Sunday 21 January 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Dublin should be thankful of these great days because they will end

Dublin manager Jim Gavin
Dublin manager Jim Gavin
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

It was a good night for the GAA in the Aviva Stadium last Tuesday as two great families, the Egans and the Hourihanes, enjoyed a very proud night.

Conor Hourihane, from west Cork, probably grew up thinking that if he was to play in a big ground in Dublin it would be Croke Park. Now with Aston Villa, he made his debut for Ireland in a full international against Iceland. It was a special night for his family and the parish of Leap from where his father hails.

John Egan Snr was one of the best corner forwards I have seen in Croke Park, or any other park for that matter. Built like a Panzer tank he was almost impossible to mark. There was no point in battering him because he was tougher than any corner back and he was brave, skilful, fast and could score goals and points. He used his left hand to hand-pass, was completely unselfish and was certainly one of the greats.

It is a pity that he is not around to see his son John making his mark in a green shirt in another code. Some of his traits have been passed on, though. There was the standard Egan bravery and even an injury was ignored. John Egan Jnr, like Conor Hourihane, has had his fill of injury problems to get this far so it is good to see him getting a break.

Those two young men are probably not too worried about the final round of league matches today, but they would certainly be checking the results. At about half-three this afternoon there will be frantic calculations going on. Promotion, relegation and the inbetweens who mainly are happy to stay where they are.

The first division is about Dublin and the rest. The vast majority will be happy to remain becalmed like the Ancient Mariner in the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge which tells the story of sailors who return from a harrowing journey after their ship becomes becalmed at sea. When they shoot the Albatross, which is a symbol of good luck to sailors, things go badly wrong. Sitting, bobbing in the middle of the ocean surrounded by salt water. "Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink". Anyway, the ancient mariner lived to tell the tale.

Nowadays it would be a magpie that players would worry about and some players who should know better have strange superstitions. Instead of saluting a magpie they would be better off wringing a few of their necks as they are a complete nuisance, although the animal and birds rights groups would protest about such activities. Some people who are seen as an unlucky charm are referred to as magpies and it is better to have people involved with a team in either a management or playing role who are seen as positive and successful in their daily lives. It can rub off on everyone.

Anyway, the first division is probably going to be a booby prize. It looks to be about who plays Dublin in the final even if Monaghan can end the long unbeaten run. Maybe in ten years after Dublin run up a string of leagues, Leinsters and All-Irelands somebody will beat them and there will be a parade through the streets of their county town. Dublin should be thankful for these great days because, like everything else, they will end. No empire lasts forever and Dublin have half a dozen players who are not replaceable in the short term or maybe in the long term either, even if the under 21s will continue to supply quality and quantity.

Some of the best fun will be in deciding on relegation as much as promotion and calculators will be ready for action when the long whistle sounds at all the venues. There is no Einstein or Isaac Newton to call in or nearly anyone left who can do mental arithmetic. If Carol Vorderman from Countdown was free for the day she could be called upon, but she might have difficulty with the head-to-head rule.

In the past, ten points generally guaranteed promotion and six meant staying in the division. This means that the bottom of the first and second tier has as much interest as the top, and there are situations where a team could get either promoted or relegated starting off with six points today. That surely is the ideal scenario for a final round of games.

Only Roscommon have nothing to play for in the first division. That is if pride is not still the main driving force behind human performance - more so than money or medals. So Roscommon players can still get something from the league, there is no shame in defeat but there is in abject surrender. Roscommon have had a great habit recently of blaming somebody when things go wrong, that is normally the manager. It is easy to lash out, much harder to accept that this is where the county finds itself at this particular time. Cavan have discovered hope at the 11th hour, the supporters now believe Harry Houdini was born in Mullahoran and anything is possible. It would be a dagger through the heart if Cavan won today and were still relegated.

The second division is the most intriguing of all. First of all there is the top match between Kildare, who are already promoted, and Galway, who need a point to join them. What is Kildare's attitude going to be? Last week, a similar situation presented itself in the match between Wexford, who were already promoted, and Westmeath. Wexford put out a shadow squad and kept their powder dry ahead of meeting again in the Division 4 final. They got a hammering but it will be different in the final in Croke Park.

In that case nobody was impacted by the Wexford decision but in Galway there is more at stake. If Galway are beaten and Meath beat Clare, then Meath go up. There is no rule in the book to stop Kildare doing what they like and they might decide to play the strongest possible team and keep on their winning ways, but it is not an ideal situation when teams are meeting in the last round who are likely to meet again in the divisional final.

In horse racing, connections would be up before the stewards if a horse was given an easy ride, but in every division today there are managers looking down the line and seeing a bigger picture than just the league. Some may meet later in the championship and most managers do not want to play a county twice in the league and then early in the championship as well.

In the third division there is a winner-takes-all between Armagh and Tipperary with Louth already promoted. Louth are making quiet progress from division four to two. That is a good division for them and they will want to consolidate there for a few years. At the bottom of the third division there is an almighty scrap to avoid relegation while at the bottom of the fourth there is no relegation to the Vauxhall Conference, or wherever non-league teams fall to now. At this stage, though, I am finding it hard to feel sorry for many or any of these counties. Most voted for the super eight and never looked for anything in return. If a sleeping dog gets kicked and does not bark or bite then he deserves anything that is going.

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