Friday 15 November 2019

When two worlds collide...

The styles deployed by Donegal, Tyrone and Armagh over the past decade had their critics in the south but then divergences of opinion go back 66 years, when Antrim were left seething after an All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Kerry.

There was the occasional spat after that too but nothing as intense as over the last 10 years. Is it all part of a North-South philosophical divide over how Gaelic football should be played?

1946: When Kerry beat Antrim in the All-Ireland semi-final, the Ulster champions lodged an objection with Central Council, alleging that they were beaten by unfair tactics.

Antrim argued that their slick, hand-passing game had been stopped by rough-house, off-the-ball tackling from Kerry which went unpunished.

Antrim claimed that Kerry's physical approach had brought the game into disrepute but after nearly three hours of discussion, Central Council rejected Antrim's case on a 19-10 vote.

1960: Down won the All-Ireland title for the first time and retained it a year later. They brought a brash style to the game but their tactics were questioned in the south.

Mick O'Dwyer (right) later described them in his autobiography as "tough, physical and aggressive and could be quite cynical too when it came to fouling, especially outside the scoring range".

"If they felt play needed to be stopped," he wrote, "they did it and worried about the free later."

Question is -- did Down learn it from Kerry? In an interview in 1993, James McCartan Snr said that in a 1959 game Down found Kerry to be "full of tricks, pulling the jersey and pushing in the back".

"When we met them next time, we did the same," he said.

The great old warriors always remained friends, however, and O'Dwyer launched McCartan's book a few years ago.

2003: Tyrone's game plan which smothered Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final didn't go down well in the Kingdom. The then Kerry chairman Sean Walsh (current Munster chairman) described the game as being more like rugby league than Gaelic football and warned that if it continued crowds would drop.

He made no specific reference to Tyrone but the inference was clear.

"What happened on Sunday wouldn't be Kerry's natural style but maybe it's time we took a fundamental look at how we play football in the county," he said.

"Other teams are getting more technical when it comes to coming up with ways of stopping the opposition. It may not be pretty but it seems to be effective, although in the long run I believe it's bad for Gaelic football."

2003-06: After winning the All-Ireland in 2002, Armagh's style began to come under critical review in the south, in particular. Manager Joe Kernan (right) addressed the changed view of Armagh in his autobiography, claiming it militated heavily against them.

"Somewhere along the line, we got a reputation for playing over the edge and once that happens it's very hard to shake off," wrote Kernan.

"I was disappointed to learn that, at one point, referees were studying videos of Armagh games for examples of things they should watch out for. Sport isn't divided into angels and devils.

"There's a bit of both in all teams. Maybe Armagh did too well for too long. It's okay for the likes of Kerry to be successful all the time but when a new force comes along they're only supposed to stay around for a certain time.

"That's the impression I had about our situation and, to be fair to Tyrone, the same thing happened to them."

2004: Kerry chairman Sean Walsh saw the Kingdom's latest All-Ireland success as a victory for the forces of good.

"The team restored the faith in Kerry football and indeed in football in general," he said. "Twelve months ago, pundits were proclaiming the death of football as we knew it. We are delighted that it took a Kerry team to restore the pride in Gaelic football.

"The return to a free-flowing game from the packed-defence type game is welcomed by the thousands of supporters that travel to our games."

2007: Jack O'Connor (right), then in between his first and second terms as Kerry boss, took a particular view on Ulster in his autobiography.

"There's an arrogance to northern football which rubs Kerry people up the wrong way. They're flash and nouveau riche and full of it," he wrote. "Add up the number of All-Ireland titles the Ulster counties have and it's less than a third of Kerry's total but northern teams advertise themselves well. They talk about how they did it, they go on and on about this theory and that practice as if they'd just split the atom."

2009: Mickey Harte opened a chapter of his book with the quote from Sean Walsh in 2004.

Harte noted that the "arrows kept flying in our direction" and revisited Walsh's comments.

"Sean Walsh was claiming Kerry had saved football from the northern hordes. I thought that was disingenuous, to say the least. As for saving football as a spectacle, the 2004 All-Ireland final was over after 12 minutes," Harte wrote.

"Football needs Kerry but it needs Tyrone too. It thrives on variety and conflicting styles. It's not good simply to react to statements like that.

"You have to be proactive. I wouldn't be driven to prove people like Sean Walsh wrong but I took those comments on board."

2011: Donegal's style came in for severe criticism after their re-emergence was built on solid defensive principles which saw them concede an average of just 8.8 points per game (excluding extra-time) in six championship outings.

Presumably, the attacks would have been a whole lot more concentrated if Donegal had won the All-Ireland.

Irish Independent

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