Eugene McGee: Carlow's 'imitation football' the sincerest form of fallacy
It seems we have a new football game now, masquerading as Gaelic Football and becoming more popular by the day but which should instead be called Imitation Football.
Because this what the unfortunate paying customers had to watch in Portlaoise on Saturday night and it was not a pretty sight. For the clear winners, Dublin, it mattered not a whit because they knew since last October's draw that the game was a mere formality so they could engage in any football diversions they wanted and still romp home.
But Carlow came with a different mindset called 'damage limitation'. They knew they had no chance of winning at any stage so they cut their losses and decided to stay respectable but at the expense of Gaelic football as we have known it for decades. Instead of distributing at least a percentage of their players around the playing area, they simply tried to play the game exclusively in the Dublin forward line. They did this by placing 14 of their players in the Carlow half about 75pc of the time in a futile attempt to contain the All-Ireland champions. A team can often achieve a lot by doing this, especially when the top teams are only in first or second gear, because they know they cannot lose anyway. That was Carlow's approach, limit the damage but forget about winning the game.
Play all your players in the Carlow half and hope the congestion will confuse Dublin. How innocent can you be! The sheer fallacy of what Carlow were doing was obvious from the start when many of the Dublin attacks began to develop not from their forwards but from their halfbacks as they were forming the last line of play from outfield.
Carlow often played FOURTEEN men inside the their own half of the field and while the intention of keeping the ball away from Dublin players may have been sensible, the problem was that Carlow players were not able to move that ball out past halfway because they were crowded out by FIFTEEN Dublin opponents. So farcical was this type of behaviour that on several occasions we witnessed Carlow players, who in theory were there to defend first and then initiate attacks, but instead they forget about the attacking and we often saw those backs being forced to pass the ball backwards towards their own goal in sheer frustration.
Hardly surprising that Carlow scored just three points from play in the entire game - they were too busy defending, defending, defending.
And to put the final nail in the Carlow tactics they, as was the case against Wexford recently, gave away a string of silly frees with sloppy tackling that brought Dublin eight frees and that made the Dubs' task when they were in a bit of trouble really secure.
For their genuine efforts as opponents against All-Ireland champions they deserve much credit, and what a role model they had in Sean Murphy, a real competitor capable of beating any Dublin opponent with his incredible speed off the mark, but Carlow with more positive tactics could have done a lot better and will regret that.
But overall on the field their 'style' was dreadful to behold. Sadly, this sort of football is now the norm, not just at lower county level but throughout the club scene.
It is demeaning our game, driving young people out of the game and as was shown in the past few week the paying supporters are also walking away. For three recent same-day championship games on May 21 in Leinster the total attendance was only around 10,000, and the Dublin crowd on Saturday of just over 13,000 was one of their smallest in a very long time. The football public are no fools!
But what about Dublin, the best team in the country and favourite to win three in a row? Well if the Carlow performance was Imitation Football, Dublin showed, once they learned how it works, that they are versatile enough to cope with any style of play. That is about all that can be said with regard to their immediate future because clearly the players were well behind in terms of mental and physical alertness.
Some of bright young hopes like Paul Mannion and Con O'Callaghan probably hadn't expected the football jungle they entered into as Carlow packed the Dublin attacking space but they learned on their feet and will be all the better for that.
The older Dublin players are by now well versed in coping with massed defences and on Saturday they were content to bide their time and go through the motions knowing that Carlow would not have the physical stamina or mental resolve to maintain their bright start - by their standards.
However, I doubt of we will see a game like this one played again this year in that style, and anyway next time Dublin will be back in Croke Park and ready for any other tactical diversions that might be thrown at them by Offaly or Westmeath in the semi-final.
As usual we had controversy regarding refereeing decisions. The first yellow card for Brendan Murphy was wrong while the two incidents involving Diarmuid Connolly and the 'handling' of a linesman and a tackle that earned a yellow rather than a black card was also a cause of debate. But we will have skirmishes like these more and more nowadays because they game has become so defensively predictable and boring that the fans need some diversion in games to preserve their sanity!
Dubs have work to do to earn ‘greatest’ tag
‘The greatest football team of all time’ is the label that is more and more being applied to the Dublin team managed by Jim Gavin and while it sounds impressive and the past four years justify the claim covering that period, in the context of other great county teams there is competition for the title.
If we deal with the 12-year period 1975 to 1986, years which were dominated by two counties, Kerry and Dublin, some facts stand out. In that period Kerry won eight All-Irelands, Dublin won three, and Offaly sneaked in for one.
There were seven Kerry-Dublin All-Ireland finals with Kerry winning five and Dublin two.
From 1975 to 1986, other than Dublin as opponents, Kerry beat Roscommon, Offaly (2) and Tyrone in All-Irelands, while Dublin beat Armagh and Galway.
Almost unnoticed Dublin do have the chance to set a unique record if they win the Leinster title this year. That would give them seven successive Leinster wins which has never been achieved. Dublin were in line for that 1980 but lost to Laois in the semi-final.