Kerry-Mayo rematch a stand-out game no matter where it's played
Semi-final replay doesn't need the bling of Croke Park Classic
We don't need a pimped-up feast. We don't need tailgating parties, cheerleaders, pom poms or razzle dazzle. Forget your pep rallies with your posturing and posing.
Mayo versus Kerry Part Two doesn't need to be accessorised with any sideshows. No requirement here for the paraphernalia that comes with an American college football game. We're not looking for much. Just to have the home of the GAA available to us coming into the climax of our season.
Do I agree with the GAA's decision to shunt one of the marquee games of the year out of headquarters? Damn right I don't. It felt like an instant downgrade when the news filtered through as we left Croke Park after the drawn game last Sunday. The GAA is right to try and maximise the use of Croker. But staging an American college football game there during our own high season? When there is always the risk - low or otherwise - that a game will go to a replay?
When players imagine and talk about playing on the big stage, that's Croke Park they're imagining and talking about. When you and I think of All-Ireland games, we think of walking up to Croke Park. And the spike in your stomach when you catch the first glimpse of the stadium and everything it houses for you, your family and your team. Memories, maybe medals and most definitely magic.
Going there in August and September brings with it that Big Time feeling. But now we have to watch our teams fight for a place in the All-Ireland football final at the Gaelic Grounds? Taking the road less travelled by is meant to be a motif, an angle for a story at this stage of the season. And not Mayo and their fans actually taking the road less travelled by on their way to a semi-final replay. The Gaelic Grounds certainly doesn't boast Croker's tangible accessories that players enjoy. Like an indoor astro-turf area. Or impressive dressing-room facilities. Or the the prairie-like feel of the pitch. Or Hawk-Eye. Or the players' lounge. Or corporate boxes. Or razzle dazzle. Or memories, medals or magic.
The controversy this week has seen the game itself become the small print. But hold on - are we getting too precious about all this? Is a provincial stadium like the Gaelic Grounds in fact a suitable venue to stage a game which doesn't need any accoutrements or special effects?
Of course the Mayo and Kerry players should be playing in the best crucible in the country. But are we letting the occasion become bigger than the game?
On every level, tomorrow's replay will just be about the 70-plus minutes. The Artane Band will make the trip. But there will be no minor game or curtain-raiser to soak up and stave off the inevitable angst just a little longer. This is a game we will have to drink neat. If the Gaelic Grounds is at full capacity, under half of the 44,000 fans will stand on the terraces with no seats to keep us in our place. The result will do that.
As we await the ding ding for round two, can you imagine the atmosphere? An evening throw-in with a raucous noise breathing down on the players? As the fanfare finishes on Jones Road in the Croke Park Classic between Penn State and the University of Central Florida, the Gaelic Grounds will stage a rematch which will be as raw as it will be unforgiving.
Mayo and Kerry both made mistakes last week but they got away with it. One side won't get away with repeat mistakes tomorrow. So will we see a pared--back version of both sides? Will Mayo lose the mod-con of a sweeper? Will they now have the confidence and belief to go after the Kerry players one-on-one after what they produced last Sunday? Will Kerry use more of that most pure and traditional of acts and kick high balls into the waiting Kieran Donaghy to lay off to James O'Donoghue?
The replay will also distil the tactical nous of the managers. The Americans' lack of love for a draw is characterised in the saying "a tie is like kissing your sister". But James Horan and Eamonn Fitzmaurice will have had time enough to tweak their tactics and get their chemistry just right. How they work it will be fascinating to watch.
Too much shadow-boxing went on in the drawn game. In their most important game of the year (so far), Mayo thought it was the right time to not play like themselves. Until they went a man down and came out in the second half and played that full-on, in-your-face football. And Kerry? Well, they sat back and seemed to wait for the accessory of having an extra man on the pitch to kick in.
Maybe tomorrow's game won't be totally remembered for the gridiron in Dublin and the traffic gridlock in Limerick. Maybe fans will remember it like the All-Ireland quarter-final between Dublin and Kerry in Thurles in 2001. A stand-alone novelty. But a novelty that should never be repeated when it comes to an All-Ireland semi-final not being played at HQ.
Maybe Mayo won't get to finally say that they beat Kerry at Croke Park. But when it comes to that inevitable pub quiz question in years to come, we will turn to each other and ask, "Were you there?"
So just feast your eyes on the game. The landscape may have changed for tomorrow's replay. But the ultimate prize remains the same.
Opposites attract in Dublin v Donegal collision
Dublin boss Jim Gavin must be raging. Are some people forgetting the fact that there is actually an All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park this weekend? Why are some folk getting so caught up with that other semi-final replay down the country? Don't you know, the Dubs are back in town.
Yes, it has all worked pretty nicely for Gavin and his team as they quietly build up to their own rematch with Jim McGuiness's Donegal. Newton's third law of motion wasn't exactly created to understand forces like Dublin v Donegal. The "action-reaction" law states that for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction.
Yes, it's to do with physical inanimate objects. But the forces of Dublin and Donegal being involved in a single interaction with their opposite styles of play colliding will be nothing but intoxicating to watch.
Embrace the bias from pundits in post-match analysis
Just as the heart-rate had ticked back to normal last Sunday, we settled in to watch 'The Sunday Game'. I was looking forward to watching Tomás ó Sé's assessment of the game. But there was no Tomás and looking back over the live game, Pat Spillane was reduced to a bit part on the pitch.
Some neutrality is obviously good when it comes to analysing games. But why not embrace more of the bias? Don't we all text our friends to get their opinion when their counties are playing in the championship? You want to hear what they have to say.
Same goes for TV. You know Spillane would bring that fervour and passion. And you know Colm O'Rourke or Joe Brolly would call him out if he was being too OTT about his home county.