Saturday 24 February 2018

Eugene McGee: It's sad to watch desecration of our once great game called Gaelic football

Dramatic finish in Clones can’t mask woeful state of modern-day football

Tyrone's Cathal McCarron reacts after a missed chance on goal. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Tyrone's Cathal McCarron reacts after a missed chance on goal. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

Often a dramatic finish can leave the impression in the history books later on that a game was full of excitement and high quality.

Maybe Tyrone people will feel that way in 25 years' time, but for the rest of us unfortunates who had to stand by and see the desecration of a once great game called Gaelic football this was a sad day.

Both Tyrone and Donegal adopted - in the most negative way possible - the modern game at its very worst: little or no kicking, an orgy of handpassing, a flood of reverse passes often up to 40 yards back and hardly a decent physical contact in the whole game.

This match was played in Clones a special venue where massive games of real football have been played down the years by some of the greatest footballers we have seen.

But this was an insult to all the great players and teams who have adorned Ulster finals in the past.

It is telling that despite all the brutal abuse of our great game for the greater part of yesterday's contest, the result was decided in the final minutes by a few outbreaks of traditional Gaelic football from a few Tyrone players, led by captain Sean Cavanagh.

Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh lifting the Anglo Celt Cup
Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh lifting the Anglo Celt Cup

After an avalanche of failed attempts by both teams to break through massed defences, Cavanagh lofted a couple of long-range points; then, as if reminded of what the idea of scoring was all about, up stepped Peter Harte and Kieran McGeary to rattle over points that also eliminated the congested rearguard.

One wonders how much Tyrone would have won by had they played that way for the earlier part of the game, because of course Donegal know no other way to play the game and they were not going to change even if their tactics of short passing eventually led to self-destruction.

All year, I have questioned the rave reviews that Tyrone were getting, especially when they were recently mentioned as the best hope of beating Dublin.

They have a fine set of players, okay, and one of the best managers in Mickey Harte but they need more time to learn more about the hard knocks of the game.

Tyrone have the speed and the skill to trouble the best, but they have to convince themselves to display those attributes, like they did in the recent replay against Cavan.

Talking of speed, that was a commodity that was almost absent in this fiasco of a game, despite all the allegedly world-class fitness regimes the top counties now have.

In fact, the majority of this game was played not at speed but in slow motion; we waited for the 'fast-forward' button to be pressed.

But we waited in vain up until the final 10 minutes when the futility of Donegal's style eventually drained their players mentally and physically and they were simply overwhelmed.

The big problem Donegal had was that their forwards were simply not good enough at the basic art of scoring from play.

From a tactical point of view, other than the horrible basic one of massed defence, the game was decided when Harte eventually decided to move Cavanagh from full-forward to the middle of the field.

There, the Moy man somehow managed to open the play up a bit for his Tyrone colleagues and this created enough chances for their scoring rate to improve from the miserly four points in the first half to an impressive nine points after the break.

Having watched about 30 Ulster finals, I thought it was extraordinary yesterday that there was hardly a decent, or even indecent, hit in the whole match within the rules and very few outside them either.

This is yet another casualty of this stupid and demeaning tactic of packed defences because every player seems to be afraid of hitting a decent wallop nowadays. What a change.

And how the regular followers bemoan such a deficiency which was always an integral part of Gaelic football by comparison to other football games.

Tyrone will be very happy with this narrow win because it shows their football heart is in the right place.

They will play to their strengths in Croke Park and have a lot going for them as they head for HQ and the quarter-finals.

Online Editors

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