Sunday 18 August 2019

Pat Spillane: 'Most hurling pundits are just cheerleaders - will they admit football is having a better summer?'

Enda Smith of Roscommon celebrates following the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Mayo and Roscommon at Elverys MacHale Park in Castlebar, Mayo. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Enda Smith of Roscommon celebrates following the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Mayo and Roscommon at Elverys MacHale Park in Castlebar, Mayo. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Pat Spillane

AS a pundit, I’m always seeking ways to do my job better.

And what better way to measure performance than to look at what my counterparts are doing in other sports.

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Well, to be brutally honest, most of these so-called experts are nothing more than cheerleaders.

This is particularly so with sports on the non-terrestrial TV channels. These sports commentators invariably talk up whatever event they are covering and criticism of any kind is studiously avoided.

In rugby, it is very much a case of the old boys' network running the show. Commentators, coaches and players are all familiar with each other so criticism is pretty muted.

Horse racing commentators take the biscuit, though. Such is their gushing praise for every horse and race that they could be mistaken as employees of the public relations department of the equestrian industry.

Last week’s English Derby was a case in point. More than half the field were from Aidan O’Brien’s stable – it would be like Dublin having 17 teams in the All-Ireland.

Frankly it’s a bit of a joke, yet it was scarcely mentioned by the commentators. Katie Taylor’s victory in last weekend’s unification fight was another example of the result not quite fitting the narrative.

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By all accounts she was lucky to win, yet this fact was mostly ignored. Instead her historic achievement was celebrated.

This brings me to the GAA, where there is a marked difference in the approach taken by the hurling and football experts. For the most part, the hurling critics rarely say anything bad about the game. Instead we’re constantly reminded that hurling is the fastest and greatest game on earth.

At times hurling does fit that description, but there are a lot of bad hurling games as well.

However, this doesn’t suit the narrative that hurling is the GAA’s hot, sexy sport, whereas football is the ugly duckling. I make no apologies for repeating today what I have been saying for weeks: the 2019 football championship has had more memorable games and provided more entertainment than its hurling counterpart this summer.

Of course there have been mismatches in this year’s provincial series in football, but hey, if a top-rated team plays a bottom-rated outfit then one-sided games are inevitable. Imagine, for example, if Cavan’s hurlers had to play Limerick. I suggest it would be far more one-sided than any of the football matches we have seen this summer.

Comparing hurling and football matches is like comparing apples and oranges. Remember, the football series is unseeded, while only the top 12 sides compete for the Liam MacCarthy Cup. So far in the Munster hurling championship, the average winning margin in the seven games played at the time of writing has been nine points.

And in three of the games, there have been winning margins of 13, 18 and 20 points respectively.

Of the six games in Leinster, two finished level. The drawn tie between Wexford and Galway was utterly forgettable and in three of those matches the average winning margin was 10 points.

So why has football been better? For starters there have been more competitive games.

I counted 11: Meath v Offaly; Clare v Waterford; Kildare v Wicklow; Tyrone v Derry; Louth v Wexford; Cavan v Monaghan; London v Galway; Armagh v Down; the drawn game between Kildare and Longford; Armagh v Cavan and Roscommon v Mayo.

Two of those – Armagh v Down and Armagh v Cavan – went to extra-time. Meath v Offaly was Division 1 v 3, while Tyrone v Derry and Galway v London was Division 1 v Division 4. We’ve had three shock results: Limerick beating Tipperary; Cavan beating Monaghan and, arguably the biggest one of all, Roscommon accounting for Mayo.

The latter was also a top-class encounter, as were Cavan’s games against Monaghan and Armagh. Overall, it’s not a bad collection. Meanwhile, Cork’s footballers produced a devastating performance last weekend hammering Limerick 3-18 to 0-6. They hit 3-13 from play, all six forwards had scored from play before the 30th minute and they were 16 points up by the 26th minute. The big positive for them is that they are getting the balance between defence and attack better and are moving the ball faster, which allows the likes of Brian Hurley to make hay.

The thing about Cork is that they have a bit of momentum now. They won two of their last three league games and beat Carlow, Laois, Galway and Dublin on the challenge game circuit. Kerry were in a no-win situation against Clare.

In any event they produced a curate’s egg kind of performance. Their discipline was poor as they picked up one red and two black cards, none of the starting forwards scoring from play in the second-half and in total these forwards only scored 1-5.

Defensively they struggled when run at and physically they were outmuscled around the middle third. On the positive side, it was a game they never looked like losing, as they were 11 points up after 15 minutes. And James O’Donoghue looked back in form, though he picked up another injury. What will worry Kerry is how flat their performance was in the last 15 minutes. Peter Keane has a lot of work to do, which is probably a good thing. The big winners were the Munster Council. Now that there is a bit of optimism in Cork it will boost the attendance for the Munster final, which had been heading for an all-time low.

Read Pat Spillane every week in The Sunday World.

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