Handpass dependency gets shown up in poor conditions
Local derby games represent one of the greatest motivating factors for players and supporters in the GAA and, even when counties fall on bad times, the prospect of a big clash between neighbouring counties is always sure to give everybody a boost.
The capacity to insult your neighbours from the next county without breaking the law seems to have a great appeal to Irish people, and derby GAA games fit that bill perfectly.
The bragging rights in those towns, villages and parishes that border the next county are also a huge factor in engendering excitement.
Most people associate these occasions as high-profile encounters like Meath-Dublin, Tyrone-Derry, Cork-Kerry, Laois-Offaly or Down-Armagh, but derby games between so-called lesser counties are just as important to the people concerned. Wexford-Wicklow and Clare-Limerick are examples, and so too were two games played this weekend.
Monaghan visited great rivals Cavan at Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday night and the derby element certainly came to the fore there.
Five players were sent off and there were numerous off-the-ball altercations but, most importantly for Cavan people, their team pulled off a shock result by hammering the visitors, who just six days earlier had beaten Meath by a staggering 12 points.
Yesterday, Longford hosted Westmeath at Glennon Bros Pearse Park and this time expectations were higher than usual, with both counties operating in Division 2.
Normally one or both would have been anchored in the lower divisions.
Sadly, this latest renewal did not match the higher reputations both teams have nowadays.
Two crucial factors – the deplorable weather and the rugby match on television – decimated the crowd to a couple of thousand, about half the normal attendance for these games.
This was a very low-quality affair and even the intensity that always used to prevail in this local derby was not present.
Both teams opted for mass defence, particularly Westmeath, whenever danger threatened, and the combination of the greasy pitch and a natural tendency by both teams to overuse the handpass left the unfortunate spectators facing an unholy mess of a game.
It used to be a motto when teams were playing on a wet day to let the ball do the work – in other words take the minimum number of plays of the ball so as to lessen the chances of handling errors in the rain.
That advice is out the window now, it seems, since handpassing has taken over as the main means of transferring the ball.
We got shocking examples of bad handpassing yesterday – time after time passes went straight to an opponent no more than five metres away.
Westmeath in fairness did use more long foot-passing and opened up several scoring opportunities in that manner, but Longford gave long ball into their full-forward line.
Recent games between Longford and Westmeath usually hinged on the performances of two of the best forwards in Leinster over the past decade – Paul Barden for Longford and Dessie Dolan for Westmeath.
Barden missed this match through injury and, while Dolan looked rusty on his comeback after a year's absence from the county colours, he was still in the right place to score the goal that decided the game in 55th minute.
Longford have also lost their star forward of recent years, Brian Kavanagh, on a year-long sabbatical from teaching, and that really left the home team depending on Sean McCormack to get nearly all their scores.
Watching the game in Longford, I was struck by the difference the proposed rule changes might make next year if they were passed at the upcoming Congress.
There were at least half a dozen frees awarded for illegal pick-ups, which would disappear under the new regime, while messing around with free-taking would have meant the ball being brought forward by 30 metres at least six times.
But, in a very sporting game in dreadful conditions, I can recall only one occasion when a black card would have been issued.