Sport Gaelic Football

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Future uncertain for Kingdom but this golden generation cannot be written off before their time

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Cork have the legs for the long haul but they might not win today, says Colm O'Rourke

This is a proper championship Sunday with two of the top three teams playing each other.

The big game is in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and if the crowd is low on this one then the GAA have a problem as it appears that only Ulster is able to buck the trend in terms of attendances. There are many factors which account for falling crowds but for me the main one is that the game as a spectator sport is dying on its feet.

GAA people in general are loyal supporters but they are being bored to sleep by county football and are getting their enjoyment either from underage games or adult club matches.

The difference between what is happening at the highest level and the club scene is night and day. All in the name of progress we are told, but like the broken record I will stick to the point that I have often made -- that you can have better footballers playing a worse game.

Cork and Kerry will not do much today to change the imbalance between handpassing and kicking. Against Tipperary, Kerry gave an exhibition of old mistakes and invented a whole raft of new ones. This was especially true of defenders coming forward and giving short handpasses to forwards coming running outfield. When they got the ball they were farther away from goal than the player who gave the pass.

On this evidence, Kerry played like a side in decline. However, a couple of years ago they gave the same impression against Sligo and Antrim and then blew Dublin out of the water.

Yet some doubts persist. The best players on this Kerry team have probably played their best football and some day soon in a big match they will start the engine and instead of a Ferrari they will find a Massey Ferguson 35. Today it is unlikely to be as dramatic as that, yet how long more can Gooch, the ó Sé's, Declan O'Sullivan, Paul Galvin and Kieran Donaghy be the best? Not long more. The old order is changing and while underage football in Kerry has not produced much recently, they did not need to because a couple of additions kept things ticking over. After this golden generation, however, there will be trouble.

Worse still from a Kerry point of view is that Cork are in pole position to take over in Munster and Dublin look to have a very bright future. So Kerry are staring down the barrel of a gun today. The round-the-houses trip won't suit at all if they are beaten; in fact, I can't see Kerry winning an All-Ireland through the back door, while Cork could.

Kerry need all the old hands at their very best to win. Declan O'Sullivan has got a bit testy recently. In the old days he was battered from all sides and passed no remarks; now there is a rueful look and sometimes a few words. He will get plenty of attention by the Lee and this will be a spiky affair. It won't take Noel O'Leary long to find Paul Galvin; at this stage O'Leary would sniff him out in a dense forest.

Who will be booked first? It is odds-on that there won't be 30 players on the field at the end as Cork have a few defenders who can give treatment. The best thing always with tough backs is to check out early whether they can take it as well as give it out.

Both sets of defenders will have their marking arrangements and positions will mean nothing. Kerry will want Marc ó Sé in three positions as Colm O'Neill, Donncha O'Connor and Paul Kerrigan will take a lot of minding, as will Pearse O'Neill through the middle. In pure midfield terms, Cork are stronger so Kerry need Galvin at his very best on breaks and to draw as much attention on himself as possible. He is very good at that.

I am really looking forward to this game. A no-holds-barred contest to give a lift to the championship. Some of the Kerry legs are getting a bit wobbly but this game will bring the best out of them. There is still Gooch and Donaghy up front and hopefully there will be a few high balls into the square. Strange with all the prophets of doom with this rule change and there has been little action inside at all. Cork are the better bet for the All-Ireland but Kerry might win this one on less possession.

Armagh and Tyrone are not as good as the big two in the south yet this clash is another very interesting encounter which will attract a very big crowd. It may not have the quality of five or six years ago but it is still a game of potential Ulster champions.

Tyrone, who made smooth progress in the spring, have been badly hit by injuries with Seán Cavanagh a huge loss, while Kyle Coney seemed on his way to becoming a top-class corner-forward. Getting Brian McGuigan back may help to solve some short-term problems but a lot of young players would like to have been thrown a jersey. McGuigan was exceptional in vision and touch yet humans usually conform to the old saying about great horses: they never come back like they were.

Armagh suffer from the Crossmaglen effect. Some might find it strange to understand that

comment but the players in Cross' find it hard to settle into a new system, and so do the other county players when they return. It is a challenge for management -- and I write this with the best will in the world.

But for all of that, Armagh are in a great position here. Tyrone had a fantastic league until the final and now the wheels have fallen off when Mickey Harte had a new team ready for the big games of summer. He cannot replace the quality lost and Tyrone are severely weakened as a result. Armagh should be able to take advantage.

After criticising the Leinster Council for fixing Meath and Carlow for Tullamore, along comes the replay between Wexford and Longford to save the day. Meath received a significant boost by beating Wicklow and should win comfortably today.

The other game is just another instalment in a saga that is running for a couple of years with Longford and Wexford playing regularly with little in it. It will be the same again today.

I thought Longford would win in Croke Park and I admire all these people who are so certain about everything in life that they never change their minds. I prefer those with a bit more flexibility so it is Wexford for me this time.

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