Sport Gaelic Football

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Tomás O Sé: Money men must not forget that GAA belongs to all of us

Croke Park is our Mecca - so don't rent it out to other sports at busiest time of the year

Published 29/08/2014 | 02:30

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Chicago Bears v Pittburgh Steelers, American Bowl. American Football. Croke Park
Chicago Bears v Pittburgh Steelers, American Bowl. American Football. Croke Park
Mayo manager James Horan and Kerry counterpart Eamonn Fitzmaurice after the drawn semi-final

There's been a picture in my head all week of Richard Harris going to war with that American trying to buy the field that, over the years, has turned his hands to stone.

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You know the bit where 'Bull' McCabe is declaring ownership of the land and a smiley Yank counters "Well, we'll see about that won't we?" Jim Sheridan's movie came to mind with the eruption of anger over Kerry-Mayo II being exported to Limerick's Gaelic Grounds. Croke Park is our field you see and, right now, it feels as if someone else's hands are upon it.

I love the GAA. It brightens the lives of people in every last nook and cranny of this country. I love what it stands for and the fact that, in Croke Park, we have a home, a Mecca that is the match of anything, anywhere in the world.

And, by the way, I've no problem with other sports getting in there, no problem with concerts, no problem with American football. It's not as if they get the use of the place for free and I know that that money then percolates back into the GAA. I had breakfast with Liam O'Neill in Dublin on Monday and I see himself and Paraic Duffy as two real GAA men, people who are still in touch with their members.

But maybe there's the rub.

I know stadium director Peter McKenna is brilliant at what he does, but his brief isn't the promotion of the GAA. His brief is to drive the commercial side of the Association and I applaud him for it. He's clearly a very shrewd operator.

But I remember walking down a corridor of Croke Park after winning the All-Ireland in '09, being stopped by him and asked where I was going. He didn't know who I was from Adam. I explained that I was a player, just trying to get down to meet some friends.

I'll admit I was lost and I'm pretty sure that, technically, I shouldn't have been where I found myself. But, at that moment, I might as well have been an intruder caught climbing down out of an air-vent. Look he's a busy guy and I know he's doing a fantastic job.

But Croke Park is the GAA's field and I just get the impression that, more and more, there's an attitude building around it of 'Get off the pitch, we're making money here!'

So there's a principle involved that bothers me this week. Why on earth agree to putting this American football game into Croke Park at our busiest time of year?

Preoccupied

Is the GAA now a business, pre-occupied with making money, or is it still ours?

By the way, don't think for a second that Kerry people are happy to have this game brought to Limerick. They're not. Most of this team have no experience of playing there, so the argument of it giving them an advantage holds no water. But there's another aspect to this that is troubling.

The dimensions of Croke Park are different. If I give a punt pass maybe 50 yards out to the wing in Croke Park, there's space. The same space isn't available in Limerick, and that's why it's essential that both teams are allowed have a kick-around there this evening.

As for the drawn game, I thought Mayo were too cautious in the first half, with Tom Cunniffe helping Keith Higgins police James O'Donoghue. Now Higgins was brilliant, yet O'Donoghue scored 1-3. So what do Mayo do now? When they threw off the shackles in the second half, it meant they no longer had two men on O'Donoghue.

It was risky, but they looked the better for it. So what happens now, especially if and when Kieran Donaghy comes in? All of Kerry's substitutes had a big impact, but I was particularly pleased for Donaghy. I admire the man totally for coming through a tough few years and still, basically, rescuing the game for us.

That said, I'd hold 'Star' in reserve now. The impact he can make coming off the bench is massive but, more than that, it would help Mayo psychologically if they saw Donaghy being taken off.

Looking back, maybe Kerry fell into the trap of believing Mayo might lie down. But this team is different. Their backs were to the wall and they answered it. When Mayo got going, I thought the two O'Sheas were immense. Boyle too.

But it was equally impressive how Kerry dug themselves out of a bad situation. The worry I would have though is what if that ropey 20-minute period they had stretches to 45 the next day? Kerry were outstanding at midfield in the first half, but they need to sustain that fight for an hour now and they need to stop Mayo's runners, the Vaughans - the O'Sheas and the Boyles - at source.

The Kerry inside forwards must take on their men a bit more too.

One thing I'd like to clarify. I was quoted in a newspaper on Tuesday, criticising Brian Kelly's kick-outs. A big headline made of it: 'Ó Sé wants Kelly to make better use of kick-outs!' Lord God, Kelly has had a great year in my eyes. I think he found his man with 21 of 25 kick-outs taken last weekend.

The point I was trying to make was simply focusing on three or four kicks when Mayo had their dander up. That's when we needed to be clever. No criticism, just making a point.

Anyway, I played in a few All-Ireland replays with Kerry (Armagh semi-final and Galway final 2000, Dublin quarter-final 2001, Cork semi-final 2008) and we won them all. Why? We got our homework done between the two matches and that will be key again.

Because small detail wins big games.

I can't see any way Donegal will win the other semi-final unless they pressure every single Stephen Cluxton kick-out. I would question are they as complete now as in 2012. Armagh got scores in the quarter-final that that team of two years ago wouldn't have conceded.

That said, I read an interview with Jim McGuinness and he seems confident. What I can see is Donegal being ultra-defensive. They've based all of their performances on not conceding an early goal. But what if they do concede?

I can't see Dublin losing because I don't think they'll have any fear of Donegal. And, trust me, when they need to be defensive, they will be. Put it this way, I find it very hard to believe that if McBrearty and McFadden are the only two forwards parked up in Dublin territory, there'll be only two backs 'minding' them.

One of many qualities Dublin have is pace, which means they can get back to cover space extremely quickly. The other thing they won't allow is Donegal pour up the field as easily as other teams have.

My hunch is we're headed for a Kerry-Dublin final.

Irish Independent

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