Tuesday 26 March 2019

Pat Spillane on how coaches are driving fans to despair, and tackles four examples of 'fake news' in gaelic football

Read Pat Spillane every week in the Sunday World

Former RTÉ Sunday Game presenter Michael Lyster, right, with panalists, from left, Colm O'Rourke, Joe Brolly and Pat Spillane
Former RTÉ Sunday Game presenter Michael Lyster, right, with panalists, from left, Colm O'Rourke, Joe Brolly and Pat Spillane

Pat Spillane

JUST as one swallow doesn’t make a summer, one great football match won’t save a sport.

On the same weekend as Kerry and Dublin treated us to an exhibition of Gaelic football, elsewhere we were forced to endure all the worst excesses of the modern game.

Between them Fermanagh and Kildare managed a paltry 14 points, with the Leinster side scoring only one point from play.

The league tie between last year’s beaten All-Ireland semi-finalists, Galway and Monaghan, was a borefest. It was Team Caution v Team Conservative.

Despite playing with the aid of a strong wind in the first-half Galway brought everybody behind the ball and after 27 minutes had scored one point.

Meanwhile, Roscommon parked the bus in the second-half in order to protect a six-point interval lead against Tyrone. They scored once after the break and ended up dropping a crucial home league point.

Finally, how can anybody rationalise what the Cork footballers are at?

At face value they appear to want to play a defensive game, so despite having the aid of a strong breeze their forwards scored one point from play against Clare in the first-half.

Meanwhile, their defence conceded two goals in the opening two minutes and overall let in 3-13 – even though the Clare attack would hardly be the most threatening in the world.

I’m afraid negativity still stalks county football.

What the clash in Tralee did illustrate is that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the game, provided the competing teams set out to be positive in their pursuit of victory.

As I have repeatedly written, it is not the players, it is not the rules and it is most definitely not the pundits who are responsible for the malaise that afflicts gaelic football.

No, it is the managers and coaches who persist with their caveman-like tactics which centre around stopping the opposition from playing.

This begs an important question: do managers/coaches have a duty to protect and promote the game?

I accept it’s a results-based business, but at the moment too many managers are destroying the game with their tactics.

Once upon a time the country’s small farmers were regarded as food producers; now they’re seen as custodians of the countryside, preserving it for future generations. We need a similar change of mindset from team managers.

It was refreshing to hear Tipperary boss Liam Kearns saying that managers have a responsibility to send a team out to entertain.

The bottom line is that if games are not entertaining there will be no crowds.

Everybody in Austin Stack Park last weekend was definitely entertained. I left the ground positively energised, not necessarily because Kerry beat Dublin, but because I had just witnessed one of the best league games I had seen for years.

I have never seen such passion, intensity or fitness levels in a GAA match in February before.

This was a real contest made possible by the willingness of the two teams to go toe-to-toe with each other.

Players had to win their individual battles and we didn’t see any sight of either a blanket defence or mind-numbingly lateral hand-passing movements.

We also witnessed two super goals from Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan and Paul Mannion.

So hats off to Peter Keane and Jim Gavin for allowing the players to express themselves. The occasion restored my belief that Gaelic football can be a great game.

Of course, the hot topic after the Tralee game was whether it would have any impact on Dublin’s bid for the five-in-a-row.

The first salient point is that Dublin are back training for just four weeks, whereas Kerry have about four months’ work under their belts.

Still, it is the first time during Gavin’s reign that I noticed that the Dublin players looked out of shape physically.

Kevin McManamon and Paddy Andrews have a bit of work to do on the training ground over the next few weeks.

Still,I was impressed by how Dublin reacted when they were down to 14 men and trailing by four points in the final quarter.

They upped the pace and reeled off four rapid-fire points to level the contest and could easily have secured at least a share of the spoils.

Next Saturday night’s clash in Croke Park against Mayo is hugely significant for a variety of reasons.

