Thursday 23 November 2017

At least Mayo look real deal in dummy championship

The one-way traffic is set to continue until the quarter-finals, says Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

THERE has been some opposition to the GAA directive on publishing teams early in the week before games. The idea is to generate a bit of publicity but managers are releasing line-ups which bear little or no resemblance to those that take the field.

The cynics are referring to this this as dummy managers, not dummy teams, but in some respects it is easy to understand why teams cannot be accurately named early. However, it is stretching it a bit when there are any amount of changes just before throw-in.

Surely a county's own supporters should know at least 13 of the players a few days before the game. In the past, when we were not nearly as clever or sophisticated, teams were published and went out on Sunday as selected.

That was pre-paranoia. Nowadays many managers seem to think that they are giving away some advantage by naming an accurate team. Personally, I don't think it makes a blind bit of difference. If the team is good enough it could be named a month before the game and still win. Even worse than that is managers being interviewed in the hour before a match and still keeping up the pretence that some players are going to undergo a fitness test in the dressing room. We should have a priest on standby to forgive these lies.

To me, it demonstrates a lack of confidence if a manager goes to such trouble to protect the identity of his team.

In other sports like soccer, some teams are not released until an hour before the match, while rugby sides are usually released a few days in advance. Naming a side does generate extra publicity, but the GAA are trying to boost a dummy championship and no amount of teams being released early or late can mask the fact that the real championship won't start until the quarter-finals, or in the unlikely event of two heavyweights meeting in the qualifiers.

Sometimes the GAA is a bit like the old uncle in the corner who is ignored by everybody but would still be missed if he was not around.

The early rounds of this year's championship have been a lambs-to-the-slaughter job. We have three provincial championships which are not competitive. It is arguable that the only properly functioning championship exists in Ulster. No amount of window-dressing can hide the fact that Munster has two teams, Leinster the same and Connacht, well maybe one – or two at a stretch.

Today the question will be whether Roscommon can hobble Mayo. It's unlikely on any known form and the gap between counties operating in the top division and the rest seems to have widened. The value of the Mayo form has me wondering – and probably all of Mayo too. Are they as good as they looked when they disembowelled Galway with ruthless efficiency or was it a day when Galway just imploded?

Mayo did seem a bit different that day. First of all they have the physique now of a serious team, even the small men were muscled up and were throwing opponents out of their way. The other impressive thing was the tackling of their forwards. Of course they were helped by kamikaze defending, yet Mayo seemed to be better able to strip players of possession, and indeed decency, before departing quickly and scoring. That is due to hard work and when Enda Varley, Alan Freeman and Alan Dillon become the best defenders, there is something up.

More will be revealed today, but it does look as if Mayo have a rawer edge, one that was badly needed. If they are serious contenders then Roscommon will be put to the sword in quick time. Roscommon could do with Donie Shine and even if Cathal Cregg, Michael Finneran, Karol Mannion and Senan Kilbride are in the same class as Mayo's players, there are not nearly enough of them. Mayo have real attacking pace through Keith Higgins and Donal Vaughan from the back – there is no substitute for pace nowadays.

Roscommon always had something about them which made them hard to beat. Many of their players were traditionally flint-like in physique and in their resolve. They may still have some of those qualities and St Brigid's winning the club championship was a phenomenal achievement. Yet anything other than a straightforward Mayo win would be a surprise.

In Enniskillen, they might be expecting Barack Obama to drop in for the second half before getting down to the less important business of saving the world. He might tell some European leaders that the great social experiment of mass unemployment in the pursuit of austerity is fine in economic theory, but it is destroying this country and every community along with it.

Anyway, in the most secure pitch in the world today, Cavan and Fermanagh meet. Not much in it either, two second division teams who will pull plenty of men behind the ball and keep the score low – to the opposition that is. You could get dizzy looking at Fermanagh handpassing, there should be some form of special viewing goggles for them. Peter Canavan won't mind if they never

kick the ball except when trying for a score. His wisdom is that this is the method of play which best suits his team and gives them the best chance of winning.

He is right too. Derry played lovely football and lost, and then they are criticised for being too open, too naive. Fermanagh will not be caught in that trap. They still have a hard core of experienced players like James Sherry, Marty McGrath, Ryan McCluskey and Barry Owens. They won't be looking for a high-scoring win, ten or 12 points might be their maximum and the test is to keep Cavan lower than that.

Cavan looked very good at times against Armagh, but the difference between that game and this will be night and day. Where Armagh came out to play, Fermanagh will do the opposite and while Cavan load their defence, they try to break out very quickly with a succession of handpasses to halfway. Ronan Flanagan and James McEnroe will lead the charge out and David Givney is the link with long balls to Eugene Keating and Martin Dunne. Dunne found himself one-on-one on several occasions against Armagh, today it will be one-on-three and Cavan will have to get scores elsewhere.

This is likely to be a tight game in every sense of the word. Cavan are up and running, which is a big thing from a confidence point of view, but Fermanagh are very awkward to play against. It takes any amount of patience as well as football to win against such opposition. This will not be pretty and it will be surprising if we end up with 30 players on the field. In such circumstances, I expect Fermanagh to win.

Irish Independent

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