Wednesday 22 November 2017

Eoin Liston: Sledging should not be tolerated in our games in any shape or form

6 August 2016; Patrick McBrearty of Donegal in action against Dublin players, left to right, Paul Flynn, Cian O'Sullivan, Darren Daly, and Ciarán Kilkenny during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Dublin and Donegal at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
6 August 2016; Patrick McBrearty of Donegal in action against Dublin players, left to right, Paul Flynn, Cian O'Sullivan, Darren Daly, and Ciarán Kilkenny during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Dublin and Donegal at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

You have to take your hat off to the Dubs. Despite all the adversity: missing three All-Star defenders, Diarmuid Connolly's dismissal, Eoghan O'Gara's late red card and Donegal throwing the kitchen sink at them, their class still shone through.

Their teamwork was magnificent, creating space at ease while their running power and quality of finishing was outstanding - some of Dublin's scores really were top drawer.

Croke Park has been home to some of the greatest scores down through the years and Dublin added to that on Saturday evening with awesome points from Philly McMahon, Connolly, Jonny Cooper and Kevin McManamon while it's clear Jim Gavin has learned from past mistakes as they don't go gung-ho anymore.

Someone is always left to mind the house and once they get ahead, they control the pace of the game. And what a luxury to have someone like Paul Mannion to come in and put the game to bed - other teams simply don't have that option.

They had a great spread of scores which shows that this team is just that, a team. The defensive system stood up despite the absentees while the tempo of their passing was sublime, they can split defences with their speed of hand.

There's definitely still a discipline problem with the Dubs, however, and when a manager is still shaking hands with a fella getting a red card, I'd be a bit concerned with that.

And what of Ciarán Kilkenny? To be able to slot in there at the back without a second thought, what a footballer. His power and skill on and off the ball and the energy he left on the field was phenomenal.

They're playing fantastic football and after that test, they look a lot less vulnerable. They're the only ones that can beat themselves in my view.

Donegal made some strange unforced errors, they were very un-Donegal like. The deliveries inside were poor, they couldn't hit Michael Murphy or Patrick McBrearty and how they stayed in the game was a mystery, I felt they could've got a hiding.

But for the last 35 minutes you had to admire their commitment, they were on the ropes but refused to be knocked out and pushed it hard right up until the end. And in the 67th minute they were one score behind but they just left themselves too much to do.

They're probably going to be in transition now but they've blooded a few young fellas that will make a massive difference over the coming years and they've added so much to Gaelic football, bringing a whole new dimension to the game.

Emphasis on defence has forced offensive improvements and more thought to unlock defences and I'd say we haven't seen the last of them yet.

The first semi-final was absolutely enthralling, I was completely drained after it. You could feel the tension and it was very entertaining from a tactical point of view, similar to the Ulster final, but Mayo's experience eventually told.

They kept their nerve when it mattered most with the O'Shea brothers, Cillian O'Connor and Lee Keegan all outstanding while the system well and truly passed the test as they only coughed up one goal chance, and that was a defensive lapse.

Aidan O'Shea's positioning was key throughout and they reaped the rewards off the long ball in to the edge of the square while also rotating him around the middle. They needed that type of tactic to keep Tyrone guessing.

And they won without Jason Doherty, Diarmuid O'Connor and Colm Boyle at their best, that's a great sign and they're in an unbelievable position now and there's more in them. Defensively they were much better, they protected their full-back line and no one can blame Mayo for getting numbers back after all the recent near-misses.

The plan was to peak at the end of the year and they're there now. And isn't it great that the four teams with most questions hanging over their defence: Dublin missing three marquee players, doubts about Kerry at the back, Mayo's susceptibility to concede goals and Tipperary, who shipped a big score to Kerry in the Munster final, are the last sides left standing.

The teams with the water-tight defences are all gone, the Donegals, the Tyrones etc. You have to be able to put the ball over the bar at the end of the day and forwards win matches

Some of these teams are married to their system when they need to show more adaptability. There are times when you have to abandon the system and just try to get the ball back and both Tyrone and Donegal lacked that urgency. They weren't able to think for themselves when they needed it most, you have to chase the game when you're behind

Twelve scores from 31 shots tells the story for Tyrone. You had corner-backs taking pot shots from outside with the game in the melting pot and they'll rue their missed chances and also not getting enough from Sean Cavanagh.

He was very peripheral and I'm amazed how they didn't just leave him inside and test Mayo's full-back line. His sending off was very harsh, however, and he's not a dirty player whatsoever. He never has been and should get the benefit of the doubt for that.

Sledging was a theme of the weekend's action and has no place in our game whatsoever. It just cannot be tolerated in our games. The GAA is built on friendship amongst competitors but how you could be friends with some of the sledging that is going on.

A lot of players should be very disappointed with themselves and no manager should tolerate it, they're responsible for the behaviour of a team and can change that.

Back to football, on the evidence presented thus far Mayo and Dublin will contest the All-Ireland final. But in Kerry we're hoping there's evidence that we're not privy to that might change that.

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