Thursday 22 March 2018

Topsy-turvy season leaves plenty to ponder for big guns

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

OLD All-Ireland money, as accumulated by Kerry, Dublin, Galway, Meath and Mayo over many years, and the nouveau riche of Tyrone shared one common characteristic this year: they were all left deeply frustrated by their championship campaigns.

Granted, there's a broad span on the disappointment scale. It ranges from the seriously depressed -- as in the case of Galway and Mayo, who finished behind Roscommon and Sligo in a sub-standard Connacht championship and then lost to Division 3 and 4 opposition, respectively, in the qualifiers -- all the way to Dublin, who came so tantalisingly close to ending the 15-year wait for an All-Ireland final booking.

In between are Kerry, who were weakened by indiscipline, retirements and the allure of Australia; Tyrone, who didn't invest in as much fresh talent as expected; and Meath, whose season was the ultimate in confusion.

If Meath had been told in May that by the middle of July, they would have hit Dublin for five goals and won the Leinster title, they would have regarded it as a special season, which might even get better. Instead, the season has left them with awkward question marks over the validity of their provincial win and an icy gust of reality blowing up the Boyne after the eight-point defeat by Kildare in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

So, there are six counties with no fewer than 80 All-Ireland titles between them whose season veered wildly off course.

However, Dublin rediscovered their bearings after finding themselves in uncharted waters when a new-look team was demolished by Meath. Pat Gilroy's assessment on Sunday that Dublin were in a completely different place to a year ago is true, but then they were lost souls in August '09 after being embarrassed by Kerry.


A year on, the future looks unquestionably brighter, but it won't ease the pain over the next month as All-Ireland final hype dominates GAA land. Dublin know they wasted a glorious opportunity to not only reach, but actually win the final and while that's encouraging for the future, it guarantees absolutely nothing.

Dublin were a similar position after a rather unlucky one-point defeat by Armagh in the 2002 All-Ireland semi-final, but didn't even win Leinster again for three years. They lost the 2006 and 2007 All-Ireland semi-finals by one and two-point margins, but it wasn't part of a carefully orchestrated learning process as claimed at the time. It was the closest they would get to a breakthrough before heading for heavy defeats by Tyrone and Kerry over the following two seasons.

Dublin were unlucky last Sunday but, ultimately, they fell victim to a virus which has infected so many of their predecessors. Losing substantial leads has undermined Dublin for more than 20 years and now appears to have targeted a new generation. They led Cork by five points on five separate occasions last Sunday, but still lost by a point.

But then it's not a new Dublin phenomenon, as the following examples from the championship show.

1989: Led Cork by seven points, lost by four.

1991: Led Meath by six points, lost by one.

1993: Led Derry by five points, lost by one.

2000: Led Kildare by six points, lost by five.

2003: Led Armagh by four points, lost by four.

2005: Led Tyrone by five points, drew, lost replay.

2006: Led Mayo by seven points, lost by one.

It's a sequence that makes you wonder if the opposition now believe that Dublin teams are vulnerable, irrespective of how far ahead they may be. If that's the case, it's a major concern for Dublin, all the more so if it's to follow the new team.

However, they aren't the only ones with psychological issues. Mayo's failure to win an All-Ireland since 1951 made the 1996, '97, 2004 and '06 All-Ireland final defeats look all the more depressing and not even the arrival of John O'Mahony, who presided over two successes with Galway, could sort out the problem. Now he has departed, leaving Mayo divided over whether they should attempt to persuade Mick O'Dwyer to bring his special talents out west or go for a longer-term rebuild.

As for Galway, they're seeking a third manager in three years. Whoever is appointed will be taking on a county with an embarrassing tendency towards one-point defeats in the championship.

Galway have lost seven games by a single point since 2006 (including two each this year and last), which suggests a mental brittleness that's difficult to fathom for such a traditional power. It's the worst close-finish record of any of the 32 counties and will pose a challenge for the new manager, whoever this may be.

Tyrone and Kerry didn't expect to be idle by early August, so both have plenty to occupy them. Indiscipline cost Kerry and Tyrone returned with virtually the same team that failed in 2009. Expect both to be corrected in 2011.

Three teams remain in the 2010 All-Ireland race, but already the rest of the country is looking ahead to next year. This includes quite a few squads who thought they would still be involved at this stage of what has been an eccentric season.

Lies, damned lies, possession stats

JUST how did Dublin come so close to beating Cork last Sunday with just 42pc of possession? And why did Cork make so little use of their 58pc?

These are issues for both camps to assess, but then possession isn't always nine-tenths of the law in modern Gaelic football.

Tyrone had a 56-44pc possession advantage over Dublin in the quarter-final, but lost and it was 51-49 in favour of Monaghan in the Ulster final yet Tyrone easily beat them.

Vodafone's detailed breakdowns of major games also show that, on average, the ball is in play 33mins 30secs per game. Divide that by say, 40 players and it comes out at just over 50 seconds each. Not much room for waste, now is there?

Irish Independent

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