Under Gavin, Dublin have never lost three of their first four league games and another loss would mean they would miss out on this year’s league final.

Kerry’s game plan last weekend was loosely based on how Mayo played when they ran Dublin so close in the 2016 and 2017 All-Ireland finals, with one subtle difference – Kerry also man-marked Brian Fenton.

There is no point in trying to set up defensively against Dublin – the only joy Tyrone experienced against them in the 2018 All-Ireland final was when they went on the offensive in the first 20 minutes.

Next weekend Mayo will go man-for-man and will almost certainly target the full-back line, which is turning into their Achilles heel.

Kerry profited to the tune of 1-3 in the first half from bombarding this line - 1-1 came directly and the other scores came via a free and a 45.

For the first time since the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final loss to Donegal, I detected signs of panic in the Dublin management.

James McCarthy had been driving forward, scoring 0-3 from play, when he was suddenly switched to full-back when Tommy Walsh was introduced.

Mayo have a woeful record against Dublin in the league, particularly in Croke Park. Against that, this is the first time since 2011 that they have done a proper pre-season.

In previous years they would be late back training because of their involvement in the latter stages of the All-Ireland series.

While Key figures like Cillian O'Connor and Chris Barrett are missing.

I like the look of the young players - such as Fionn McDonagh, Ciaran Treacy and Brian Reape - that James Horan has introduced.

A Mayo victory would give the other contenders a ray of hope and they would start believing that Dublin's five-in-a-row is not a foregone conclusion.

This is an important moment, as well, for the Dublin fans that have been deserting the team in their thousands in recent years.

This game deserves an audience of at least 40,000.

It's almost unthinkable that Dublin would lose again. I expect they will prevail in another high-quality encounter.

Fake News in Gaelic Football

ONE of my New Year resolutions is to challenge the narrative surrounding Gaelic football.

There is so much fake news around that it is difficult to know where to start. But let’s try.

Myth Number 1: Joe Brolly, Colm O’Rourke and yours truly are responsible for all the negatives vibes surrounding Gaelic football.

We are merely reflecting the views of the vast majority of gaelic football followers, who are deserting the game in their thousands.

Figures in the GAA’s 2018 annual report revealed that although there were six extra games in the football series, gate receipts fell by €4.8m. Overall attendances dropped by 18 per cent, while the average attendance fell by a third from 19,049 to 13,225.

Myth Number 2: The game is evolving, but the RTE pundits remain stuck in a time warp.

Of course, the game has evolved, though I’m not sure for the better. Essentially the fundamentals remain the same: without the ball everybody becomes a defender; with the ball everybody is expected to attack.

Myth Number 3: We keep telling viewers that games were better in the past. We don’t; In fact, I have repeatedly said that there were more bad games in the past. However, given the level of investment in inter-county football and the involvement of so many highly paid experts, I think it

is reasonable to ask why the standard is not better than it was 20 years ago.

Myth Number 4: The analysis of Gaelic football on Sky is better.

Maybe so – at best this is a subjective topic – but if the analysis is so good on Sky, how come when the same game is shown simultaneously on the two stations, the vast majority of TV viewers tune in to the RTE coverage.

I’m a proud GAA man and Gaelic football is in my blood.

Frankly, I’ve felt compromised watching matches in recent years.

This is the dilemma I face: do I attempt to make a silk purse out a sow’s ear by bamboozling the viewers with graphics and diagrams or just call it as I see it.

I take no pleasure out of criticising Gaelic football, but I don’t believe television viewers or readers of this column want to be codded.

Honest, evidence-based opinions are best in the long run – even if the truth hurts and provides more fuel for the anonymous keyboard warriors.

The GAA hierarchy believes that pundits should behave like card-carrying members of the Communist party by toeing the line and simply singing from the party hymn sheet.

I have never subscribed to that view and I never will.

What you will get from me is honesty.

And I will continue to challenge the narrative even if it upsets the GAA.

Online Editors

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