Tuesday 20 March 2018

Any chance of Croker being more than a killing field?

Are we honestly to believe that the re-invention of Aidan O’Shea, in action here against Sligo’s Ross Donovan in the Connacht final, as a full-forward will furrow the brow of Jim Gavin or Eamonn Fitzmaurice?
Are we honestly to believe that the re-invention of Aidan O’Shea, in action here against Sligo’s Ross Donovan in the Connacht final, as a full-forward will furrow the brow of Jim Gavin or Eamonn Fitzmaurice?
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

It's a bit late to be looking towards Croke Park, wondering if a Championship might yet break out.

But it surely bears asking: is this one of the greyest summers in GAA history? August already and the football rumbles through, pock-marked with hopeless inequity and the sense of everything just being one, long, interminable recital. Four of the counties pitching up in Dublin this weekend do so with the air of dress extras, all but expected to hand back their costumes before heading home.

The bookies odds, as always, tell a story. Tyrone (1/16), Kerry (1/7) and Dublin (1/200) will all be checked for a functioning pulse if they fail to win convincingly against Sligo, Kildare and Fermanagh. And Donegal (1/2) face a winter of awkward questions if they don't summarily dismiss Galway.

It all has the faintly bogus air of a small-town choral production given a weekend run on Broadway.

The best teams left in the competition are the four provincial champions, albeit that status represents a multiplicity of different things. How, for example, to reconcile Dublin's almost languid cruise towards an All-Ireland semi-final with Donegal's clamber through the barbed wire of Ulster?

By tomorrow evening, the Dubs will have made port in the last four having accounted for Longford, Kildare, Westmeath and Fermanagh - in other words a team just promoted from Division 4 of the National League, two just relegated to Division 3 and one promoted from Division 3.

Donegal? Assuming they win tonight, they will have reached only the last eight after games against Tyrone, Armagh, Derry, Monaghan and Galway - in other words three teams that played in Division 1 this year, one Division 2 side and one just promoted from Division 3.

Three of Donegal's four games in Ulster were won by a single score. Dublin's average winning margin in Leinster exceeded 19 points.

Now it just so happens that Dublin have probably one of the most complete teams we've ever seen in Gaelic football and that the calibre of opposition they face doesn't really amount to a hill of beans unless it's Kerry or a Donegal team not left on its hands and knees by their penal schedule.

But even Jim Gavin could surely do without the sense that their games are about as competitive as shark attacks.


Cases have been made in various quarters for Mayo (on the back of a Connacht final duck-shoot) and Monaghan (courtesy of victory in a grinding Ulster final game of draughts) to quicken the heartbeat once they get to Croke Park. But those cases are, for now, less than compelling.

Are we honestly to believe that Aidan O'Shea's reinvention as a free-scoring full-forward for Mayo (against opponents nuked for 6-25) will really furrow the brows of Gavin or Eamonn Fitzmaurice? And is it not hard to ignore the memory of Monaghan throwing the kitchen sink at Dublin last year, yet losing an All-Ireland quarter-final by 17 points?

Frankly, the class divide in football has seldom looked more resolute.

And in an era when it's bred into players' bones to take a wide arc around microphones and notebooks, even the drum-roll becomes oddly antiseptic, Gavin and Fitzmaurice (1/200 and 1/7 remember) talking up their opponents as if all but entertaining the notion of offering them a bye.

True, there have been decent contests. Both Kerry-Cork games were terrific; Westmeath's historic Leinster semi-final defeat of Meath gave more than their own people goosebumps; Fermanagh's comeback against Roscommon drew its share of whoops. But beyond those? Games that have been truly memorable?

Last year's football summer only truly caught fire at the All-Ireland semi-final stage and, barring an earthquake or two this weekend, you'd have to say the sense of deja vu is already settling upon business like a heavy veil.

Now that's nobody's fault, given just about every alternative Championship structure proposed tends to have more holes in it than a Swiss cheese factory.

But this Championship is passing through with all the symphony of a jukebox.

A light goes out as O'Sullevan's precious voice falls silent

He turned up at Cheltenham a couple of years back, positioned under a canvas portico, signing his latest book.

And on a bitingly cold March afternoon, the queue for Peter O'Sullevan ran down towards the parade ring slope, a great river of hard-bitten racing people charmed by the promise of a few snatched words with the great man. He sat wrapped in tweed, a trilby on his head, that thin, kind face opening up to each new customer with a generous, welcoming smile.

O'Sullevan was born in the last year of the First World War, so he got more than a decent shot at this race we run. But news of his death last Wednesday still fell with a sudden jolt.

He was so much more than a voice to his community; O'Sullevan seemed to represent a beacon of credibility throughout his half century of broadcasting for the BBC. Kerry-born, he was an owner of some serious horses himself as well as a formidable punter and a man whose sincere love of the game found maybe its purest expression in the millions raised by his charitable trust towards animal welfare.

Sports commentary is a challenge not many meet with absolute aplomb, but O'Sullevan achieved it. How? By marrying that beautiful plum voice to an understanding that the viewer sought informed guidance, not needless superfluity through a race.

He had the confidence of his audience because he never tried too hard to be anything other than a man "Calling The Horses", as the title of his autobiography put it.

A precious light has petered out.

Fight in the Galway 'dog' creates size illusion

Hindsight so often colours truth and, certainly, the ease of Galway hurlers' dismissal of Cork last weekend left the illusion of a size disparity in the memory.

Galway, especially through the rampant Johnny Glynn, seemed to tower over their Munster counterparts throughout a performance referencing serious physicality. To accumulate 2-24 from play and still spill 23 wides isn't so much a statement of authority as a declaration of virtual ownership.

Yet, in general size, there was virtually nothing between the teams. Going on the programme pen pics, Galway fielded three starters under six foot, while Cork fielded six. Overall, however, the average height of the teams revealed a Cork deficit of less than an inch. In terms of weight, Cork were giving the grand total of just seven pounds away to their opponents.

So how did one team so physically dominate another? Suffice to say it came down to what it invariably must in hurling. Never the size of dog in the fight, but the size of fight in the dog.

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