Derry in united state to postpone scramble for visas
It's difficult to blame players from availing of the chance to travel, writes Colm O'Rourke
The news that some Laois players are heading to New York after last Sunday's championship defeat is just the beginning. A few have already left the Down panel even before they have kicked a ball in anger.
As counties depart the provincial championships, there will be many young men who will seize the opportunity to broaden their horizons by travelling. In the old days, in the emerging America, the cry was to go west young man. Now for the young Irish it could be any direction, with Australia and Canada just as attractive. Yet the big cities in the US still hold great appeal as a good footballer will always be fixed up with a job, whether they are legal or not.
In general, the stories about huge money being handed over are just that, stories. Anyway, what more would a young man want other than a job and a place to lay his head? The only problem with some of the accommodation is that you'd want to be home early or one of the other 25 in the house could be sleeping soundly in your bed.
The big debate in many counties centres on whether players who decide to go before the qualifiers are in some way disloyal and should be shut out of future county teams. A bit of understanding is needed here. It is a great honour to wear your county jersey, but the GAA does not own an individual and I always feel that every young lad should take off to America for a summer just to see how the scene over there operates.
If they don't go they will feel that they have missed out on one of life's experiences. Like most things, once it is done, it is no big deal. Yet managers need to hold their nerve on this one and not cut off their nose to spite their face. One day down the line, some of these players may be needed again so discretion is essential.
The chances are that this trickle will become a flood and it's not the county panels that will suffer, but clubs with a lot of students who are looking around for a summer job now that the exams are over. And if you are playing for a club in Dublin, you could already be out of the championship. Will players in these clubs stick around for sporadic league football? Not likely.
So the structure of the championship in some counties helps to make up a player's mind. Quite how this benefits clubs beats me. Perhaps I am missing something here, but having clubs out of the championship in May would appear to me to be a lesson in self-destruction. Of course clubs voted for it in Dublin in the closest thing I ever heard to turkeys voting for Christmas. The bars of every city in the world will be full of Dublin club footballers on Sundays supporting their county this summer. A lot of people condemn league-style championships for clubs, yet a system which keeps clubs together – and players at home – for the summer is to be welcomed.
The big game today is Derry versus Down in Celtic Park. Whichever manager loses will hope that communication lines with New York, Chicago and Boston could be closed down as the certainty is that offers of a flight and a job will be made to the best players on the losing side from tomorrow morning.
With the qualifiers several weeks away there will be temptation, and as Oscar Wilde famously said, the only thing he could not resist was temptation. It will end up this year that the standard of football in most of the American cities will be higher than in many counties' domestic competitions.
No such considerations will enter players' minds this afternoon. Derry will be favourites and deservedly so after winning the second division of the Allianz League in fine style by beating Westmeath. Yet the two finals, Divisions 1 and 2, only served to highlight the difference in standard between the two tiers.
And we saw how Tyrone collapsed in the final quarter against Donegal, the team today's winners have the dubious honour of facing in the next round. That is not going to be an easy task for anyone, yet I would not discount Tyrone on the basis of last Sunday. They will improve on that and good players learn from mistakes, especially the loss of discipline. Donegal might have to beat Tyrone twice to win the All-Ireland, but once may do for Tyrone.
While the odds favour Derry, they are taking on a team that played in a higher division in the league. Admittedly, Down were relegated, but their performances were better than the bare form reads. They beat Mayo and Kildare and lost other games narrowly. So overall their league form is not that bad.
The problem which seems to drag them down, literally, is leaking heavily at the back, even when they score a lot themselves. For example, Down scored 1-17 against Cork and lost. If they get that score today they will surely win. To tie up the Derry forwards they need big performances from Dan McCartan and Brendan McArdle in the full-back line and for Ambrose Rogers to dominate midfield.
Derry are in a happy place and it even appears everyone is pulling in the same direction. The buzzword now for counties is how the players have 'bought' into what the new manager wants. Whatever makes you happy. Anyway, Brian McIver seems to have the players onside and even Eoin Bradley seems to be willing to work for the team. At times he appears disinterested and indifferent but he is very talented and the trick with players like him is to concentrate on the things he can do rather than the things he can't or won't.
There were times in the league final when Derry looked very promising. Patsy Bradley is an important figure for them and injury may curtail his involvement. But like Donegal last Sunday, it is better to have the best troops on at the end rather the beginning when there may be a doubt about someone lasting the whole battle.
Home advantage is big in Ulster football and Celtic Park today will bring back memories of a brilliant game there almost 20 years ago. That great Down team, of which James McCartan was a member, came and plundered when the championship was still do or die. Neither side are as good now as they were then. That match turned out to be a meeting of the All-Ireland winners of both 1993 and '94. They are not at that level anymore, but both sides have the hope of better things to come. Derry look to me to have more potential. A home win.