Saturday 21 October 2017

Colm O'Rourke: We can look forward to lots more drivel until structure is changed

‘Tyrone have a chance of winning the Ulster title. Derry have none’. Photo: Sportsfile
‘Tyrone have a chance of winning the Ulster title. Derry have none’. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

The championship is up and running - if that is the appropriate term to use. A few good hidings is mostly what we have got so far, and the trend will continue for a while longer.

Those in high places console themselves with the notion that 'anything can happen in the championship' as if most games are somehow unpredictable. They are wrong: the better teams beat the living bejaysus out of the weak teams. I don't know whether there has been a study of scoring trends over the last 40 years, but my suspicion is that the gulf in class, and the margins of victory, have considerably widened.

The prophets of doom are condemned, as if pointing out the truth is in some way a treacherous act for someone actively involved in the GAA. So while I spend a fair proportion of my waking hours promoting football at school and club level, I have no intention of joining in a charade that the championship is some type of exciting struggle between equals. Neither will I be a cheerleader for the new locomotive, the Super 8, which will depart the station next year leaving 24 of the poorest passengers behind. If they were on a ship they would travel in steerage.

So when I look at the championship I think of Fermanagh and Antrim and Sligo, who were beaten out the gate. I think of their players who have worked hard all year and are now deflated and waiting for the second beating to put them out of their misery. Unfortunately, even among their county boards there are some who cling to an unswerving belief in the provincial championships, as if a win every decade justifies their existence.

Wise up lads. Even hurling has seen the light by promoting the secondary competitions. And the players from these counties mentioned, and Wexford and Longford too, should take stock and realise that they are as entitled as the top dogs to play in Croke Park. Football in summer should be non-negotiable.

The best advertisement for the idea of introducing a tiered competition was the game of the weekend between two sides from the bottom division, Carlow against Wexford. Imagine if they had another five or six similar games over the next couple of months to look forward to. Then real progress could be made.

Today a similar type of drivel will again prevail. It's Tyrone's time to plunder Derry. Yes, once proud Derry are reduced to the margins of football's society. Yet in this instance it is not so much a case of football dying on its feet but more a conscious decision by many Derry players to choose club over county. When some teams get a bad beating it may distort the real picture of football in a county, as distinct from county football. A bad county side may mask a vibrant club scene, as appears to be the case in Derry.

When I saw Derry play Meath in the Allianz League in Navan earlier this year, I thought it was the worst Derry side I had ever witnessed. They were so bad I felt sorry for both players and the management team, who seem to be playing into a gale all the time. Apathy reigns. There are plenty of other players who would make a difference, but when you start explaining in these situations you are losing. The short answer is few care anymore and if Tyrone win today it won't cause any loss of sleep in south Derry. That is some change from 20 or 30 years ago.

Tyrone come to town from what is in many ways a different world. The lure of the county team still holds strong - very few players would opt out of a Tyrone panel.

It is not just as simple either as players in Tyrone seeing themselves with a chance of winning while those in Derry do not. It is an embedded cultural thing now. Tyrone are part of the exclusive club who will be around in August, and respect for the county jersey is still a powerful weapon. Tyrone are a professional outfit. Derry are not. Derry will ply their trade in Division 3 next year while Tyrone are comfortably a Division 1 side. Tyrone have a chance of winning the Ulster title. Derry have none.

What a great pity too. Nothing lasts forever but my time with Meath coincided with Derry teams who were proud, fiercely determined and would walk over broken glass in their bare feet to take on a challenge from Tyrone. So while Tyrone were like Chairman Mao in China and made the Great Leap Forward, Derry got caught in the time warp.

Some may argue that they have their priorities right, that a competitive and well organised club structure is a better way of spending Derry GAA people's money than lavishing hundreds of thousands on a small elite. Yet it is possible to have both, and the best recruiting tool for football in general is to have a successful county side.

Last year Tyrone beat Derry by 11 points in the championship and things have only got worse for Derry since. It is unlikely to be much different this time, even if Tyrone really struggled in the latter stages of the league and had the second worst scoring rate in the top division after Cavan, who were relegated.

The absence of goals is a serious issue and there is no 'Mugsy', Stephen O'Neill or Peter the Great among the present crew. Yet this is not like against like. League form does count for something, and no team from outside the top division will win the All-Ireland. So it is a very simple prediction then: a Tyrone win, but hopefully Derry won't capitulate like last year and will make them fight for it.

So while the men's game is about toil and trouble, I, as an interested outsider, got a taste of justice in the ladies' game over the last couple of weeks.

The abbreviated version of the saga is that a 14-year-old girl from Navan was sent off in the last minute of a Leinster semi-final against Enniscorthy in controversial circumstances and was set to miss the final. The appeal was duly dispatched and the lady in charge of the other team, from Enniscorthy, took it upon herself to write and state clearly that she could see no justification for the red card. As the adult closest to the alleged incident it was an independent opinion which should have carried a lot of weight.

The appeal was turned down and a further appeal last Monday, which was helpfully organised at short notice by the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, was also lost. The girl missed the Leinster final on Tuesday and also a couple of club matches. In upholding the decision to suspend, the committee must not have accepted the Enniscorthy manager's evidence that nothing happened which warranted a card. Evidence backed up by the Enniscorthy player, who was clear that she was not struck.

So in a case where there is a clear dispute of the facts, a 14-year-old girl is needlessly left distressed and disappointed. In natural justice where there is even a hint of uncertainty, the appeal will always succeed. Obviously the ladies' committee believe that the referee's word trumps everything. In the men's game that notion has been dispelled and many appeals succeed.

The family of the girl is well known to me, but that does not alter the facts. Those who sat on any of these appeals committees should take no satisfaction from their work. Hardly the best example for any young boy or girl.

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