Monday, July 17, 2006

Snipers Not at Work – What is Missing in the GAA Media

An Spailpín’s evening digestive turned to ashes in his mouth during last night’s Sunday Game, while his cup of tea was as vinegar, mingled with gall. After desultory highlights of the Connacht Final, our host, Pat Spillane, turned to his panel of Kevin McStay and Bernard Flynn to debate the standard of contemporary Gaelic Football. Why can’t anybody score points any more?, wondered Pat. What has happened to the game that Pat has loved since he was a bye?

Kevin McStay, who must harbour some sort of ambition to become the Flavius Josephus of Mayo Gaelic Football, agreed whole heartedly with the proposition. Mayo misses were shown as examples of same old Mayo, always with the misses. Mayo are the gang that can’t shoot straight.

Cliché is king in Gaelic Football analysis. It’s considerably easier to trot out canonical clichés about always missing Mayo, grinding Armagh, and that other Team Who Must Win All-Irelands (football) or else the whole edifice of the GAA temple will come crashing down about our ears than to actually try to use the old cloigín to put lazy presumptions aside and attempt to understand just what it is that we’ve been watching.

Take Mayo’s performance in the first half of the Connacht Final as a case in point. The Sunday Game analysis tells us that this is a typical case of the same of Mayo, always with the misses. Mayo had twelve misses in the Connacht Final, as did Galway. Yet Galway analysis does not sum up as same old Galway, always with the misses, so it mustn’t be something to do with number of misses. If it is not a question of mathematics, is then a question of genetics? Is it something to do with the Mayo gene pool? If so, we can only presume that the GAA Commentariat possess, as well as unlimited football expertise, levels of insight into genetics so powerful that they could save Dr David Banner from the terrible side-effects of his infamous exposure to gamma radiation, were they so bothered, and were they not in a hurry to get the football over with to leave room for Cyril Farrell and a bit of hurling tokenism.

An Spailpín Fánach is just a barstool philosopher of course, and would not be fit to drain the slops from the slop-tray of the Spillane family’s public house, but as this is my little bit of cyberspace, why don’t I share my two cents on the Mayo misses of yesterday? Your indulgence, please, this shan’t take long.

Mayo ratched up a great big total of misses yesterday because they selected one full-forward in their full-forward line, instead of the customary three. Andy Moran is not a corner forward. Mickey Moran’s attempts to make Kieran McDonald play inside are doomed, because even if you put McDonald on the full-forward line he won’t stay there. Not even for Crossmolina, where you would think the need would be greater. But the great insight of Mickey Moran and his assistant, that man of 200 ideas, Mr Morrison, is that Ger Brady is Mayo’s 11, and as such McDonald has to be squeezed in somewhere. But McDonald, who knows a bit about football himself, and is fully aware that last orders will soon be called on his own career, could see that it just wasn’t happening for Ger Brady on Sunday, and as such, like the conscientious householder who hears a disturbance downstairs, McDanger came out to put a bit of smacht on proceedings.

To say that McDonald foraging deep and getting on every ball is the bane of Mayo football is as canonical now in GAA analysis as the tropes of dour Nordies and cute Kerrymen; An Spailpín presents McDonald in his pomp, foraging deep and hitting killer passes for forwards into space yesterday as Exhibit A in the case for the defence.

Naturally, there are consequences to this walkabout on McDonald’s part. With Andy Moran condemned to anonymity by being selected where he isn’t suited to playing, McDonald down the field on a roving commission and Conor Mortimer being a bit on the small side, there was a great empty space where a full-forward line normally operates. With nobody on the fourteen yard line, bar Conor who couldn’t field a high ball without a stepladder, any shots on goal from Mayo had to come from out the field, where it was getting crowded. And they’re harder to put over.

This changed, of course, when Kevin O’Neill was sprung from the sideline in what, in retrospect, could be the making of Mayo this year. If Kieran McDonald is a man in the autumn of his career, O’Neill is Lazarus returned from the tomb – it’s thirteen long years since O’Neill won that All-Star and he cannot but be fully aware that it’s now or never. O’Neill is a naturally scoring forward, and once he arrived he brought shape, awareness, and the invaluable experience of a wise old head to the Mayo line. Mayo had a completely different setup in the second half, and it would not be a bit surprising were Mayo to start the six forwards the next day against either Laois or Offaly with the six that finished yesterday in Castlebar.

All of which is a level of detail that is utterly beyond our friends in the Sunday Game panel. Being a Mayoman, McStay should have been able to point this out. Instead, he went nodding along with the Spillane analysis, that nothing is as good as it was in Pat’s day. In fact, being a Mayoman, McStay should have countered Pat’s attack on the Mayo forwards by postulating a theory that if you wanted to look at a team that had scoring problems, maybe you could pick on a team that took off five of their six starting forwards, a move so shocking and unusual that you wouldn’t even see it at schools level. Anybody have any idea in what sort of strange Kingdom you might see that carry-on? No? Ah well. Another mystery.

Didn’t Luke Dempsey cut a forlorn figure in that pitchside interview with the worryingly ubiquitous Ciarán Mullooley after Longford’s triumphant victory over Derry? Dempsey wondered why Longford were getting no respect, as well he might. And what about Fermanagh? Being in the last twelve of the All-Ireland series for the second time in three years is no small achievement for one of only (I think) three counties that has yet to win a Provincial title, yet this Fermanagh team is as anonymous as Luke Dempsey’s Longford. And the reason they’re anonymous is because a slothful media are in clear dereliction of duty in printing the usual guff about the Big Three instead of getting off their bottoms and going out into the world to find out what’s going on. Not that the declining powers of the Big Three are any cause of concern to the same Commentariat, now that their all-time darlings are back in the Blue Big-Time. Longford and Fermanagh have to continue to plough their lonely furrow, unnoticed by the rest of the country. And it’s a crying shame.

An Spailpín is glad Mayo are Connacht Champions once more, but he is under no illusions about the rocky and unforgiving terrain ahead. Nor does he plan to burn the docket where he backed Galway for Sam at 14/1 earlier in the year either. Missing Paul Clancy and Derek Savage, as well as losing Seán Armstrong during the game, would cripple any team, but the one thing Peter Ford will not countenance is the strange lack of desire shown by Galway yesterday. Ford will break many a rod over soft Galway backs on the harsh terrain of West Galway in restoring that desire, and, should Galway get by Westmeath in the qualifiers, maybe they might just manage to keep the ball kicked out to Big Blue in a quarter-final. But don’t expect to read it in the papers, hear it on the radio or see it on the telly. Least of all on the telly, if the unspeakable horrors of Park Live are anything to go by. But that is for another day. Now, An Spailpín must depart, to compose a letter to who-ever wrote this morning’s match report in the Irish Independent, putting him or her right in his or her confusion over what happened Mayo in 2002 with what happened Mayo in 2003. Must try harder, dear heart; must try harder.

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