Tuesday 20 March 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Pitch battles rage on but Dubs' war is from within

Squad competition has strengthened Jim Gavin's team

20 July 2014; Jamie Brogan, age 5, and son of Dublin footballer Alan Brogan, plays on the pitch after the game with Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton. Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final, Dublin v Meath, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE
20 July 2014; Jamie Brogan, age 5, and son of Dublin footballer Alan Brogan, plays on the pitch after the game with Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton. Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Final, Dublin v Meath, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

The big games played over the last few weeks offered a sharp contrast on how the GAA operates in different counties and provinces. At the Munster football final after a small crowd spilled onto the pitch for the presentation, the security firm in charge on the day quickly moved in - a phalanx of bibs moved upfield to get everyone off.

In Castlebar at the Connacht final, supporters were allowed onto the pitch after the minor game to watch the presentation. Quite a lot of kids took advantage of this which was facilitated by friendly stewards and as soon as the senior teams came out, everyone scattered back to their seats. The same applied after the senior game and many people wandered onto the pitch and met friends and family. There was no hurry on anyone leaving, least of all the stewards who were quite happy to see all ages enjoying the aftermath.

A very similar scene played itself out in Wexford and Nowlan Parks after Wexford beat Clare and Waterford. It looked like a mini invasion of young people with Wexford jerseys and it is part of the reason kids go to games. They want to get out on the pitch - getting an autograph from a player is a bonus but being able to run around on the same patch as their heroes is the big thing.

Maybe it was the same for the older people too. The biggest way to promote games during the League is through primary schools. Encourage them to come and bring a ball and let them out on to the pitch either at half-time or after the game. If a child wants to go to the game then mam or dad have to go too and they will be paying in.

In Clones, the invasion after the match was mainly Donegal but again all the kids in the crowd were able to walk about without hindrance. Then to Croke Park. The players now find it hard to get even a walk on the pitch before the games and the grass is completely off limits to everyone. Which part of the GAA has most appeal? For me, it is the one at rural venues where the stewards facilitate everybody as best they can.

One where crowds mingle on the pitch after the match and children make memories. One where people buying tickets are not just punters but supporters to be looked after and encouraged to enjoy themselves before during and after the game.

I mentioned this to a steward at one of the games and asked about the health and safety concerns of not just letting kids onto the pitch but actively encouraging them to do so. "Health and safety my arse," was his reply and, even if the language was unparliamentary, it cut through a lot of the manure that is peddled in some grounds.

The same applies to people standing on grass banks, outlawed by some on grounds of health and safety. I wonder how many of those decision-makers have ever watched a game in summer from a grass bank or watched kids sitting or rolling around in the perfect safety that they provide. Is a kid safer on a concrete terrace? No replies needed.

Back to football, which is again looking a little uninspiring compared with hurling and none of the provincial finals changed that view. The Leinster final turned into a damp squib and Meath supporters went away a little disenchanted, if that is not putting it a bit mildly.

Dublin seem to have improved from last year and even earlier this year, they paid Meath the compliment of taking the game very seriously and were ruthless in their execution. Perhaps the internal dynamics of the team are now such that the real competition is within and this jockeying for positions on the team and in the subs has driven standards through the roof. They look a class apart at the moment.

Meath were disappointing in every way. I did not expect a win, but I did not expect them to fold so easily. The only good thing from the players' point of view is that there is a game next Saturday and there is a chance to get back on the horse quickly and prove to themselves that they are better than that. Players get a lot of stick from anonymous clowns on social media in every county so they have to live in a sort of insulated world.

No matter what the county there is a real feeling of desolation after losing a big game. It is that fear that drives players and at least provincial final losers get an immediate chance to put things right. In my time playing you stored it up for a year; maybe that is part of the reason for my bitter, twisted personality!

Anyway, Dublin are good, maybe very, very good and looking at the minors winning so easily last week, it is not going to change any year soon.

They played in the same way, had outstanding individuals and were so comfortable in everything they did. I will return to the Dubs' domination in due course, but anyone who just thinks that everyone else should just try harder should be dispatched away with the men in the white coats.

There are a few who should be able to compete and Meath are one of them but poor planning in the past is coming home to roost. It is a good few years since I tried my best to have a lot of things put in place to help develop talent at all levels; it was going to cost money then but it will cost a lot more now. Things have improved, yet the problem is that the Dublin train left the station a long time ago and it is only picking up speed.

The other big problem in Leinster is that few people in the future will be interested in paying in to Croke Park to watch Dublin annihilate all in front of them. The only saving grace at the moment is that the Dubs play such an attractive style of football that it is well worth going to see on its own. If it ever gets dull the crowd will halve.

The biting incident had a very public airing. Nobody in Meath, least of all Mickey Burke, wanted anything made of it but there is a protocol which has to be adhered to. Once there is a incident like this, the doctors on both sides have to go through a set procedure. That is only right and proper and involves both players in the incident. It is also something which comes into the public domain fairly quickly. This procedure is not a judgement call by anyone and I would think everybody involved with the Meath team were happy that it was dealt with in the way that it was. That is entirely different from ignoring what happened altogether as some might think should have been the case.

We are now getting to the business end of things and - surprise, surprise - all the good teams which a child could pick at the start of the year are still there. All of the effort, money and so on for the predictable result. There are a half dozen with a chance with Dublin, Kerry, Donegal and Mayo all having dreams of gold. The chickens are coming home to roost too with the Sky deal now meaning the vast majority of people won't be able to watch Dublin in the quarter-final. Bring your grandfather to the pub seems to be the GAA answer. It is not good enough.

Donegal have the hunger back and are capable of total disruption to any team while Kerry are just Kerry with a mix of lovely foot-passing, modern defending and individual brilliance.

Then there is Mayo who have not gone away. They are short a few compared to Dublin but there is one of their own, Pearse Hanley, in Brisbane who could make all the difference. His brother Cian was captain of the Mayo minors who captured the Connacht title. With only a few games left for the Lions, they are out of contention in the AFL, and somebody from Mayo should be trying to get Pearse Hanley home. It worked for Tadhg Kennelly and Kerry and they were not short of All-Irelands. The need in Mayo is much greater.

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