Martin Breheny: Spare me the Kerry ‘cuteness’ and Donegal’s triumph not a ‘tactical masterplan’
Bad finishing and bad refereeing had bigger impact than tactical calls as Martin Breheny exposes three myths from the All Ireland semi-finals
The grand old train to Black & White Street has been busy since last weekend, packed with passengers who cannot wait to get together to share in the joy of being so, so right in their analysis of the All-Ireland football semi-finals.
Since the theories always follow the results, it comes down to this: the winners were better prepared, physically and mentally; they were fitter, cuter and more ambitious.
The winning managers were smart and inventive, their losing counterparts, naïve and slow to react.
All pure guff, of course, but it's what passes for much of the modern-day punditry, which trades almost exclusively in absolutes: winners absolutely right, losers absolutely wrong. Still, once everyone is aboard the same train, who cares?
There is an alternative train, one that caters for Reality Row rather than Black & White Street. I jumped aboard and discovered that the three main items for discussion from last weekend were as follows:
1. That McGuinness didn't wipe Gavin's eye in the tactical battle of the Jims
Wondrous tales of how McGuinness had forensically analysed Dublin's game plan over recent weeks have been circulating, with Donegal's 3-14 to 0-17 win offered as proof positive that he succeeded most emphatically. And yet! Dublin missed two clear goal chances in the opening 25 minutes, which had nothing to do with Donegal's structures or tactics and everything to do with dismal finishing.
If those two efforts had been converted into goals - and there was nothing McGuinness could have done to prevent them or Gavin to score them - Dublin would have led by 2-9 to 0-4, presenting an altogether different, and probably insurmountable, challenge for Donegal.
In effect, it was bad play by highly-rated Dublin forwards, rather than tactical genius by McGuinness or sideline errors by Gavin that left Donegal only five points behind when they should have been 11 adrift.
McGuinness deserves enormous credit for Donegal's achievements over four seasons but would his tactical nous have counted for anything if Dublin had scored two first-half goals?
Last year, McGuinness had to watch helplessly as Donegal took a 16-point hammering from Mayo. Was that down to tactical errors?
Of course not. There are days when one team plays better than the opposition. Tactics and attitude are important but to elevate them to the status of sole arbiter, as now happens all the time, is ridiculous.
2. That Kerry's cuteness beat Mayo
Spare me from the 'yerra, Kerry are Kerry' line, which comes with the inference that their footballers are automatically cuter than their counterparts from elsewhere. Kerry are certainly better than their rivals much of the time, testified by 36 All-Ireland title wins, but that doesn't make them consistently cleverer.
Cuteness had nothing to do with Kerry's win over Mayo, in a contest where one score separated the sides after 160 minutes. Tight calls counted for a lot more than cunning in this particular battle and the truth is that a disproportionate amount went Kerry's way.
Lee Keegan's dismissal, which the GAA's disciplinary system conceded was wrong, in the first half of the drawn game almost certainly cost Mayo victory. In the replay, Kerry should have been down to 14 men for three-quarters of the way but escaped because of a refereeing mistake.
When Mayo went two points ahead in the first period of extra-time, they were pegged back by points from frees which should not have been awarded. Kerry cuteness? No, just very bad refereeing decisions against Mayo over both games.
3. That the Mayo squad is a beaten docket, who will never go all the way and win an All-Ireland
Really? How many counties are ahead of them? When everyone returns in January, Mayo will be still in the top four. They are virtual certainties to reach the All-Ireland quarter-finals next August, at which stage what happened last weekend will be largely irrelevant.
They need a fresh injection of talent (who doesn't?) but their squad is still a long way ahead of most others. The notion that their spirit will be broken by bad experiences over the last few seasons is pure rubbish, however fashionable it may be.
Football snipers outgunning hurling hot-shots
Who would have thought it likely? Last weekend's All-Ireland football semi-finals produced a higher total score than their hurling counterparts, 9-60 (87pts) as opposed to 5-59 (74pts).
Even when the seven points scored in extra-time in the Kerry-Mayo replay is taken into account, football came in ahead of hurling.
None of the hurling semi-finalists - Kilkenny, Tipperary, Limerick, Cork - scored more than two goals each, whereas, Kerry, Mayo and Donegal all scored three goals last weekend. Dublin drew a blank, having scored nine goals in their previous four games.
The Leinster football final (Dublin 3-20, Meath 1-10) returned six points more than its hurling counterpart (Kilkenny 0-24, Dublin 1-9). The scoring rate in football has been unusually high throughout the year, a development which was predicted after the introduction of the black card sanction.
However, since referees are either ignoring black-card fouls or deeming them to be yellow-card offences, that can't be the sole reason for the scoring surge.
The fear of being sent off for cynical fouling doesn't have to be as intense as was generally thought so what's behind the increase in scoring?
It appears that the balance has swung back in favour of the mouse rather than the mousetrap, which is a welcome development.
But will it last? Don't bet on it. One suspects that away in locked rooms, the mousetrap designers are busily working on a new model, aimed at stopping the cheeky advances of the top forwards like Cillian O'Connor, who has scored five goals in the championship.
After all, they can't allow them to continue scoring more than hurlers.
Time to clamp down on melees that mar our games
Play was held up for 3 minutes abd 57seconds late in the second period of extra-time of the Kerry-Mayo replay last Saturday after a row broke out.
For reasons that escape me, the Mayo fan who invaded the pitch during the stoppage, appears to have been canonised as a celebrity saint when, in fact, he should be banned from GAA grounds for a year. However, his unwelcome presence was not the real issue, since it was facilitated by a stewarding lapse.
Of more concern was the embarrassing sight of large clusters of players jostling and pushing in a heaving knot. Because so many were involved, referee Cormac Reilly could do nothing to intervene until the ridiculousness of it all appeared to dawn on the players. He then booked Kieran Donaghy and Anthony Maher, who were no more, or no less, guilty than several others.
Former GAA president Sean McCague always held the view that the third and subsequent parties into a bust-up between two players should be treated more harshly than the original protagonists, on the basis that it was none of their business.
He had a point. As things stand, the one-in, all-in approach provides safety in numbers from the disciplinary process, while bringing the game into disrepute. If an All-Ireland semi-final is held up for nearly as long as many modestly-talented athletes would take to run a mile so that players can have a row, it's time for an urgent rule review.