published 03/07/2016 | 13:00

‘This game will be good for Mickey Harte’s team in their quest to have all avenues of attack closed off for future purposes’
‘This game will be good for Mickey Harte’s team in their quest to have all avenues of attack closed off for future purposes’

The GAA family is remarkably resilient. Despite the competition from, and great interest in, the European Championships from a broad sporting public, the television viewing figures for Gaelic football and hurling matches have held up. Add in that the football championship has been an ongoing bore and it is amazing to consider that so many followers live in a constant state of optimism. They seem to believe that the next match will be the one to banish the dark clouds.

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If the GAA was a product being sold on the supermarket shelves marketing companies would be waxing lyrical about brand loyalty. What this reflects is that the GAA has the potential to be considerably bigger as long as a properly organised fixtures schedule can be worked out.

Just think about the huge interest and indeed appetite for games there is in many of the lesser populated counties. Leitrim, or Fermanagh, or Roscommon even, are like Iceland at the Euros - the percentage of their population who support their team is much greater than for Kerry or Dublin or Mayo. Imagine if they could see their team in Croke Park and had a chance of winning something.

Yet while all of this goes on Ulster says Yes to Europe but absolutely No to any deal that might see their provincial semi-finals on television. And as for co-operating with the rest of the GAA so the Qualifiers can be run properly, well they gave an impolite two-finger salute on that score too.

Consistency in an ever-changing world. It is such a pity that they rail against the rest of the country; they are the equivalent of the Amish community without the beards. Putting at least one of this weekend's replays on live television would have been a boost to the whole championship - one that is badly needed as we all know. Whatever one thinks of the Ulster Championship, at least Donegal versus Monaghan last night and Tyrone versus Cavan this afternoon are a real test of the collective wills of the players involved. As we saw in both drawn games, this is a test they really stood up to admirably. That is what people want to see, even if there are blanket defences and loads of handpassing. At least there is competition, hard competition.

Read more: Harte's men the one team with artillery to trouble Dublin

Tyrone let Cavan off the hook the first day. While we can extol the fighting spirit of Cavan, the fact remains that Tyrone had better players overall in that game, played better football, had more possession and created far more scoring chances. Cavan got goals as opposed to creating them but the real problem they had was with raising the white flag. Scoring seven in a championship match is not nearly enough, in fact double that amount would be seen as a minimum for winning big games. Strip away the goals and Cavan looked a moderate outfit.

So they are a long way off being a serious team even if they did earn a draw in the end. Their reliance on a few players like Cian Mackey, Martin Reilly and Dara McVeety only served to demonstrate how short they are of talent to compete at the very top. Killian Clarke, Gearóid McKiernan and Seánie Johnston did not feature and without big performances from them they are going nowhere. It would be surprising if Johnston even started today. Tyrone have done something of a number on him in their last two games and it won't change today either. The only other Cavan player who shaped well was David Givney but he was left isolated far too often. He needs a player or two close to him and Cavan today need to ensure that he is not left on his own with three Tyrone defenders on him.

In many respects Tyrone exposed Cavan in the drawn match. Their system of play is better and when it comes down to it they have better individual players with more big-game experience. This was most evident in the second half. Cavan, through sheer hard work, discipline and flat-out effort, papered over the cracks for a long time but as bodies tired class took over. That was in the shape of Colm Cavanagh, Tiernan McCann, Ronan O'Neill and Peter Harte.

Today will follow a similar pattern. Cavan will start at 100 miles an hour and will really get stuck in. It will throw Tyrone off their game for quite a while but Tyrone are no shrinking violets and will hang in until there is time and room. Then they will outplay Cavan as they did in the drawn game. The best chance for Cavan is to go for goals again but lightning generally does not strike twice where Tyrone are concerned.

This game will be good for Mickey Harte's team in their quest to have all avenues of attack closed off for future purposes. Cavan may play as well as the drawn game but still lose by five or six. This is part of the long war for Tyrone and today is only the beginning.

Elsewhere, the traders in Killarney must be hopping mad with the Cork players for losing their Munster football semi-final to Tipperary and denying them another bonanza. They might as well dump on the Cork players like everyone else. I feel sorry for them as there is a prestige in playing for your county; in Cork every player would keep their hand down rather than volunteer that information as it would be greeted with either mirth or disdain.

At least the traders had the Ring of Kerry cycle yesterday so the ale houses and eateries were still ticking over but Cork provided the cream on this weekend. They come early, drink a lot, eat a little and go home quietly after being beaten. How could you have better neighbours?

Tipperary have taken their place and the crowd will be well down. If it breaks 20,000 then it will not be a complete disaster from the Munster Council's point of view.

Read more: Preparing to be serious challengers

Tipperary need make no apologies for spoiling the party and if they and others could do it on a regular basis then football would be all the better. For it to happen this year was quite surprising, however, as Tipperary have had plenty of well-documented problems with injuries and the unavailability of players. In fact, it looked like a possible golden generation of young talent was going to be lost. Perhaps playing senior football for Tipperary may become popular again and progress could be made through the league next year.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice now finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. The league team are not up to it and having invested his support and confidence in Aidan O'Mahony and Marc ó Sé, he must decide to stick or twist as his selection today will tell us the pecking order for later in the year. This is not in any way insulting to Tipperary; in Munster Kerry play the long game with everyone and the reality is that until they hit the bearpit in August for the quarter-final there is a distinct lack of serious football.

The questions asked today are different for both teams. Tipperary want a performance on the day while every Kerry player is being scrutinised on the basis of how he would potentially fare in Croke Park.

At the same time Kerry will want to show their supporters that after an autumn and spring of discontent there is better to come. I would not hold my breath on that one but at least today Kerry should be able to get their ducks in a row.

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