Saturday 23 February 2019

Colm O'Rourke: 'You don't always get what you deserve in football's cruel world'

‘Just as well the winter was mild and dry or a boat would be needed to get into Páirc Uí Chaoimh’. Photo: Eoin Noonan/Sportsfile
‘Just as well the winter was mild and dry or a boat would be needed to get into Páirc Uí Chaoimh’. Photo: Eoin Noonan/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

The image going around on WhatsApp last week showing Páirc Uí Chaoimh as the venue for the 2019 Ploughing Championships was a bit harsh. In their hour of greatest embarrassment, Cork didn't need their noses rubbed in it even more.

I often wonder if these funny pictures and videos, which are scattered to the four winds and seven seas, are created by the mobile phone companies as a means of making money. Maybe they should make a donation to the St Vincent de Paul or the Simon Community as an indicator that they do not wish to profit from the misfortune of others. Don't hold your breath on that one.

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The state of the pitch in Páirc Uí Chaoimh is something I have referenced on several occasions and it is ironic that games are being transferred to Páirc Uí Rinn. The surface there can be a bit dodgy too, but nothing like what we saw last Sunday.

Comparisons have been made with the surface at Croke Park when it was reopened. Yes, it had its problems, in particular with the pitch being dangerously slippy and too hard, but it was nothing like this. And with the expertise now available in Croke Park on modern pitch management, how could Cork have made such a mess of it? Did nobody ask for help? Just as well the winter was mild and dry or a boat would be needed to get into the most expensive stadium in Europe for its size.

The latest setback puts Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the same basket (case) as the children's hospital, except there is going to be some sort of enquiry to ascertain what happened with the latter. The GAA ship sails on, oblivious to waste or responsibility. The standard uttering is that Cork deserve a stadium of this stature and it will generate funds in time. Nobody says how or when because it will not make money from GAA activity. There will be a need for Michael Jackson to make a comeback to fund this monument, although he too might have had a bit of trouble doing his trademark moonwalk in those conditions . . .

I've been thinking about the word 'deserve' as it is used with Cork in the context of an unaffordable hurling and football pitch relative to other greater needs in the county. We would all love a stadium like that. There should be a Government department called 'Deserve'.

The first people to apply for assistance should be Keith Higgins and Andy Moran and the rest of the Mayo footballers. They 'deserve' All-Ireland medals - at least according to public opinion. Instead of drowning in self-pity, though, they have rolled up their sleeves and gone to war again. These great warriors are a bit like Spartacus or Alexander the Great. They have gained fame and fortune, in terms of public endearment, but never lifted the big prize. Perhaps they needed to be a bit more like Attila the Hun to have reaped the ultimate reward.

Who deserves what in sport? Some succeed because they work night and day towards a specific goal. Others put in the same shift and get no reward. Life and sport mirror each other in this way. The greatest efforts sometimes do not get what some people 'deserve'. If all Leitrim's players did exactly the same training as Dublin, would they achieve as much? Of course they wouldn't, even if Ryan O'Rourke is top scorer in the league and Leitrim are playing well. Do they deserve a big day as much as Dublin and some type of reward - maybe a cruise in the Caribbean with a stop off for a bottle of port and a big cigar in Havana. We're back to 'deserve' I'm afraid. Who makes those judgements? Perhaps a Department of Moral Authority would need to be set up beside the Department of Deserve. Naturally enough, it would have to be located in Cork. They 'deserve' it to be in a big building there and of course with a big stadium too.

The moral of the story is that the word 'deserve' should be used sparingly, and maybe removed altogether from the sporting lexicon.

Back in the rough and rugged world of football, the music keeps on playing. Last Sunday, Mayo looked a force renewed. New names like Brian Reape, Fionn McDonagh, Ciarán Treacy and Mark Plunkett have appeared in the last few games. There is a bit of swagger back and the supporters believe again. They are the housewives' choice for the All-Ireland again, a bit like Lester Piggott used to be in the Derby. While the young players added energy, enthusiasm and no little ability, the old hands like O'Shea, Moran, Keegan, Higgins and Durcan played with customary honesty. On the basis of this, the dream remains alive. However, it is February.

It was not a bad time for Mayo to re-emerge. The figures for attendances and revenue were way down last year. 'Come back Mayo, all is forgiven' must have been the cry from Croke Park. They made the championship exciting every year and Dublin's continued dominance is having a detrimental effect. It is not just a collapse in crowds from other counties, even Dublin supporters have got fed up with the number of no contests. So they are sitting at home and only going to the really big games. When they travel to places like Omagh, Clones or Tralee, they bring colour, vibrancy and plenty of humour. Yet in the overall context these crowds are not massive. The goose that laid the golden egg is now killing the game.

Still, there was huge money given out to counties and clubs by Croke Park. It would be easy to reflect on the negative side of the reduced crowd sizes, the increase in ticket prices and the obvious unattractiveness of the games - and all are inter-connected - but there is still a huge amount of money distributed to different units.

A bottomless pit would be needed to satisfy all demands as clubs in particular expand to provide for community needs. There is no organisation like this in the world which is based on a complete lack of individual gain and where there is a distribution of income to the most 'deserving'. That word again.

Some teams in this league are already getting itchy. Last night's clash in Tralee may be the start of a new rivalry - or rather an old rivalry renewed. Early signs are that, under Peter Keane, Kerry are not going down the road of swashbuckling football. This team is going to be built on a rock of granite, a backline that gives away few scores from play. The poster boys up front who decorate the performances will have to play second fiddle to more traditional skills like marking, tackling, tracking and winning breaks in the midfield jungle.

For some that sounds like heresy coming from Kerry, but those who remember the brilliant team of the 1970s, and especially those who played against them, will recall a few gentlemen like Tim Kennelly, Páidí Ó Sé and Jimmy Deenihan. They could play football with the best, but they could do a lot more than that with the iron fist in the velvet glove.

They might not have got as much credit as the forwards, but they minded the house and let others get the glory. No team can even think of winning an All-Ireland without getting number one right - defence. After shipping 10 goals in last year's league, Kerry are obviously attempting to return to a back division without any flash Harrys. Until such time as Kerry are able to keep the front door shut, they won't threaten Dublin.

The great Italian soccer teams of the past depended on the Catenaccio, or the bolted door system. Everything was secondary to a tight defence. Catenaccio seems to have taken hold in Killarney and Tralee.

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