Sunday 19 November 2017

Colm O'Rourke: Diarmuid Connolly has made a bed for himself, now he’ll have to lie in it all summer

Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin is shown a black card by referee Paddy Neilan during last week's defeat to Kerry
Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin is shown a black card by referee Paddy Neilan during last week's defeat to Kerry
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

THE king is dead, long live the king. When I wrote just three weeks that Dublin were sailing close to the wind in games and that some day the comeback would fall just short, I certainly did not think it would happen so quickly. What began in Tralee was finished in Dublin. Victory for Kerry brought an end to Dublin’s unbeaten record, and it puts a slightly different complexion on the rest of the year. Dublin’s shadow does not look so long now.

Yet people should be careful what they wish for. It took Kerry to slay the monster, but it may simply be one monster replacing another in the next few years. Did anyone know Kerry players, Ronan Shanahan, Tadhg Morley, Kevin McCarthy, Jack Barry or Jack Savage before last week? Well the chances are that you will be hearing a lot more about them over the next few years, as well as a few of yesterday’s under 21s, not to mention three All-Ireland winning minor teams, the cream of which have not been exposed to senior football yet.

So early spring rumours of any Kerry demise are totally exaggerated. Kerry have won a league and discovered a raft of new players too.

Jim Gavin probably did not lose any sleep over the end of the unbeaten run. Nothing lasts forever.

However, his full-forward line might have caused him to toss and turn. This was a cheap reality check which does not affect Dublin’s favouritism to win another All-Ireland. Bernard Brogan and Paddy Andrews were not effective up front — Dublin without Bernard is fast approaching. He was probably left on last week because they needed a goal, and who better to get it? From now on, though, he may have to sit on the bench and make his impact late on. Paul Mannion brought much more energy and he will start, and maybe Eoghan O’Gara too. Less subtlety but more power and it will leave the long-ball option open.

Jack McCaffrey will return and provide pace going forward, but this was the first time that a team got at the Dublin defence, and they were indisciplined and gave away easy frees. Kerry were good at getting men forward at speed and kicked great points from play. They also should have had a couple of goals. Their general method of play was very good.

I thought the referee, Paddy Neilan, did a good job. He should have given Brian Fenton a black card and he missed a quite obvious penalty when Mark Griffin fouled Dean Rock. What Kerry goalkeeper Brendan Kealy was doing at the time in throwing the ball out is a mystery. The use of the black card continues to be a mystery too, a bit like the third secret of Fatima. I had seen Neilan referee before and he seemed obsessed with yellow cards so it was good to see him keeping the game going without resorting to cards.

He could have kept the match moving too by not stopping play every time a player was injured. Unless there is a serious injury the game should go on; if the ball goes into an area where a player is down and being attended to he can always blow up then.

One thing I was disappointed with was the number of Kerry players who feigned injury and then jumped up quickly after treatment — or even without treatment. Perhaps the GAA should look at soccer, and if a player lies down and someone has to come in and attend to him he should have to then leave the field of play.

The play-acting of Diarmuid Connolly must be a concern to Dublin. Two black cards in a week, even if the black card against Monaghan was completely wrong. Connolly has to deal with close attention — just like all great players have to. Beating his man and getting on with the game should be his only concern.

The only score that counts is on the scoreboard at the end of the game. Connolly seems hell-bent on settling his during games. All he has done is ensure even more players will wind him up. He should be old enough and wise enough to realise that greatness brings responsibilities, primarily to his own team. Every opposition would like Connolly on the line. He has made a bed for himself, now he must lie in it, and this championship is going to be a bigger test for him than any other Dublin player. Without him the Dubs are manageable. There will be a lot of whispering in his ear this summer.

This was a brilliant, entertaining game and most GAA supporters probably hope they will meet again for Sam in September. However, another saga in this great rivalry does nothing for the poor and weak, just like 40 years ago. The solution to championship problems is obvious: it has to be based on teams of similar ability playing each other. This has been a wonderful league, right from the start. It is fitting that Allianz should be involved as sponsor for the best league that I can remember — and that includes all divisions — as they have been there for a lifetime. It should bring a bit of loyalty too. If I could get an insurance policy to cover my pet cat crossing the road I would definitely go to Allianz.

Kerry are back on top of the pile but, like everyone else, must sit and wait for the championship. They are not out again until the second week of June and have to start building up again. Some start their championship a month earlier — what a mess. At least Kerry have three other contenders in the Munster championship (in Clare, Tipperary and Cork), which is rather different to times past.

If anyone wondered about the difference in standard between the top two divisions of the league they got their answer loud and clear last Sunday. The Division 2 final between Galway and Kildare alternated between poor and very poor and it is no wonder that teams who go up tend to come back down fairly quickly. There is an exclusive club of Kerry, Dublin, Donegal, Monaghan and Mayo — who are long-time members. Tyrone spent a year down but there is a major disparity between these six and other yo-yo counties.

Galway were the better team and finished strongly, which is always a good sign. Most big games are won in the last 10 minutes and Galway were much the better side in that period. Kildare passed over and back to players who were not moving and seemed completely short of attacking ideas. It was back to individualism. At times their whole full-forward line moved out the field and there was nobody inside to kick it to. Only for Niall Kelly they would have been more comprehensively beaten. At the other end Shane Walsh showed plenty of class for Galway and even if they seemed caught in a Kildare-type straitjacket at times they at least had much more method to their play.

The main objective for all teams in the bottom three divisions was promotion — so winning the final was then only a minor bonus, but it was a good weekend for Tipperary and Westmeath too.

Three games on Saturday/Sunday were minor skirmishes, followed by one full-blooded encounter. Unfortunately we have to wait until August now before we get the real thing again. In the meantime we can look forward to Dublin versus Carlow or Wexford in the Leinster championship on the first weekend of June. Even Jim Gavin will have trouble keeping a straight face when he talks about the “process” for that one.

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