Friday 30 September 2016

You need two finishers to jump the big fence

Published 07/02/2016 | 14:00

Conor McManus was quiet for most of the game against Roscommon but class is permanent. Photo: Stephen McCarthy
Conor McManus was quiet for most of the game against Roscommon but class is permanent. Photo: Stephen McCarthy

There is no hanging about in this league if last Sunday is anything to go by. A new year and a bucketful of enthusiasm. What is obvious too is that the state of pitches is going to dictate the type of football played. On Saturday night in Croke Park the sod was as usual and the pace of the first half between Kerry and Dublin was like championship in August. It was a different league, if you pardon the pun, to what was in evidence on Sunday.

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Kiltoom on a wild wet day does not lend itself to fast open football so the match between Roscommon and Monaghan was a war of attrition. This was old-style winter football, plenty of blocking and hitting and rucks and flat-out effort and the occasional bit of open football.

Monaghan had a bit of craft about them. They did not panic and when they got the chance they really plunged the knife in. If Monaghan were ahead by six or seven could you see Roscommon coming back in a similar manner? Hardness on the road comes with time playing the top teams.

Roscommon’s goalkeeper Darren O’Malley probably had to take a bit of stick during the week for his short kick-out but in fairness the kick was not a bad one at all and should have been controlled and carried upfield. At that moment when the ball was loose it was a bit like the pantomime when someone shouts, “look out, he’s behind you”. The baddie was Conor McManus and the umpire could have gone for the green flag. Just as well he scored too as there would have been a bigger enquiry in Monaghan with a loose man on either side of McManus, who could have walked the ball into the net or he could have had a simple point for the taking. No thought of that though, bang, goal, goodnight Roscommon.

In one piece of action there was a clear demonstration between these two teams. Monaghan have one class forward; he was quiet for most of the game but class is permanent. One of this calibre is not enough to win an All-Ireland; a seriously hard-working team playing to a set plan with one really good finisher can stay in the top six. But they won’t jump the big fence.

Meanwhile, Dublin gave a signal of intent. In a game which was a world away from Kiltoom, the All-Ireland champions played in overdrive from the very beginning and the pace and movement in the first half — from both sides — was outstanding. In fact, it was as good an opening half that you could ever see in the first game of the year. Things dipped in the second half, mainly because Dublin were in control and they could have easily won by 10 or 12 points.

Anyone like myself who thought Dublin might take this league easy were off the mark. They have obviously decided that now they are on top of Kerry they will keep the foot on their throat. Just as Kerry did to them for years. What goes around, comes around.

There is hardly any need for panic in the Kingdom but there must be a bit of worry about another anaemic display, one which was similar to that in the All-Ireland final. Kerry never really threatened to take over the game at any stage and were listless at the business end of things. With Dublin creating at least eight goal-scoring chances it could have been a lot worse.

There is a lot of heavy artillery to come back into the ranks. James O’Donoghue and the Gooch are the two most obvious. There is hardly much point in saying that Kieran Donaghy is one of them as he was not even first choice at times last year, and if Kerry are counting on Aidan O’Mahony and Marc ó Sé to save them then they really have problems. ó Sé is one of the greatest players ever but the sands of time wait for no man. And Dublin have far bigger numbers to come back, and better players too.

Dublin out of Croke Park will be a somewhat different animal — especially on very slow pitches. But the subs are all playing for places on the panel for the championship so do not expect any of them to be swanning around country venues.

There was also a time when teams loved to get Dublin out of Croke Park and rough them up a bit. It is a little different now as they are capable of riding into town and shooting up the place without too much response.

There will be no panic in Mayo either after last Sunday as they have plenty of bodies in cold storage for the summer campaign but they must have left Cork with furrowed brows. Is new manager Stephen Rochford wondering what he has got himself into? His team was swatted like noisy flies but Cork have done the same over the last few years to many teams and then gone missing in summer. Yet there was something about them which must give hope to those half-dozen supporters who always keep the faith.

Lee Keegan and Dr Sean Moffatt made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. When Keegan and Eoin Cadogan collided fair and square it was like two trains hitting at speed. Dr Con Murphy of Cork immediately called Cadogan ashore but it was obvious Keegan wanted to play on, and the truth is players often will play down things to get on or stay on the field. I often did it myself and suffered a few bad concussions while playing and I get headaches now which I still think relate back to one of those concussions. It is a different type of headache which I had never experienced before.

Anyway with Mayo it was the opposite a few years ago, as Moffatt  had all of Mayo’s supporters  baying for his blood when he was reluctant to allow Cillian O’Connor and Aidan O’Shea back on the field in that famous All-Ireland semi-final in Limerick against Kerry when they clashed heads. It may have cost the game then but the doctor was taking no chances.

In this case it went the other way and the resultant publicity will be for the good of all players. Mayo too did the right thing by acknowledging the mistake quickly and you can be sure that all medics involved with teams were saying, “there but for the grace of God go I”.

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