Tuesday 15 October 2019

Colm O'Rourke: 'Dublin leave little room for optimism among the rest'

‘They are hungry players and there is a real possibility that they will be even more motivated than ever and could play better. I don’t believe for a second that the pressure will get to them’
‘They are hungry players and there is a real possibility that they will be even more motivated than ever and could play better. I don’t believe for a second that the pressure will get to them’
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

The tightening of the championship schedule means a famine in April and a glut of fixtures this weekend, with seven football championship matches taking place. Leaving April free has made no major difference as county boards could have used this month for clubs anyway. The GAA disappeared in terms of profile and a lot of games will go ahead without much publicity as there is only so much space in print, while other counties will get about three minutes on TV tonight. It is hardly the best way to promote the game.

Some of the matches could be very exciting. Remember Laois and Wexford last year? A game of swaying fortunes between two evenly-matched sides. That is what the public want to see, even if the standard is not particularly high. Wexford and Louth today could be one such match. On current form Louth should win but it is not a foregone conclusion, unlike many of the others. All the other matches are ones where the odds are heavily stacked in favour of one team.

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Roscommon and Tyrone are the longest-priced favourites today (1/10) in their games against Leitrim and Derry. Meath are 1/12 against Offaly. So it does not look as if there is going to be much excitement.

There are straws in the wind that this might change. A lot of managers and players are now talking about the need for a B championship, provided it is run properly. The real difficulty for these managers is that a lot of players will head away after the first round and Boston last year had any amount of county men dressed as painters, plumbers and carpenters. It will be the same this year and maybe a B championship won't entice them to stay . . . but it is worth a shot.

Players were only opposed to a B competition when they thought it was throwing them out of the real thing, but a secondary championship after they have had their provincial run would not have much opposition if it was resourced properly, with semi-finals and the final in Croke Park, a separate All Star scheme and a trip abroad for the finalists. It's not too much to ask.

The big cup will head to O'Connell Street again if Dublin can maintain anything like last year's standard. Everyone else's chances are determined by that alone. Dublin can afford to slip a little and still win because there is no evidence that any other county has improved dramatically. The closest on form is Mayo. So would the real Mayo please stand up? Are they the version that beat Tyrone and Kerry (twice) in the Allianz League or the team I watched in Croke Park on a Saturday night getting smashed by Dublin?

The great thing from a Mayo point of view is that the enthusiasm is back . . . and I am only talking about the supporters. They frightened the naked horseman's poor steed in Times Square last weekend when they had an impromptu party. Imagine if they won the All-Ireland, there would be street parties in every capital city in the world. Hopefully it will happen but I'm a realist and don't see it happening this year.

Kerry are all finesse and scoring threat up front, but I have major reservations about their midfield and defence. We shall see. It is unlikely to be apparent before the Super 8 and then it might be too late. What has happened to disciplined, man-marking backs in Kerry? It looks like they all want to be forwards. Again, the longer the league went on the less convincing they became.

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Tyrone are contenders. They lost about three years by playing a system which did not suit their players, but now they appear to have stumbled on a new way which is only just over 100 years old. It means putting in a couple of bigger forwards like Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane and kicking the ball quickly into them, which is the complete opposite of their old, stale tactics. At least it might tell us if they have better players than they were allowed to show, or did the system cover up individual weakness?

Donegal are good too and will probably get better. They have a squad full of naturally talented players who might soon be able to take on Dublin for pace and physique. If they meet Tyrone in Ulster it will be worth good money to go and see it. Hopefully it happens, but either way they both should be playing long into the summer.

Galway have more potential than most. Yet even against London the tractor seemed stuck in reverse gear for most of the first half. It is a safety-first approach. Perhaps that's understandable against the top teams, but the policy against London should have been all-out attack from every angle in the first quarter. This defensive philosophy has seeped through Galway and instead of following their natural instincts they seem short of confidence. Most serious teams would have gone to London, set about them early on and had it more or less over at half-time. Like Mayo did in New York.

One thing I will be really interested in is if counties are able to devise new methods of beating zonal defences. Surely some of these very bright young coaches can come up with something better than what we have seen for the last decade. Only the Dubs have been able to smash these defences. Others should just copy. The first thing is to keep width and then those who give passes have to keep on going inside to draw men away from the ball carrier. Sounds easy, but drills specific to this must be repeated a thousand times to test roadworthiness.

The other thing that nobody has mastered is how to get the ball back when a team like Dublin or Tyrone or Donegal start passing it over and back across the field. Every county should have a tactic to rush those in possession, even at the risk of leaving the defence exposed, to try and regain the ball. Holding the ball usually happens in the last ten minutes so a team who are behind on the board must die with their boots on and throw all caution to the wind.

Meath open against Offaly this afternoon and we live in hope that they will get to the Leinster final and really put it up to Dublin. There are a few hurdles before that, but a final appearance has to be a minimum in terms of progress. Offaly have tradition but their supporters have to be over 50 to have seen what that means. It's only slightly different in Meath, but they are now one of the best-resourced teams in the country thanks to sponsors, Devenish, so it is up to the players now to deliver.

All the time, Dublin lurk in the background. There's hardly a word from the camp apart from speculation about Rory O'Carroll and Diarmuid Connolly. They don't go in for idle talk and every player is surely ready to go. They would not be on the panel otherwise and while people talk about weaknesses under high balls and the pressure getting to them, it did not seem to bother them at all for the last four years. It is a bit like whistling past the graveyard. They are hungry players and there is a real possibility that they will be even more motivated than ever and could play better. I don't believe for a second that the pressure will get to them.

So it's not an optimistic picture for all the others, but the team which is best managed and has the greatest number of quality players normally wins the All-Ireland. Sounds very much like the Dubs.

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