'It's atrocious stuff' - Former Dublin manager Tom Carr claims you would have to pay him to watch modern gaelic football
You get the impression that Tom Carr won’t be rushing to Croke Park this Sunday to watch two counties he has previously managed.
But not because Dublin/Roscommon is the ultimate in dead-rubbers, between an unbackable favourite that’s already through to the All-Ireland SFC semi-finals and a demoralised underdog.
Rather, because Carr has fallen out of love with Gaelic football circa 2018.
“I’m telling you here and now, it is a bore. It’s boring,” he reiterates.
“You don’t need to watch the first half of a game of Gaelic football. You don’t need to any more. You can just go in and watch the last 20 minutes, and you’ll get what the game is.
“It is atrocious stuff. It is horrendous stuff. I wouldn’t go to a football match unless I’m working at it.”
Tom Carr – former Dublin captain; erstwhile manager of the Dubs, Roscommon and Cavan; outspoken pundit – admits he’s in the mood for a rant at the end of a call from The Herald this week.
It seems that watching two epic hurling semi-finals last weekend has sent his spirits soaring and, simultaneously, touched a nerve about football’s angst-filled evolution.
“Somebody said to me the other day about the Roscommon set-up ... ‘Oh, they need to get in a defensive expert’. And I said, ‘What are you talking about, a defensive expert?’ Now we have ‘defensive experts’. I said the game is so simple, it’s so basic. We’re going on about systems of play.
“I said how many systems of play did you see in the two hurling matches last weekend? No systems.
“It was absolutely ‘get the ball, hit it’ … now, of course there’s elements of patterns and where you want to put the ball and running off the ball, etc, etc, etc. But we’ve nearly taken it out of the realms of sport and brought it into science.”
Carr’s brother, Declan, won two Celtic Crosses at midfield with the Tipperary hurlers, skippering the All-Ireland winning team of 1991. Tom’s appreciation of the ancient game was further bolstered by his recent involvement with Westmeath.
Unlike football’s predilection for strategies, he argues, “you can’t meddle” with hurling.
“And I look at the physicality in hurling,” he adds. “I was involved with the Westmeath hurlers for the last three years, doing their fitness and strength and conditioning.
“They’re a different breed … hurlers actually care about the game of hurling. Footballers care about themselves first, and then they care about the game of football.”
This weekend will see the inaugural ‘Super 8s’ experiment reach its finale. The impressions thus far have been mixed – an underwhelming first weekend, a much improved second. Already the race for Sam has been distilled from eight to six, with Roscommon and Kildare eliminated with a game to spare.
In truth, as Carr perceives, it’s not even a battle of six.
“The only ones who’ll beat Dublin in this year’s run to the All-Ireland is themselves,” he predicts.
“I could not get my head around people – and Pat Spillane & Co – talking Kerry up and ‘they’ve arrived’. They played Clare and the worst Cork team that ever took the pitch, and they were raving about them.
“I never thought Kerry … I don’t think Kerry are physically at the pace of Dublin, at all.”
The irony, though, is that the much-touted new generation are the ones to have kept Kerry barely alive as they seek redemption at home to Kildare tomorrow and a huge favour from Galway against Monaghan.
“When the Gooches (right) and the Darragh Ó Sés of this world left that team, that was the soul of the team,” Carr claims.
“Now, they will come back. They are the true kings of football, at the end of the day. But there’s no soul in that Kerry team at the minute.”
So then: who, if anyone, might rattle the Dubs?
“The only team that’s going to run Dublin close … depends on what Galway team turns up on a given day, I think they’re capable of running Dublin close. The only other team then are Tyrone. But Kerry are not going to beat Dublin this year,” he stresses.
Kerry are still part of the elite whereas Roscommon – despite reclaiming their Division 1 status and despite reaching the ‘Super 8s’ - have been told by Joe Brolly on The Sunday Game that they’d be far better off in a second-tier championship.
But again, Carr reckons that misses the point.
“Being in a second-tier competition is not going to address the problem that these teams have, because it’s psychological and it’s traditional,” he argues.
“Solving the problem they have is getting a group of guys who have belief. And you can ring John Maughan now and you can ask him, ‘John, how the f*** did you win a Munster final with Clare in ‘92?’
“And he’ll tell you straight up, ‘We weren’t that talented. But we had a bunch of fellas who were as thick (stubborn), and believed in themselves, and wouldn’t stand back.’ That’s the only reason ...
“Second tier teams, you can talk about that all you want. It’s not (the answer). And I’m looking at Monaghan at the minute. They continue to make the same mistakes that they made ten years ago. Their decision-making at crucial times – they actually trip themselves up.
“I was at the Fermanagh game – they’d the job done against Fermanagh, they’d the job done against Kerry.”
Just as they’d the job almost done against Kerry back in a 2007 All-Ireland quarter-final, leading by two points after 65 minutes.
Carr can still recall it: “There were two, three passes that should have been made in the last five minutes, and they weren’t made. And I know that’s very specific stuff.
“But they’ve done the same thing year upon year upon year, and it must be so frustrating for Malachy (O’Rourke).”
While it’s a manager’s job to man-manage, he can “only do so much” to solve this perennial conundrum for non-traditional counties seeking to smash through that glass ceiling.
“At the end of the day,” he concludes, “it has to come from within the players themselves. It really does.”