Sunday 20 May 2018

Billy Keane: Dubs have the players to save our game if given a licence to kick

‘For all their skills, speed and stamina, this Dublin team have yet to win two All-Irelands in a row’. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
‘For all their skills, speed and stamina, this Dublin team have yet to win two All-Irelands in a row’. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

There's no doubt but that Dublin are one of the best teams we have ever seen. There is no doubt either but that Gaelic football is boring, arid, slow and far too complicated for its own good.

Gaelic football is losing followers faster than Donald Trump. The coaches are like those old Irish mammies from long ago - they just don't want to let go.

The sons weren't even allowed to peel their own spuds or take the cap off their own eggs for fear of ruining the breakfast and dinner.

It's all about control. Every play is choreographed. Every lateral and backward pass is designed towards keeping the ball. The game has aped the worst excesses of slow build-up soccer and the multi-phased rugby league.

There is hope. Every now and then a team comes along and plays the game with verve, love and skill.

Tipperary have been building for a good few years. They have put the foot back in to football and their coach Liam Kearns knows the ball travels further and faster when it's kicked.

The game is in trouble though on many fronts. Dublin are far too good for our own good. The Leinster Championship is a farce and it's not going to become competitive any time soon.

The Leinster Council have designed an improvements scheme for the commuter counties near Dublin.

Alas poor Leitrim. They are too far away from the ancient east. Money is to be thrown at the problem but it's too little and too late.

Dublin are entitled to the massive coaching money poured into kids football. Kids come first, always and ever. Dublin GAA and the primary schools in particular are doing so much good.

It's more than sport isn't it? It's about keeping kids happy and instilling a value system based on the F's of friendship, fitness and fairness.

But the GAA and the Leinster counties sold out their birthright a long time ago when they awarded permanent residency to Dublin in Croke Park.


The only other team I know of that had so many home games was Tripoli, Saadi Gaddafi's club, back in the days when his dad was the boss of Libya.

There are proposals for a round-robin format in the All-Ireland series and the good thing is games would be taken out of Croke Park. Dublin will have to travel.

The GAA does not exist in vacuum. The move will be good for trade in the provincial towns. The Dubs are spenders and great sport too.

GAA director-general Páraic Duffy is a good man who does his best. He had to try something. The plan is far from perfect but it should be given a chance.

The game is in serious decline as a spectacle. Dublin, through no fault of their own, are just too big and too rich.

Donegal are playing Dublin today in the All-Ireland quarter-final and here's a tactics tip. In order to win a game of Gaelic football you must score more than the opposition. If Donegal cop this they have a chance on the basis of pure footballing skill. A small chance, but a chance is a chance.

Donegal have the footballers to go head-to-head with Dublin in an old-fashioned shoot-out with a licence to kick. Donegal though may not have the fitness to match the Dubs who are as near to full-time as you'll get in the GAA.

The big sponsors count chimney pots and allocate resources accordingly. They have no wider brief than selling in the richest market place and do not care in the least that the GAA is a 32-county organisation.

But enough of the business of sport. Donegal and most other counties are far too tactical. County teams owe an allegiance to more than the narrow confines of their own ambitions. There has to be a duty to the game itself.

How can you coach kids to play 15 behind the ball and expect the kids to develop properly as players and human beings? Do you think small boys and girls fight over who will play sweeper?

The flowering of the imagination is subverted to the stopping of the skilful, the manly, the brave and the sporting. Football is dying. The handpass must be limited. Our game is now no more than pass the parcel.

Dublin usually play an open enough game. Open enough is not total football.

Yet for all their skills, speed and stamina, this Dublin team have yet to win two All-Irelands in a row.

The great Dublin team of the 1970s did manage that feat against superb opposition, and so, in my view, are still the best Dublin team ever.

The Irish rugby team are kept in what is known as The Group. The hotel is known as Camp. The Group in Camp is shielded in so far as possible from pundits, trolls and the well -wishers who can often down teams with friendly fire.

So here's a bit of advice for Dublin supporters from a Kerryman who has only your good at heart. Don't go telling the boys in blue how great they are and that they will whoosh Donegal off the field like a kid counting the time by blowing grey hairs off a dead dandelion.

Only one team has won two in a row since Billy Morgan's Cork in 1989 and 1990. That was Kerry. The reasons are tiredness and being told how good you are by yourself, the fans and us.

The Dublin squad is given logistical and financial support.

The flexible borderlines between amateurism and professionalism are now unenforceable guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. So the massive Dublin back -up might well solve the player fatigue problem faced by two-in-a-row contenders.

The GAA have given the GPA money to help the other counties compete. We have had no indication of how much will be paid to each player, or the reasons for payment.

Something needed to be done to make up for the lack of fairness from some of corporate Ireland who do not seem to understand that in the GAA we all eat out of the one pot.

I for one would not begrudge the players decent expenses. But what is the difference between expenses and pay for play?

Is the GAA bringing in professionalism by the back door so as to enable the poorer relations to compete with Dublin? We need an honest debate.


But all this support and all the money being poured in to the blue cocooning is wasted if the Dublin players weren't able to play football. This is the team of all the skills. Dublin are excellent footballers and they are brilliantly managed.

To Donegal I would say, go out and have a cut. And if you are to be beaten, die like men, with your kicking boots on. You have it in you to give Dublin a right fright.

Our county teams owe a duty to the game, because this is more than a game. It is a way of life, and the way of our lives, part of our national identity, part of our story.

The only excuse for playing the game defensively is when the opposition are much, much better. But Dublin are much, much better than the opposition.

In 20 years' time, will it be the sweepers or the scorers who will be remembered? Is the measure of a team the number of All-Irelands won, or the way they were won?

Dublin can save the game and they have the players to do it.

Irish Independent

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