Sunday 26 May 2019

The summer of Sam all about expecting the unexpected

James O'Donoghue
James O'Donoghue

Eugene McGee

Winter Talk - the staple diet of GAA people from October until May - is finally over and we can all start speaking about the actual games of football and hurling.

Somehow GAA controversies always seem more realistic in summer time when the debates usually centre around refereeing decisions, great scores, suspensions, managers shooting their mouths off, players sworn to silence like Trappist monks, journalists desperately trying to get an informal chat with a top-class player and, of course, the hard luck stories. Where would we be without these?

The Mayo football team has more or less cornered the market for hard luck stories and there is scarcely a year when they do not produce their share. This goes back all the way to 1951 when they won their last All-Ireland and the latest version was in last year's All-Ireland semi-final and replay with Kerry.

With Dublin out of the race for Sam Maguire, it seemed as of this was to be Mayo's moment at last and few GAA people would have denied them that. But then along came Kieran Donaghy to blast Mayo's hopes in the draw and replay and all Mayo ended up with was yet another batch of hard luck stories - although they were more convincing than usual.

All-Irelands are rarely won on luck alone. In 1996 when Mayo were ahead by a point with time almost up against Meath in the final, Colm Coyle banged in a high ball in the general direction of the Mayo goal and amazingly the ball hopped in the goalmouth and, untouched, bounced over the bar to earn a replay which of course Meath won.

But that wasn't luck, rather it was poor defensive play and lack of concentration by Mayo defenders.

So, we can rest assured that luck will not be the deciding factor in the battle for Sam Maguire this year.

This is particularly true in the modern game when the best managers have been steadily eliminating the concept of chance or uncertainty in the game. Systems have taken over and individual players with even slight eccentric tendencies, such as Ciarán McDonald in the past are curtailed to fit into the team ethic.

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But the game itself will still largely take over in most of the big championship games, despite managerial controls.

Unexpected things will happen, silly mistakes will be made and the odd player will still lose the head and get sent off. These are the sort of things that attract the fans, the possibility of the unexpected.

Paul Durcan's faux-pas to gift a goal to Donaghy; Mayo's Lee Keegan getting sent off at a vital stage against Kerry; even the entire Dublin forward line practically disappearing in the second half against Donegal in the semi-final last year. Every manager involved in those sensational events was powerless to prevent them. And thank God for that!


Thoughts of these and similar events will rouse the football followers with anticipation for the next four months. Great players will play great, but some will flop on occasion and many of their fans will be heartbroken.

Players who have been largely overlooked up to now will suddenly rock the football world like James O'Donoghue (pictured) did last year with Kerry.

And not just big names or strong counties will excite us. Early-round championship games will stir the blood, even though All-Irelands are not even on their menu.

If Laois beat Carlow today and then meet Kildare in Portlaoise on June 6 you will see the real heart and soul of provincial championship football in action and the same in many other places such as Cavan and Monaghan in Breffni Park next Sunday.

Local rivalry will always ensure the championship is never completely boring and excitement or controversy often override the poor quality of the games.

Major changes in championship structures are certainly needed, but for now we can all sit back and enjoy the action as Kerry, Dublin, Mayo and Donegal battle it out for the Sam Maguire Cup with the others mere onlookers come next August.

Irish Independent

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