Friday 19 January 2018

Eugene McGee: Onus is on Dublin and Kerry to restore our faith in game

Diarmuid Connolly is one of the marquee players on view on Sunday
Diarmuid Connolly is one of the marquee players on view on Sunday
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

In the past I have often used an expression that states: 'A willing expression of disbelief' is a state of mind that is required to get over a particular problem and get on with life in the normal way. It can apply to sorts of activity, including GAA affairs.

So in order to take a rational look next Sunday's All-Ireland football final let us all have a willing expression of disbelief about what has been going on for the past year on the Gaelic football fields of Ireland.

Let us not believe there were dirty incidents carried out by players from several of the leading counties during the season that should shame themselves, their managers and their counties.

Let us not believe that players who were blatantly guilty of offences like striking in the clear view of half a million people on television would not be men enough to accept that and take their punishment with honour.

And let us not believe that the disciplinary rules in the GAA are terribly complicated, cannot be clearly understood by the GAA public at large, including players, and are therefore acceptable to the people. And there are more like these but we will give them a blanket temporary exemption.


So going into next Sunday's All-Ireland between Kerry and Dublin we can take a look at how the game might unfold if we had an ideal system of play, control and disciplinary measures by officials.

That's not asking too much, is it? It would of course mean players not provoking opponents in order to have them sent off as Lee Keegan was talking about last week in regard to Diarmuid Connolly.

So in our ideal football world the big game next Sunday will be played by the two best teams in the country, which is in fact true, and it will be played in the spirit of sportsmanship which was the exception rather than the rule all season.

As I see the game, Dublin's greatest strength is their ability to run in groups at great speed with the ball and catch opposing defenders off guard or with lapsed concentration. It was those things that eventually nailed Mayo to the cross after they had gone four points ahead in the second half and looked set for victory with Dublin in serious trouble.

But mental lapses opened the gates for Dublin and in a flash they had rammed in three goals of completely different styles.

Unless Dublin get at least two goals they are unlikely to win as recent history shows. But are Kerry going to oblige by getting caught off guard or out of position when Dublin come at speed and in packs towards Brendan Kealy's goal area?

That's the critical factor in this game because we know Kerry will score handsomely, so the onus is on Dublin to aim for a net score of at least 15 points, a tall order.

As we know from last year's final against Donegal, Kerry will not let their backs roam all over the field in response to Dublin actions. They did not do it then and it won them the game so we can expect an old-style Kerry backline in use for most of this game.

That does not mean their half-backs will not attack but it will be in a controlled manner rather than the often unplanned method that many counties, including Dublin, employ at times.

The GAA desperately needs a showpiece quality game next Sunday after a dire season. It is a tribute to both counties that the vast majority of fans expect to get such a contest but so much will depend on the seven match officials.


Only four are required in Aussie Rules with a far larger playing area. Let's see if these largely redundant men are made proper use of on Sunday, facilitating better-quality football by having rule-breakers in the relevant officials' areas punished.

Let's hope too that the marquee players of which there are at least a dozen on Sunday are properly managed by the referee and the six other officials. Not given any favours of course, but rather getting exactly the same treatment by officials as every other player. This has not been the case in many games this year with Aidan O'Shea being a good example.

The stakes are high on Sunday for Gaelic football but match officials and players have a clear responsibility to be efficient and manly in their behaviour.

That's the surest way of having the sort of game we all want to see.

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