Tuesday 23 January 2018

Kevin McStay: Time for chasing pack to wake up and smell the coffee

Read his column exclusively in the Herald every Wednesday

Colm Cooper scores his side’s fifth goal during Kerry’s destruction of Kildare
Colm Cooper scores his side’s fifth goal during Kerry’s destruction of Kildare

Kevin McStay

By any reasonable straight line analysis, Cork, Kildare and Roscommon must immediately be added to the list of weaker counties badly in need of rescue from the current football championship format.

Cork were hammered by Kildare (+9 pts) and Kildare were themselves hammered by Kerry (+27 pts); Kildare were thrashed by Dublin (+19 pts) and then downed tools against Kerry (see above); and finally Roscommon lost to Sligo, and then Fermanagh in the qualifiers and last Sunday Fermanagh are dismissed by Dublin (+8 pts), but if we are truthful, put in any margin you want there. Just look at the players Dublin took off once the game was sorted early doors.

The reason we are having such mismatches is because the gulf in standard between the top five or six teams compared to the rest is simply enormous and is not understood by the majority of Gaelic football observers.

I guess you have to be around these teams or watching them every day to realise where these major differences exist.

The top teams are superbly well conditioned and it takes three to four years to reach the standard required.

If the team is naturally athletic, that can be shortened a little but the fitness, strength and power of the elite teams is not being matched by the others. And if you don't meet these basics, you cannot compete with them. Do not pass GO - do not collect €200!

The standard of manager these teams can attract is generally of the highest calibre. The level of preparation by the backroom team (which includes all aspects of support - medical, performance analysis, facilities, etc …) is always top class.

Put simply: if a player from Dublin and Leitrim suffer the same type of serious injury, the Dublin player, due to the resources available to him, will have it diagnosed, rehabbed and be back available for selection in a much shorter timeframe.


The skill levels of Kerry, Dublin, Donegal and Mayo and their player's ability to reproduce those skills under pressure are tested annually in Division 1 football and at All-Ireland quarter-final stages. The experience gained in these competitions is an advantage they can instantly call on.

They have depth in their panels and so, outside of the elite players each team will have (two or three critical performers - think Cluxton, Flynn, Connolly for Dublin or Moran, Gooch, O'Donoghue for Kerry) the panel numbers from 16 to 26 can be seamlessly interchanged without any real drop in performance.

Look at the players Kerry subbed in last Sunday: Gooch, Darren O'Sullivan, Paul Galvin, Tommy Walsh,)

Joe Brolly, speaking on The Sunday Game, compared the mismatches we have experienced this summer to games where the All Blacks face Scotland and he is right, even though Scotland appear to be making some progress. Some years ago, while involved in sport in the Defence Forces I came across this reality. Professional rugby in Ireland was in the embryonic stages and a few of our military personnel had been released, more or less full-time, to train with Leinster rugby.

When they came back to play with their military units in non-professional games, it was obvious that they were conditioned to a level that was almost dangerous for those not exposed to it.

When they tackled the 'innocents' they tackled to hurt. They ran harder, longer and faster; tackled harder and more often and eventually rugby had to keep them apart as they had the potential to really injure. All legitimately I emphasise - it was a direct result of their conditioning advantage.

This relentless drive, application and elite skill levels ensure there is little or no breathing space and the opposition has two options: find some way to get to their levels or prepare yourself for a drubbing each time you face them.

The bad news for those outside the Top five or six is that the systems or processes are self-perpetuating and success does bred success. Dublin, Kerry and Mayo are untouchable in their province and both Donegal and Monaghan appear to be well ahead in Ulster. And that won't change until the rest wake up and smell the coffee.

Championship restructure talk is simply naive pie in the sky

ALL this talk of new championship formats, champions league style play-offs and suchlike to sort out the plight of the weaker counties is beginning to frustrate GAA supporters up and down the country.

It really does not matter what the mechanics of each proposal will be. Cast your mind back to 2001 when the Qualifiers were first mooted and recall the difficulty HQ had in merely explaining the process, never mind the paradigm change after more than 100 years. But supporters got their heads around it within a short enough time - so, no real worries there.

The problems will arise when proposals want to throw out bedrock concepts, tinker with boundaries, tradition and finance.

These are the real game-changers when it comes to design.

Proposals that plan to cast them away are anchored to the seabed and just will not float.

If they do not tick the majority of the following boxes they are dead ducks not alone from the players but most importantly, GAA administrators' perspectives:

The design must preserve the primacy of the provincial cham pionships. In other words, we must have a Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster final each year with a pathway directly to the All-Ireland series for the winners of each

Each and every county on the island must be allowed enter the race initially. That is to say, while the weaker counties may not advance far, it will be up to themselves, based on ability, on how far that advancement will be.

The proposals must feature roughly the same number of games and financial returns as the present system provides for.

Keep the GAA front and centre of the media spotlight for at least 10 months of the year

Provide for a Second Tier that can easily be designed for the early fallers with the climax of that championship held in August and September in Croke Park.

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