Mountains to mourn as clever Royals show up Down flaws
As I wrote before the start of the National Football League, I intended taking a special interest in Division 2 of the competition this year because there were a lot of local derbies included in this group of eight teams. As I predicted, there will be no clear-cut winner of the two promotion spots for admission to Division 1 until the last rounds of the competition.
And as we head into the closing round that is exactly the position and while Down and Roscommon have a slight theoretical advantage nothing is certain because of the many surprising results so far.
Of these the splendid victory on Saturday night by Meath over Down in Newry by 2-11 to 0-10 stands out as the most critical result to date in this division. It had been assumed prior to Saturday's game that Down would wrap up promotion there and then but I wonder why?
Was it just the simple fact that Down's reputation in football still colours public opinion even though they have done very little in the past 10 years to justify that high standing?
Somehow many people believe that when Down win a few games in succession they are suddenly world-beaters and that is because GAA people have long memories going back to when Down had really good players and good teams almost all the time. But like many another great county from the past, those days are no longer valid and looking at the Down team performing in their own Esler Park in Newry it was hard to see what all the recent optimism was about.
Quite frankly, Down were atrocious in this game although it must be said that Meath raised their game better than on any other occasion this year and showed a lot of the old fighting spirit so beloved of Meath people.
But it was hard to believe Down forwards failed to score from the easiest of chances including several frees inside 30 metres. And there was hardly one outstanding player in this Down team, rather a team of brave sloggers who never gave up but failed dismally in the fundamental art of scoring.
We have to admit that the conditions were atrocious in Newry with driving wind-swept rain throughout the game but the pitch itself looked in fine condition. The weather, of course, was the same for both teams and there is no reason to believe that Meath are happier playing under those conditions than Down.
It was the recall of several marquee players before and during the game that changed the performance for Meath so much from their very ordinary showing against Roscommon six days earlier.
Shane O'Rourke was there from the start this time and his superb point in the 21st minute was a reminder to Meath people of the class that was missing in their attack for so long.
Brian Menton too was back in business on a night that cried out for big strong men and with a goal and two points to his credit he could have a huge bearing on Meath's battle for promotion in their final game against Cavan in Navan.
There was a bit of football cuteness too in how Meath played shown by they fisting over of points at the finish from another sub Joey Wallace and Padraic Harnan. This was the correct thing to do but was in marked contrast to the pathetic attempts by several Down forwards in both halves to convert several periods of superiority by bad kicking from easy positions.
In an astonishing statistic, Down went 22 minutes of the first half without scoring and their first from play only came in the 33rd minute. That level of scoring must have former Down forwards disgusted.
Down may still get promotion with only one game to play, at home to Laois, but interestingly their two league defeats against Roscommon and Meath have both been in Newry.
This was a very important result for Meath manager Mick O'Dowd and his backroom team. It puts them in with a shout for promotion; they play Cavan next week, but also shows that there is still a bit of mental steel in the team and subs.
They actually created far more scoring opportunities than their final scoreline indicates and with a bit more composure they could have added another half dozen points at least. The subs they used were vital in deciding this game indicating a strong panel, at least at this level.
This was of course Division 2 football and neither county are so naive as to believe they are serious All-Ireland contenders based on recent games. For Down in particular, this result is a danger signal that even their place in Ulster terms is far from secure.
Time to stop knee-jerk reaction to cruciate curse
So those cruciate injuries keep coming week in, week out with Offaly player Páraic Sullivan being the latest victim of a problem which usually takes at least one year off a player's football life.
The regularity of these cruciates is astonishing considering that up to less than 20 years ago we never heard of such a thing.
The GAA is awash with medical experts specialising in sports injuries right now; we never had to many qualified physiotherapists on duty at matches or training sessions and as for highly paid 'fitness experts' with degrees and diplomas to beat the band, sure you could hardly turn a corner without meeting one. So why have we so many cruciate ligament injuries?
I have yet to hear a reasonable explanation from the hundreds of 'experts' in this field to explain it and some very prominent team doctors around the country seem very reluctant either to offer an opinion or suggest preventative measures.
It seems to me that recent developments in the manner of fitness training techniques has to be suspect number one in these cases, but silence all round seems to be the motto on this matter in GAA circles.
Time for some serious, urgent research, I reckon.