Wednesday 28 September 2016

'He keeps telling me I should go work for Sky Sports' - Ciarán Whelan has a go at Joe Brolly

Read Ciarán Whelan's exclusive column every week in The Herald

Ciarán Whelan

Published 09/09/2016 | 20:16

Ciarán Whelan used his Herald column to set the record straight with Joe Brolly
Ciarán Whelan used his Herald column to set the record straight with Joe Brolly

It is this time of year that you really appreciate the game of Gaelic football. There is no better feeling than the anticipation surrounding the latter stages of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.

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I am in a privileged position to see the games up close in The Sunday Game studio and it is something I will never take for granted.

Whether people agree or disagree, the fabric of the GAA supporter means they love a debate or discussion. There is no one better to stir debate than my RTÉ colleague Joe Brolly. Joe keeps telling me I should go work for Sky Sports! “Hey Whelan, take your arrows and circles there and go in next door to Sky Sports will ya,” he booms.

In fact, Joe does a great impression of the Sky Sports crew off air, so he has been conducting mock interviews throughout the summer months with me!

Working with Joe is hugely entertaining but at times it would inspire you to take up a monastic life. A vow of silence can be a welcome tonic come 6pm on a Sunday evening!

Last weekend, Joe attributed the Kerry purple patch against Dublin to a mistake by Stephen Cluxton rather than a pre-planned tactical call by Eamon Fitzmaurice.

“Tactics my arse” said Joe. 

I texted Joe during the week after his column last week in the Sunday Independent. “Tactics my arse; do I have the right of reply?” After he explicitly told me where to go which I will not repeat here, I told Joe I would endeavor to get an interview with one of the top GAA journalists and put him back in his box! Surprisingly none of the them were available so I had to write this article myself!

You see, despite Kerry’s failings in recent years, together with Donegal, Kerry are the one team that have broken the Dublin “process” over the last few years.

In 2013, they pressed the Dublin kick-out in the first half which was the core reason why they rattled the Dublin net three times and dominated the first half .

In the 2015 final, Dublin lost their first five kick-outs when Kerry controlled the opening period but did not hurt Dublin on the scoreboard.

In the semi-final this year, a pre-planned press of 12 players into the Dublin half was implemented once Kerry got a scoreable free close to goal. Surely that was all by chance and Kerry were just playing with courage and instinct? No tactics to see here, lads!

“So why then did Kerry not do it in the second half?”  asked Joe last Sunday.

To ask that question is in an insult to Cluxton’s intelligence. As if he was going to come out in the second half and go short with 12 players spread across the Dublin half with their hands in the air!

As the famous proverb goes: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Cluxton made a mistake but it was a forced error by the position that Kerry took up. 

As Keith Wood once told us when he addressed the Dublin team: “If you make a mistake, do two simple things to get yourself back in the game to regain your composure”. Great advice for an outfield player but very different for a goalkeeper, who cannot control the simplicity of a game.

In 2013 the rhetoric in the build-up to the final was all about Mayo putting pressure on Cluxton’s kick-out, just like Kerry had done in the semi-final that year. So what happened that day?

Cluxton gave the  greatest display of long kick-outs ever seen in an All-Ireland final.

He unleashed a series of long kicks down the flanks into the Dublin half-forward line, taking out the Mayo press and their perceived aerial advantage in midfield. 

It was a ‘tactic’! A tactic, would you believe, that resulted in the winning of that game.

I also agree with Joe that Kerry have evolved since 2013. They have certainly become more defensive in their approach and the statistics will back that up. They no longer express themselves as much as protecting their goal has become a priority. But the important question to ask is why they have become that way?

The answer is simple. Dublin are  now the dominant alpha male of the GAA world. They dictate the terms of the game.

No team facing Dublin gives a hoot about the value of sport or making the world a better place. They have to look for weaknesses. They have to find weaknesses if they are too succeed. Playing with a free spirit would look great but the fairy doors sprinkled around my house look great also!  

Kerry simply do not have the quality of player presently to play Dublin in a manner in which they would like.

Rest assured Stephen Rochford and Tony McEntee are currently burning the midnight oil dissecting Dublin frame-by-frame in the hope that they can find a chink in the armour.

The basic principles of our game remain strong and will be crucial to the outcome but success has nothing to do with happiness. There is no time for bullshit when you are building an empire!

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