Tuesday 22 October 2019

Tomás Ó Sé: 'Does anybody outside Dublin have that kind of mad defiance packed deep enough into their squad?'

GAA is also its own worst enemy when it comes to issues with Sky, funding and tiered championship

Bernard Brogan is possibly the greatest emblem
of this Dublin side’s determination to succeed. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan is possibly the greatest emblem of this Dublin side’s determination to succeed. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Tomás O Se

If there's a single Dublin face that should be lasered onto the back of their opponents' eyelids now with winter closing in, Bernard Brogan's would be my choice.

I've been thinking a lot about Brogan this last week and the manic energy that got him into Dublin's match-day squad for the All-Ireland final replay. Where in God's name did that come from?

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A man with six All-Ireland titles and four All-Stars, digging so deep to earn what he himself admitted was just a seat on the bus. Brogan will be 36 next April, but his body shape doesn't betray a single ounce of surplus flesh.

And just think of the hurt he had to endure this summer at, essentially, losing that seat on the bus when Jim Gavin brought Diarmuid Connolly back in from the cold. Brogan watched the drawn final from the stand and, on his own admission, used that experience as motivation.

For what?


To make their match-day 26 for the replay. Nothing more, nothing less. Brogan didn't play, didn't even look like playing but, my God, it clearly meant something big to him just to be handed a jersey. Think about that. This is Bernard Brogan we're talking about, one of the greatest forwards of the modern age.

And success for him this year was just to make a match-day squad. The desire to be still relevant in that extraordinary group tells us all we need to know about Dublin and their enduring hunger today. The pressure of the five-in-a-row has been lifted off their shoulders. They're in another stratosphere now and I get the impression they're determined to keep writing their own history from here.

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Brogan is maybe the greatest emblem of that. I heard him talking about their last trial game before the replay and how he kicked four points from play in the first ten minutes. He sounded a man possessed.

Listening, I couldn't help ask myself if Kerry have that kind of mad defiance packed deep enough into their squad. Does anybody outside Dublin?

So the rest of football has a job on its hands to close the gap to Gavin's boys. All that said, I thought it was a terrific championship this year, particularly at the business end.

People probably have boredom fatigue at this stage listening to arguments about the need for a two-tier championship. I certainly have.

The truth is I can see both sides of the argument. I'd certainly be wary that we'd end up in a situation where those in the second tier were left to feel as if they were operating in some kind of twilight zone. Invisible and forgotten.

But there's zero logic in continuing with what have become institutional whippings. The Leinster Championship by another name. It's a dead duck, pointless, out of date.

But let me make this point. I detect an awful sense of resignation in a lot of counties when the energy of self-help is what's required. You can't always be looking for a leg-up from the outside. A two-tier or even three-tier championship won't resolve the issue of crippling stasis in some counties.

Only the will to change can do that.

We all want, largely, the same thing I believe. That is consistently competitive games, the outcome of which is routinely hard to predict. In other words, an authentic championship.

My gut instinct is that when the GAA pushes something strongly it tends to get the required backing in Congress. So I'd say we're headed towards two tiers. If so, I just hope we give it time before drawing too many sweeping conclusions.

Because, sometimes, it seems to me that we're snared in a culture of endless complaining within the GAA. Yes, write it down, I'm 100 per cent a part of that culture. Like I've always been sceptical about the GAA's deal with Sky Sports - for example - and how it sits with the amateur ethos. Was it really necessary?

Then I heard Jarlath Burns on Newstalk when driving down from Dublin on Wednesday and he pretty much explained that these were games, essentially, that RTÉ weren't in a position to buy. So the GAA had a choice. They could get nothing for those games or they could sell them to a willing bidder.

The way Jarlath described it, it was a no-brainer. Accept Sky's money and put it back into the Association.

Sometimes I think the GAA's biggest enemy is itself. Too often, its reluctance to explain these things in calm, measured terms curses it to be misunderstood.

Like, personally, I think it's handled the arguments about over-investing in Dublin poorly. To my mind, it should actually be using the Dublin model as an example to be mirrored in every other county. In other words, they should aspire to a situation in which every club in the country has regular access to a games development officer.

We're never going to have a perfect GAA. God knows, if we had, I'd say we'd start complaining that it was boring.

Last week's story from Mayo brought it home big-time to me how the Association today almost exists as two parallel worlds. One is the amateur side of committees and voluntary county board officers. The other is the world of finance, demanding strict adherence to corporate-level governance.

When you think about it, it's surely inevitable that one will struggle to be compatible with the other.

If the UK-based trader, Tim O'Leary, was pouring the sums reported into Mayo GAA, did it not honestly stand to reason that he'd be looking for proper business plans and absolutely coherent planning?

The genie is already out of the bottle as far as soaring inter-county training costs are concerned, so the focus needs to be on having properly qualified people overseeing that spending in every county. Because we're seeing a conflict being repeated here of amateur boards, essentially, swimming out of their depth.

Like I very much doubt Liam Sheedy would have returned as Tipperary hurling manager without knowing he was going to have the support of a wealthy company like Teneo, run by his old Portroe buddy, Declan Kelly. Tipp would have wanted for nothing this year under Sheedy, but it wasn't the county board that was the key to this.

It was the company name on the players' chests.

Anyway, Leinster aside, the football championship was more than decent. Ulster and Connacht proved extremely competitive and one of the best stories of the year for me was Cork rediscovering some self-respect in Munster.

On top of that, they won both the minor and U-20 All-Irelands too. The Rebels are stirring again and football needs them to.

I expect to see them in the Super 8s again next year and the championship will be all the better for it if they are. It seems to me that the mindset is changing in Cork. True, they've a bit to go to chase down Dublin, naturally, and even Kerry to some extent. But the more teams that commit to that chase, the better for us all.

What we're definitely seeing is the slow erosion of ultra-cautious football with defences packed tighter than a rush-hour Tube train at Piccadilly. And that's why I don't see any necessity for the introduction of a mark now. The lungs of the game are clearing again.

Blanket defence doesn't worry the serious teams anymore. And hallelujah for that!


Anyway, it's great to see the appetite for Kerry wisdom around the country right now with Jack O'Connor, Mike Quirke and Paul Galvin all taking up coaching positions outside the county.

Good luck to them. Jack's track record speaks for itself as he takes the reins in Kildare; Mike is an exciting choice for Laois and I think Galvin will bring an energy to Wexford that they've been missing. After that? It's up to the players how much they choose to buy into him.

The game needs big personalities and Galvin is truly one of them. In a county so in thrall right now to their hurlers and Davy Fitzgerald, I think it's a really smart move.

Anyway, it's that time of year again and with apologies in advance to those overlooked, particularly those on the wrong side of marginal calls - like Donal Keogan (Meath), Michael Murphy (Donegal), Tadhg Morley (Kerry), and Ciarán Kilkenny (Dublin) - I'll sign off with my All-Stars for 2019 (above).

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