Wednesday 22 May 2019

Colm O'Rourke: This is the end of Mayo as we have known them

Diarmuid O’Connor of Mayo reacts after a missed goal chance during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 3 match between Kildare and Mayo at St Conleth's Park in Newbridge, Kildare. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Diarmuid O’Connor of Mayo reacts after a missed goal chance during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 3 match between Kildare and Mayo at St Conleth's Park in Newbridge, Kildare. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

AT the end of the most controversial week of the GAA summer we got the first seismic shock of a championship that was stumbling along predictable lines. And maybe the saga inspired the greatest Kildare performance for a decade. Cian O’Neill had galvanised his county, but the pressure was on to get the players to perform.

They set off at a frantic pace and went five points up. The ball was kicked more often in the first 10 minutes than in the entire game in Enniskillen and it made for a very enjoyable game. Daniel Flynn caused havoc and Kildare played lovely football. Yet Mayo are kings of pride, pride in themselves and pride in their team and they reeled off six on the bounce. If the France-Argentina game was far more absorbing than Cavan-Tyrone, this match was in a different league. Diarmuid O’Connor found his place at midfield and he and Aidan O’Shea dominated after the first quarter until the last 10 minutes.

If there were any doubts over Kildare’s appetite for a scrap, the second half answered every one of them as they traded points and blows; every player will be sore today and recovery for next week will occupy the sports science department in Kildare’s backroom team. The Cribbins, Flynns, and Mick O’Grady were all magnificent and their bench made a bigger impact than Mayo’s. That was understandable with the injuries to Tom Parsons and Seamus O’Shea.

Kildare have demonstrated what we all knew. They have a lot of talent and this win will give them a massive boost. This was the day they became men after shirking the battle a few times over the last year. Nobody will question their bottle now.

Mayo, as always, died with their boots on. No All-Ireland for some of their greatest players who will carry that burden to the grave. Of course football is not that important but try telling that to Keith Higgins, Andy Moran, Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan and a few others in the weeks, months and years ahead. The O’Sheas will surely stick around but this is the end of Mayo as we have known them for a decade and in truth I feel a certain sadness in that. They are heroes who kept going to the well and found water every time.

This was a marvellous match and Kildare and Cian O’Neill have had a great week. The important thing for O’Neill now is not to let this go to his head or any of the players’ heads. It is a giant step but bigger battles await. What wonderful entertainment.

It always amazes me the things normally sane men do and say. The match eventually went on in Newbridge but there was a lot of humble pie being wiped from faces. The CCCC did not emerge with much credit and the hard line that Ned Quinn and Feargal McGill adopted was surprising. They are not normally men who get so exercised. The health and safety issue did not wash from the start and once Kildare said they were not playing in Croke Park, the game was up for the CCCC.

In the end, the GAA’s communications man, Alan Milton, was wheeled out to try and put some sort of gloss on it. He should have just said that we made a complete and total horlicks of it. Trying to make out that some sort of health and safety issues had been sorted out between Monday and Wednesday was insulting the intelligence of everyone.

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The real reason was that if the CCCC pushed this to the limit and threw out Kildare, there would have been an appeal which Kildare would most likely have won. It was as simple as that. The championship could have been held up if Croke Park did not capitulate.

The CCCC had already lost in the court of public opinion as most people backed Kildare. Of course Newbridge is a dump but it is their dump and so they were entitled to play there. The pitch has a beautiful surface. The crowd restrictions are over the top too. This health and safety drives me daft and there is urgent need for a review of all stadiums.

Why is the crowd restricted by another 10 per cent just because it is an all-ticket game? A lot of stuff about grass banks is stupid. Are children safer on concrete terraces than on grass? The ground could easily have taken another 5,000 supporters with the Kilcullen end three-quarters empty while Kildare were outnumbered by Mayo’s armada.

The dressing rooms in Newbridge could hold one horse or three calves. Maybe the Department of Agriculture inspectors might even deem them unfit for that. That is where top county teams are supposed to tog out. Of course they all come prepared now and I’m sure most club players go home for a shower after games there. Anyway, it is all going to be improved shortly but Kildare struck a blow for the common man. And the message was don’t just think we can be walked into the ground.

In contrast, the first half of the Tyrone-Cavan game was just one of these horrible, modern games. If the definition of madness is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result then Cavan were entirely guilty. They soloed out of defence and when they hit the Tyrone defensive wall they usually turned around and kicked the ball backwards, over and over again.

Cavan needed a minibus to get players from defence to attack. The heat is no excuse. Good players thrive on extremes. Seánie Johnston’s role was obviously to set up attacks with penetrative balls but I could have played his role as he sauntered around with most of his huge number of possessions being sent backwards, one great point notwithstanding.

Tyrone turned over the ball continually and had far more individual skill. They picked off their scores much easier than Cavan and looked far more at ease with their style.

Yet Cavan were thrown a lifeline when Martin Reilly got on the end of hopeful kick for a point and flicked to the net. Why did they not do it more often? Their best player Gearóid McKiernan then caught the kick-out and scored a point. In the first half Tyrone were able to get away short kick-outs but Cavan pushed up in the second half and it meant McKiernan was more dominant.

His performance should have inspired an insurrection and Cavan threw themselves into the game with much greater intensity in the second half but class trumps effort.

Yet Tyrone soaked it up and coasted home. They were far more athletic, pacey and skilful. If McKiernan was the best player on view, then Peter Harte, Niall Sludden and Ronan O’Neill, when he came on, were excellent. Nobody will want to meet Tyrone but there should be a health warning with their matches.

The standard was not good but it looks as if Tyrone are bound for the Super 8. However, they were quite sloppy and are still a bit behind the top sides. They have not changed from last year when their style was picked apart by Dublin.

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