Wednesday 18 July 2018

Also rans get first run on favourites

‘It would be good for everyone if somebody could slay the Dublin dragon’. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
‘It would be good for everyone if somebody could slay the Dublin dragon’. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

The tapes are up and the race is on. Maybe you have not noticed but the Connacht Championship starts today without a match in Ireland. Sligo are in McGovern Park in Ruislip to play London, and I emphasise McGovern Park as there are very few families who have contributed as much to the GAA in Dublin, Leitrim and London as this family has. Probably in a few other counties too.

Leitrim are in New York, in Gaelic Park, and maybe it will be called Mike Carty Park after the reconstruction as he has made an enormous contribution to the GAA in the Big Apple for over half a lifetime. The McGoverns and Mike Carty are from Leitrim and it is one of the strange anomalies of the GAA that they have more chance of seeing their county play championship football in either London or New York than Croke Park. Any system like this is plainly wrong and these Leitrim players are as entitled to play in the big field in Dublin as the Dubs or Kerry or Mayo.

In Rosie O'Grady's in New York, Mike Carty's pub and restaurant, there have been more young Irish lads fed, watered, fixed up with accommodation and a job than any employment agency could manage. All done quietly. It's the generosity of those who love what the GAA stands for. And many clubs and counties have rolled into town, raised money here or had functions in Rosies and found there was no bill at the end of the night.

The people of Leitrim will travel in force; the match is only part of the reason because there are generations to catch up on, old acquaintances to meet and friendships lost through emigration to reignite.

Leitrim won't be winning the Connacht Championship or the All-Ireland, they may not even win today, but this is bigger than a game. It is a reason for a lost tribe to reunite. One that has been largely ignored in Ireland but who love their football as much as the next.

This is one of the few occasions when the New York team has a real chance of overthrowing the invaders. If New York do win it will cause a few problems. The winners play Roscommon and there are probably quite a few on the New York team who may not be in a position to travel home.

Maybe if Donald Trump knew the game was on he might ensure all visa issues were handled quietly and sensitively, as is his usual practice. He certainly would agree with all the fake news which GAA managers thrive on and they could all teach him a thing or two about doublespeak. The danger is that he might try and build a wall around Connacht to make sure they did not get out anymore.

On the other side, there will be a few Leitrim players who might have packed lightly and hope to stay on in New York for the summer if they lose. There might be fewer players turning up in JFK airport tomorrow night for the flight home, especially if Leitrim are not looking forward to a Connacht semi-final. So you could easily have a situation this evening where New York players can't go home and Leitrim players won't go home. Anyway, if they all get lost in the city that never sleeps for a few months it won't do them any harm.

Back home, everyone is gearing up for the games which will come thick and fast from next weekend. The problems of April disappear now, when inter-county team managers fumed over a new edict where challenge matches are not being allowed at weekends but must be played on a week night. I feel that county teams exert far too much influence, but in this case I think that edict is absolutely daft. The logic behind it is that county players are available to their clubs at weekends if county challenge matches are played mid-week. Nobody on a club side either expects or even feels that their county men should be doing anything other than preparing for their provincial championship at this time. The idea of playing county challenge matches midweek is deeply flawed. Nobody wants to play someone from their own province so one team has to travel a fair distance.

Traffic is such a problem, especially around Dublin, that travel time is exactly that, distance can mean two hours in one part of the country and half that somewhere else. Players have to finish work early to play these games and are getting home very late. Students are preparing for exams and losing valuable study time so it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It should be changed immediately.

Clubs expected access to their players in April but certainly not in May. It is about time the GAA brought out a few new commandments, the first one should be that it is not compulsory to shoot yourself in the foot every week.

The All-Ireland championship is getting a bit like the Grand National at Aintree since they made the fences smaller. There is little or no chance of a fairytale ending. Mayo have performed a Devon Loch a few times (Devon Loch was the Queen's horse which sprawled near the line in 1956 and turned certain victory into defeat).

Mayo will carry enormous goodwill from every corner as well as from their fanatical supporters, but that won't put a point on the board when they need it most. Like last year they need to keep standing for another couple of months and hope, because nobody knows, whether it is player, manager or supporter, if there is anything left in the tank. Castlebar next Sunday could be their Alamo. Galway will not come bearing gifts.

The rest of the puzzle is hardly one few are able to solve. It will be a very simple case of rounding up the usual suspects when the Super Eight gets going and none of the counties playing today will be part of that exclusive club. They will be long gone and forgotten.

It does appear that there is a certain movement gaining publicity recently where Dublin have become very beatable. People have short memories. Dublin cruised through the league and still won it while playing with 14 men for quite a while in the final.

The championship side will most likely be much stronger and I do not get a sense that there is any lack of motivation or hunger.

The reason is that the team constantly evolves and while there are some players with enough gold medals to warrant a security box in Fort Knox, there are others being introduced who have either one or none. No problems of motivation there.

Add in Tyrone, Donegal, Monaghan, Kerry, Galway, Mayo and a couple of other outsiders and you have the runners and riders for the National. It would be good for everyone if somebody could slay the Dublin dragon but I don't expect this favourite to slip up on the flat.

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