Colm O'Rourke: Tribe must attack Dubs to make long-term gains
So it all ends today with two big games in Croke Park. In many ways the Division 2 final between Cavan and Roscommon will attract more interest. The Dubs might want to win the big games but league titles and Dublin are hardly rare currency while Galway's thoughts have already turned to Mayo in six weeks in Castlebar.
The rush for completion has caused plenty of problems. The bad weather is an obvious source of comfort to the head honchos in Croke Park, but when was the last time that January, February and March had good weather? The winter is the winter every year. For the last 40 years I have been involved in schools football and I cannot think of one year when there was not multiple postponements due to waterlogged pitches, snow, frost and, increasingly, gale-force winds.
Just because the GAA decide to play during the worst months of the year does not mean the weather is going to be more benign.
April is now supposed to be free for clubs just because there are no county fixtures. The only way to solve this is to issue a decree that no county team can train or play during April. That would deliver players back to their clubs - the vast majority have not trained or played with their own since last year. Identity checks are needed to ensure that these young men are who they say they are when they return to their clubs.
On top of that the league, which could be a brilliant competition, is played in poor weather, often on bad pitches in front of crowds which could be doubled or trebled if it was run at the right time. Losers all round.
Anyway, back to the future. As Dublin are playing it will mean a fairly healthy crowd, even if they come late and are usually able to belt away early as mopping-up operations take place in the last ten minutes.
Soon there will be a monument unveiled in the Hogan Stand which people will read in 100 years and wonder what it is all about. The inscription will read something like this. "Dublin saved football from the Barbarians". The meaning is that the Dubs brought a style of their own to the game which involved attack, kick passing and enjoyment when the rest reduced it to a computer game of defensive cover, cross-field hand passing and damage limitation.
Of course Dublin have the best players as well so they would probably win everything even if they copied the style of some other counties.
This game will have more than a little edge and I will be surprised if both sides finish with their starting number. The last match in Salthill two weeks ago was spiky and ended in a draw, but most of the match was played off the ball. The instruction of one player to a referee in a club match some years ago when I was playing (it wasn't me) comes to mind: "never mind the ball," he said, "just get on with the game".
Galway have developed a particular formation this year. A few weeks ago I described it on TV as ugly. The object of the exercise is to protect their backs at all costs and it is at all costs. The penalty paid for this protection is that their best forwards like Eamon Brannigan, Shane Walsh and Damien Comer spend as much time defending as they do up front.
When Galway dispossess a team then everyone has licence to attack, so they charge up the field like wild buffalo. I asked Michael Lyster, who is from Galway, would he prefer his team to be winning playing this ugly brand of football or getting beaten playing the traditional Galway style of fast, attacking football. The answer is fairly obvious and supporters in general take constipated, winning football over joyful expression.
Maybe Galway, in time, might find a middle road and tell their backs to do their job without half a dozen extras riding shotgun. They should leave Comer and Walsh close to goal. Walsh has speed and even if the end product is lacking at times, he should be persisted with. There is gold at the end of his rainbow. Comer is a completely different animal. His sheer strength is his greatest asset and he should be scoring goals. He is built like Jake LaMotta, the raging bull. He has a jaw that could take a punch but at the moment he is the best under-utilised full-forward in the game.
Incidentally, I did see a very enjoyable game of football last week between St Ronan's Lurgan and PS Chorca Dhuibhne from Dingle in the All-Ireland colleges semi-final. Players actually kicked the ball too, so we can set the age of 18 as the time that the malaise of hand-passing probably takes over.
St Ronan's have qualified for their first final which is a wonderful achievement and they will play Rice College Westport in the final, the old order changes and it will be the first time in five years that the title will go outside Kerry.
Galway's best assets are up front, and defence is Dublin's weakest division, mainly because they are left isolated at times. They still believe in Dublin that a back should be able to beat his own man without having someone holding his hand. As a result, they give away goal chances. Jonny Cooper will probably be back today which is a big help, but Philly McMahon is struggling as a defender and is getting himself into plenty of indisciplined scrapes too.
He has written a great book but if he does not improve very quickly there will be no loyalty shown and he could be a new Ernest Hemingway as he rails against the world in print. Doing so from a house in Paris or a pad on the Florida Keys might not be a huge imposition but that can wait.
McMahon was dreadful against Donegal in the league and is getting passed very easily by good forwards. When it comes to picking teams for the championship, Jim Gavin does not forget these things, so McMahon needs a big game today without any off-the-ball involvement.
Two weeks ago, Ciaran Kilkenny was given plenty of "treatment" by Galway in the first encounter. The Dubs are educated elephants, they file away all information for future reference and Kilkenny is one of a number of young Dublin players who value team above all else. So, too, Brian Fenton and Con O'Callaghan, whenever he reappears.
It means that the Dubs are not going away, even if they are dripping in gold. The enjoyment is playing and winning, then moving on to the next challenge. Add in Colm Basquel and Niall Scully, who have been very impressive in this league, and at this stage it is hard to know what the Dubs' best team is. The only certainty is Stephen Cluxton, they are much less without him so he will have to play until he is 60.
The big-name absentee is Diarmuid Connolly and there is always a bit of intrigue involved with him. In Vietnam he would have been MIA, missing in action, now he is missing without any action. Most of the time he just goes about his business playing football and hurling with St Vincent's, which to my mind is a great way of enjoying your youth. In any other county he would be a massive loss, not so in Dublin, but they would be all the better for his presence.
Galway have a very good team of individually talented players but I do feel that their system gets less than the sum of the parts, not more. Apart from those mentioned, Gareth Bradshaw, Paul Conroy and Gary O'Donnell are good players, while Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh looks to have a future at full-back and Sean Armstrong is a useful impact sub.
Today will tell a lot about their future direction. If they decide to throw off the shackles and let in early ball to Comer, Walsh and Brannigan they will cause Dublin plenty of problems. The chances are, though, they will revert to a sterile game plan of no risk and no reward. Dublin will be patient and eventually play through them and will take a bit of satisfaction in doing so after what they considered strong-arm tactics two weeks ago in Galway.
Hardly a surprise that I am going for a Dublin win, but I hope Galway go at them in the hope of death or glory. Otherwise they face a paralysing defeat without any long-term gain.
Sunday Indo Sport