Saturday 19 October 2019

Colm O'Rourke: Free-flowing Crokes and Corofin tie just what doctor ordered

Dr Crokes' Johnny Buckley. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Dr Crokes' Johnny Buckley. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

This is a game which should be watched. Unless I get it badly wrong - which has been known to happen - today's All-Ireland club final will be one of those games when everyone will say afterwards, 'why isn't football always played like this?'

The answer is that the game has been taken over by scientific bluffers. There is a blueprint that players are being forced to slavishly follow. This blueprint is based on fitness, hard work, covering space and of course character, a term used extensively by managers. When a team win a tight game the customary reply is that 'the lads showed great character today when it was put up to them'. Of course they do, but so do the vanquished as well in many cases. When you think about it, how regularly is football talked about in terms like skill, individualism, enjoyment and freedom of expression? We have all become guilty of talking about the first set of qualities, which we all like to see in any team, but the second set are just as valuable. I think we will bask in both today.

Dr Crokes and Corofin have won the last two All-Irelands. They are two great club teams and they play really attractive football. Corofin's exhibition last year was as good a display of football as ever given by a team in Croke Park. It was a mixture of good kicking and hand-passing, and most of it going forward too.

One of Corofin's goals in last year's final - the one scored by Mike Farragher - was a work of art. It came after a succession of hand-passes with continuous changes of direction. The Nemo Rangers defenders had cricks in their necks with this mesmerising movement. That goal was a thing of beauty yet it was used as the stick to beat the restriction on three hand-passes which was proposed for the league before those of little faith and less backbone caved in to the players and managers.

Those same players and managers at county level have messed up the game so much that many of my generation won't even bother going anymore. Yet there seems to be no men of substance to at least try and save our national games. When an occasional good game, like the league match between Kerry and Dublin, comes along, there are many to say there is nothing wrong with football. The men in white coats are not a feature of modern Ireland, but they need to come back and take away more than a few for therapy.

Both of these club sides would get on very well in the league's second tier. Perhaps they might appear naive in such sophisticated company but the attitude of 'attack, attack, attack' would surely rub off on some. I am seeking an amnesty from murder on the basis of diminished responsibility if I go along to a match again and hear the instruction from the line, 'hold on to the ball'. This is an excuse for a player to take no initiative, except give a hand-pass to a man a few yards away.

Corofin don't play like that. The Farraghers, Gary Sice and Michael Lundy have this old-fashioned idea that they should go for scores all the time and go forward rather than back or sideways. They trust Kieran Fitzgerald and Liam Silke at the back, even if it leads to lots of hairy moments.

Crokes are quite similar. They do not abandon defence but they give away goal chances. Mullinalaghta scored two in the semi-final and there could have been more. Yet they were able to rack up 18 points while Corofin scored 2-13 in their semi-final against Gaoth Dobhair.

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It all points to a game today with plenty of scores and there will be a lot of kicking to transfer the ball quickly into the forwards.

Crokes have at least half a dozen players who would make most county teams and will probably feature on Kerry teams at some stage. Gavin White is like one of those bullet trains in Japan and if he could finish he would score a lot of goals. Other names that have not been heard of much are Tony Brosnan, Daithi Casey and Micheál Burns in a team full of exciting forward talent. So much so that Colm 'Gooch' Cooper has to sit impatiently on the bench and wait for the nod like ordinary mortals. It probably does not sit too well with him either yet tempus fugit, time flies, and those he inspired have now taken his place. It is the way of the world, particularly in sport. Eoin Brosnan has a similar role now too, like Gooch he comes on to stoke up the fire.

Corofin will go hunting for goals and they are good at getting them. Their best player in setting them up is Ian Burke, who has the vision to see things three passes ahead. The first Corofin All Star is unselfish to a fault. However, he has the talent around him to finish so in those situations it is best to hand on the ball. Good teams always try to get the ball to the right man at the end of a movement. Lesser teams have players who think they should be doing the shooting. Their ego runs away with them. Corofin or Crokes don't seem to have many or any of those types. Maybe they don't just get picked.

Hopefully the weather is a bit kinder than recently and the match itself is an advertisement for a type of football we rarely see anymore. There will be plenty of attempted foot passes and a lot of them will come off. Hopefully there will be nobody in the dressing room at half-time telling players how many times they kicked the ball and what their percentage success rate was. Talk about useless information, but that is the industry now.

It does appear that these great teams are fairly evenly matched. Corofin are champions and like Altior at Cheltenham, they will relish a battle. Crokes have Johnny Buckley back at midfield and two marvellous subs in Cooper and Brosnan. It may be enough to squeeze them home.

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