Thursday 19 July 2018

Football championship has just three days to save season

Football championship needs to banish dark clouds which have hung over it all summer

Colm O’Neill kicks a free in the drawn Munster final against Kerry, one of the few games to entertain this summer
Colm O’Neill kicks a free in the drawn Munster final against Kerry, one of the few games to entertain this summer
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

With the obvious exception of Galway supporters, everybody who watched last Sunday's All-Ireland hurling semi-final, whether in Croke Park or on TV, were hoping that Tipperary would snatch an equaliser and book an extension of the duel for another day.

And while re-heated dishes are rarely as tasty as the original, there's every reason to be confident that if Galway and Tipperary met a second time, the entertainment quota would again be very high.

Of course it wouldn't have needed to reach Sunday's remarkable levels to be memorable. Only time will tell what the Galway-Kilkenny final holds but, whatever happens, last Sunday's game will be recalled as a major highlight of hurling championship 2015.

At this stage, there's no such football equivalent, but there are three games remaining so perhaps Kerry, Tyrone, Dublin and Mayo can save the season.


And, boy, does it need rescuing! How many of the 59 games played so far will be remembered or referenced for the right reasons for more than a few weeks after the end of the campaign?

Very few. And, even those that are harbour no claims for inclusion in longer-term excellence lists.

That's why the four semi-finalists carry a big responsibility to raise the bar several notches and provide a memorable conclusion to the season. They certainly have the potential, but whether it will deliver in a fitting manner remains to be seen.

It's seriously worrying for football that so much of this year's championship offered little by way of legacy. Sadly, the biggest talking point from the All-Ireland quarter-finals concerned a player who toppled over when an opponent tousled his hair.

Tyrone will argue - with some justification, it must be said - that the Tiernan McCann incident exploded out of all proportion but, whether or not they approved, it was a moment which drew a massive public reaction.

Besides, there wasn't a whole lot more to chew on from the four quarter-finals, which were won by an average of 12 points per game.

Fermanagh's feisty display against Dublin was uplifting, without ever being related to the remotest possibility of winning.

Donegal were a shadow of the squad renowned for their grit and structured momentum as they exited tamely against Mayo.

As for Kerry, lacing their boots was the most challenging aspect of their quarter-final where they hit hapless Kildare for 7-16.

That left Monaghan-Tyrone as the only really competitive game. It was interesting, if not exactly inspirational and the fact that it was the best of the four quarter-finals says it all about their relative merits.

As for the provinces, Ulster remained, as ever, the most competitive, but since the winners were later beaten by one of their neighbours, it raises the question of whether Tyrone or Monaghan are this year's real Ulster kingpins.

The drawn Munster final was enjoyable, but Cork's subsequent implosion in the replay and later against Kildare suggested that it may have been no more than an aberration by Kerry.

Westmeath's brave recovery against Meath was one of the few highlights of the Leinster Championship, which is a poor reflection on an 11-game campaign. Sligo's win over Roscommon briefly poked Connacht into life but Mayo quickly delivered a powerful tranquilliser, when running in 6-25 in the final. It gave them an aggregate win of 49 points in the last three Connacht finals, scarcely a sign of a vibrant province.

Wexford's success over Down and Kildare beating Cork - both quite comfortably - were the only real surprises from 24 qualifier games where the average winning margin was almost nine points.

Indeed, no fewer than 13 games were won by margins of eight or more points, while only five had one- to three-point margins.

That's seriously lop-sided and certainly not in line with the early days of the qualifiers. In 2001, their inaugural year, the average winning margin was 4.5 points.

A powerful finish to the All-Ireland race can't disguise the mediocrity which applied over much of the course, but it would go some way to improving the mood.

The four semi-finalists won't see their role as lifting the championship from the many disappointments which have gone before and will instead concentrate on pursuing the title by whatever means are necessary.

However, the wider football world will be hoping that the mixture of Kerry, Tyrone, Dublin and Mayo sparks into something special, as happened in hurling last Sunday.

Effectively, three games remain to rescue the football championship from being a genuine contender for the unwelcome distinction of being the most disappointing for quite some time.

Irish Independent

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