Friday 22 November 2019

Colm O'Rourke: Please stop treating fans like caged animals

A general view of the crowd at last week's Leinster hurling final
A general view of the crowd at last week's Leinster hurling final
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Last Sunday was a wonderful occasion in Croke Park. The biggest ever crowd for a Leinster hurling final, but unfortunately the game did not meet expectations. It was the most recent awakening of the Wexford giant, and there are few counties with such passion for hurling.

Those selling jerseys in Wexford are enjoying a bonanza, but ultimate success is a good bit away, as Galway are a more mature, composed and skilful team.

Anyway, to the gripes department. First of all, it would have added to atmosphere to have had Hill 16 open. I understand they were preparing for a concert last night, but most young people prefer to stand at games. It means cheaper tickets, and it prevents it looking dreadful when the rest of the place is nearly full and the Hill is completely empty. The Dubs are not the only ones who like to stand on Hill 16, and Croke Park would look much better with the top deck of one of the stands closed but the Hill open.

Gripe number two. This is one which just runs and runs. After every incident last Sunday, most people gazed in expectation at the big screens in the hope of seeing a replay. The first thing we now see is an advertisement for one of the sponsors, a big department store. This whole thing has become a sick joke. The spectators are treated with contempt and it is pathetic that we cannot see even minor incidents. Who makes these decisions? It is bordering on the communist state model where the citizens cannot be trusted with information so everything has to be censored.

Last Saturday morning I watched the Lions play the All Blacks. Every incident of note was replayed on the big screens, sometimes far too often. Sonny Bill Williams paid the ultimate price with the replays. Now I know it is slightly different as the referee often calls for numerous replays in rugby but the game moves on and there is no big fuss. The GAA are worried that showing something controversial might cause problems for the referee. Well, referees get decisions wrong all the time but the world keeps spinning, and if a decision in Croke Park was shown to be wrong then people would still get over it.

So whoever is in charge of this could they please stop treating knowledgeable GAA supporters like they are caged animals who will start a riot in the streets just because somebody gets a decision wrong. We are all well used to that.

Back on the playing fields and Galway are trying to do something most unusual by winning two different championships within a week. Already Leinster hurling champions, they now look to be Connacht champions in football. Galway are making progress on all fronts and looking to bring more winning experience by adding a second Connacht title in a row. After blowing up spectacularly in Croke Park last year when Tipperary took them apart, they are probably better equipped for a longer journey this time. Promotion to the first division in the Allianz League is another step forward, and Galway are now in the same group in terms of All-Ireland contenders as Monaghan, Mayo and Kildare. A bit behind Tyrone and a long way off Dublin and Kerry.

Most county sides get a few years to make that jump to the highest tier once they have become established in the first division. Mayo are close to the end of that cycle, while there is no cycle at all for the Dubs and Kerry: they are going to stay close to the top. For the others there is a life-span; sometimes it takes new management to give the extra push but the chairs keep on moving and when the music stops there will only be one winner.

Damien Comer kept looking for the ball in the Connacht semi-final against Mayo. Photo: Sportsfile
Damien Comer kept looking for the ball in the Connacht semi-final against Mayo. Photo: Sportsfile

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So in this case Galway must win today to maintain progress. A loss would certainly set them back, while Roscommon are better prepared mentally to go on a run in the qualifiers so long as they play well today. When they lost heavily to Galway in the replay last year their championship was effectively over. How could any management tell players they had a future in the championship after that mauling? If Roscommon emerge with honour in defeat, then they could cause problems on the road. Galway need to win.

Galway have better players, or at least more better players. The mark is also an advantage to them as they can string three big men across the middle - Tom Flynn, Fiontán Ó Curraoin and Paul Conroy - and take long kick-outs. Goalkeeper Ruairi Lavelle tried a bit of Russian roulette against Mayo with his kick-outs late in the game; he just about got away with it then, and I am sure Kevin Walsh has told him to kick long and if in any doubt, kick longer.

It is beginning to amuse me when I hear about goalkeepers not doing this and that right, as if players outfield should be absolved of all blame when a kick-out goes wrong. The old laws of midfield still apply most of the time: the goalkeeper kicks it out and it is up to midfielders to go and win the ball - and stop complaining.

The Galway forward line will have to ensure that the Roscommon kick-outs land around the middle too. The ball should be dry and the Atlantic gale may not be as bad as usual around Salthill today, so it will make for a better game of football.

The Galway forward line is dangerous, well led by Damien Comer, who kept looking for the ball against Mayo, even after getting a knee in the crown jewels. Comer, though, comes up against John McManus, who has added stability to a position where Roscommon have really struggled in the last few years, and the Galway man will earn his corn today.

The pace of Shane Walsh will cause trouble, but Roscommon will set up with a sweeper and it will probably be Niall Kilroy's job to immediately close in on Walsh if he gets a run on some of the other backs. While Kilroy does this, Conor Devaney will sneak forward from wing-back so there are going to be a lot of tactical battles fought today. Devaney goes for goals and in today's blanket defences it is often half-backs who get the best goal chances if they go all the way in behind the defence. Ciaran and Diarmuid Murtagh and Enda Smith are also goalscorers so there could be plenty of chances to stick it in the net on both sides.

Galway may have a better defence - Gareth Bradshaw and Gary O'Donnell are seasoned warriors - but question marks remain and high balls in from Roscommon could cause alarm. Maybe they would on the other side too.

These are two teams who see themselves as having a future. There is no point in talking about realistic expectations to players or nobody would tilt at windmills and there would be no upsets. Yet cold analysis from the outside is a different matter. Galway have probably the better chance of winning the All-Ireland but I don't see it happening this year so a Connacht title has to be part of the foundations for the years ahead.

A Connacht title for Roscommon would be a massive boost after a spring of discontent. Roscommon seem a much more settled outfit recently and are not without a chance but it does seem Galway are on a steady improvement path. Galway to win, Roscommon to play with great spirit.

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