Wednesday 7 December 2016

Eugene McGee: Time for the real games to begin

History, tradition and self-belief all set to play a role in what promises to be an exciting climax

Published 17/08/2015 | 02:30

The sight of Kerry lifting the Sam Maguire – as joint captains Fionn Fitzgerald and Kieran O’Leary did last year – is all too familiar in Croke Park and underlines the county’s strong tradition
The sight of Kerry lifting the Sam Maguire – as joint captains Fionn Fitzgerald and Kieran O’Leary did last year – is all too familiar in Croke Park and underlines the county’s strong tradition

There is an element of responsibility on Tyrone, Kerry, Dublin and Mayo to rescue the Gaelic football season by providing us with three high-quality, sporting and exciting games over the next five weeks as the concluding stages of the All-Ireland championship are played out.

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All we want them to do is play to the maximum of their abilities; if they do that, we will be happy enough.

We will tolerate a few cards - black, yellow or even red - if they are deserved, applied correctly and without fear or favour by the three referees involved.

We can do without any dramatics from those referees, just plain common sense, availing of the other six officials they can call upon for guidance.

All we ask is that they referee the final quarter of the game in the same manner as they did the first. In other words, we want them to be consistent.

As far as the managers are concerned, we know by now to take every word they say before a game with a large handful of salt.

They are in show business nowadays and are expected to placate the various facets of the media.

In fairness, most of them do with the exception of Mickey Harte, who strangely has not been prepared to forgive and forget in his ongoing dispute with RTE radio and television.

The only losers in that spat is the GAA public who would like to see and hear what the three-times All-Ireland winner has to say about the upcoming events.

There is no point in appealing to any of the managers. Harte, Eamonn Fitzmaurice, Jim Gavin and the Mayo duo of Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes always tend to put their teams out to play fast, open, attacking football - the sort that always appeals to the fans, particularly the neutral ones.

Partisan followers of any of these teams do not care a whit what the quality of the games are so long as their lads win.

That's a dogma of all football codes around the world and anybody who thinks otherwise is living in cloud cuckoo land.

We got a classic example of that last year when, in order to win the final against Donegal, Kerry bit their tongues, copied some of Donegal's style of play and won the game. However, very good teams often do produce quality football if they are confident enough to believe in their own manner of playing the game.

And do so with panache and flair simply because they have among them some of very best footballers in the land.

More than most sports in Ireland, tradition plays a huge role in how GAA matches are decided - especially in the closing stages of the championship.

In that regard, the odd one out is definitely Mayo. Since they last won the Sam Maguire Cup in 1951, the other three semi-finalists have taken home that famous trophy no less than 33 times between them. Kerry have won it on 21 occasions, Dublin nine times and Tyrone three.

In this century alone, Kerry have won six, Tyrone three and Dublin two, but not a sign of an All-Ireland medal in Mayo for the past 63 years.

This is a staggering statistic considering the number of quality teams and players that Mayo has produced in that period.

So inevitably if Mayo do get to this year's final that question of a losing tradition going back so long will feature strongly in conversations all over the country.

Kerry, of course, are the past masters of utilising tradition to their advantage.

Of course, several very unusual things have upset the Kerry applecart and no one knows that better than Tyrone, who have beaten them three times in the space of six years. In Kerry they regard the year 1982 as exceptionally unusual!

Dublin also have a strong tradition of success from their glory days in the 70s under Kevin Heffernan and Tony Hanahoe.

POWERFUL

Because it is fairly modern in GAA terms, Dublin's tradition is a very powerful weapon in their football armoury.

That glorious era for Dublin has even been able to bridge the poor times of the past 30 years and still serves Dublin very well when they are involved in the last four of the championship.

There is no doubt that the vast majority of football people would like Mayo to bridge that huge gap, and that is not being anti the other three teams. But that sentiment has rarely worked in the harsh reality of modern sport.

It looks as if the only way Mayo will win Sam is simply by being the best team in the county. For all the hype, the reality is that it is rarely any other way.

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