Tuesday 21 August 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Can football get any worse? Don't expect Tyrone and Monaghan to be any better than last week's borefest

 

‘Mayo had more possession, more scoring chances but more indiscipline too, and it came back to bite them in the arse. Again’ Photo: Sportsfile
‘Mayo had more possession, more scoring chances but more indiscipline too, and it came back to bite them in the arse. Again’ Photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Galway continued their dominance over Mayo last Sunday, not only beating them but administering a right sickening one too. In the process, they pushed Mayo a step closer to the end and they did it in the most boring fashion as well.

Galway are a team of genuine talent whose attempts at using their class players is limited by mimicking the worst excesses of a zonal defensive system as employed by many of the Ulster counties. It has zero entertainment value and most of the spectators were losing the will to live when Johnny Heaney rifled in the winning goal in injury time.

I think the crowd was beginning to fear another 20 minutes of rubbish. Is there any responsibility to the game or are results now the only currency?

In the past Mayo have played great football and competed with the best. Galway probably have better forwards but have decided to embark on a road that will ultimately end in failure. Maybe they are leading everyone into a trap and will unleash a firestorm of total attack if they get to Croke Park. Don't hold your breath on that one.

Many may think things cannot get any worse. Perhaps some bright young coach will decide to go with a 15-man defence some day and hope to win by four points to three. That is the way this monster is going. I'm not sure anymore what the answer is. There are quite a few managers and commentators who feel Gaelic football should go whatever way the coaches take it. That is heading for a zero-sum game. The only good thing is that this type of football at inter-county senior level has not polluted most underage football - but not all.

I was at a match last week when players caught, soloed and kicked the ball with abandon, it would make anyone feel good watching it.

Sisyphus came to mind again when leaving Castlebar last Sunday. In Greek mythology he was sentenced to rolling a boulder up a hill for eternity, only to see it continually roll back down just before reaching the top. There is nothing more frustrating than massive effort which receives no reward.

This great Mayo side may have to live with the crushing disappointment that over nearly a decade, they were often close to the best but never felt gold. Some really outstanding players of this or any other era played for Mayo in that time, but they may live their lives with something that will always grate on the soul. That is the nature of top-level sport but the disappointment for Mayo's players is maybe even greater because there is no monetary compensation.

Given their competitive nature they will regroup and struggle on, but it will be a struggle. The irony is that Mayo were the better team for much of last Sunday's game. They had more possession, more scoring chances but more indiscipline too and it came back to bite them in the arse. Again.

After last year with Donal Vaughan, and the league match against Galway in February when the two O'Connors were sent off, the feeling was that Mayo's discipline this time around would be vice-like. Instead, Diarmuid O'Connor let his side down by lashing out when in an attacking position. Even the Mayo supporters realised the referee had no option. His brother Cillian could have joined him near the end. That would have been some double-double.

That incident, and Tom Parson's terrible injury, cost Mayo the game. Parsons is a wonderful athletic competitor and his injury was shocking. I wish him well in the months ahead.

We saw last week the lack of impact subs on the Mayo bench. Galway introduced Ian Burke, Eamonn Brannigan, Peter Cooke, Adrian Varley, Seán Kelly and Johnny Duane and they all made at least some contribution, which gives them hope going forward. The Mayo subs were light by comparison. The other side of that is that there will be question marks over Galway's starting 15 as many of the subs were a lot better than those who were on from the beginning.

The best player on the pitch was Keith Higgins. He still has the pace and all-round natural football ability which is lacking in many of his comrades. However, like the little Dutch boy, he has to put his finger in too many holes in the dyke. Soon the waves will come washing through.

Anyone looking for a repeat of what we witnessed in Castlebar should go to watch Monaghan and Tyrone today. The ratio of kicking to handpassing was about five to one in Castlebar and it would be very interesting to see how many players never actually kicked the ball. It will be similar in Omagh. That's the depressing reality of the modern county game.

Both sides will handpass plenty, hope to make ground and get it to one of the designated scorers. Tyrone are better fixed in that regard and will transfer the ball quicker from defence to attack as they have runners in their half-back line who will handpass at pace. Then it is on to Connor McAliskey, Lee Brennan or Niall Sludden, while Peter Harte, Frank Burns and Tiernan McCann will get close to goal as auxiliary forwards. They also have the pace and stamina to race back into their set positions to defend.

Mickey Harte has tried hard to defend his team against accusations of being ultra-defensive. He shouldn't bother. It's a bit like American politics in that when you are explaining, you're losing. It is true that Tyrone did actually score a lot during last year's Ulster campaign, but that was against bad teams and when they ran into a big dog in Croke Park they couldn't cope. It should have been a moment of truth for Tyrone in that the type of football required to win a poor Ulster Championship was not good enough 100 miles down the road.

Today will give some of the answers to the puzzle that Dublin set last August. In other words: Have Tyrone changed and set their sights on bigger things than Ulster?

Judging teams harshly at this stage may look unreasonable but both Monaghan and Tyrone like to see themselves as big teams and have the Super Eight as their target. As a result, they must be viewed in a different context to at least 20 counties who are having a couple of days out before they get their annual mauling.

Monaghan will be just as ugly and defensive as Tyrone and their modus operandi will be to get the ball to Conor McManus and hope that he can beat the first six men, wriggle by another couple and kick it over before the rest of the cover arrives. Perhaps young McCarthy might give a helping hand but Monaghan's best chance is to win a low-scoring game. The rain could be their friend.

In the past these matches have largely gone Tyrone's way. Some in Monaghan seem to feel that this is a mental thing and have worked hard to overcome it. Perhaps there is a much simpler explanation - Tyrone have had better players.

So, while Monaghan are the great survivors in the league's top division, are very well managed and generally get the most out of their talents, they are still a bit behind. Yes, the performance against Dublin was superb, but it must be taken in the context of the time, as the Dubs did not need to win and were at half pace. Monaghan will bring all their usual passion and will be very well organised, but they will probably once again run into a better team.

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