How often has it been mentioned here previously that there are good footballers and hurlers in every county in Ireland. But that some of them never get the exposure or praise their talents merit. Simply because of the jersey on their backs.
Let’s take hurling for a minute. If Jack Fagan hadn’t transferred from Meath to Waterford, how many around the country would have heard of or seen this skilful and gifted hurler? How many know of his wonderfully talented former colleague Jack Regan? Did you ever hear of Armagh’s Mattie Lennon? Oliver Collins of Derry? Or Oliver McShea of Fermanagh? All good hurlers plying their trade in the shade.
There is, of course, an accompanying list in football. Containing players such as Dessie Barry from Longford, Kevin Madden in Antrim, Leitrim’s Mickey Quinn and Ger Keane, former Clare footballer. That’s only a list of four. A list that could stretch from here to Quohog.
These players weren’t as well known as their talents merited. Firstly because they were being asked to compete on a playing field that was so far from level it may as well have the Mourne Mountains on the half way line. Also, though, because, for far too long, if they weren’t in the Executive Suite there appeared to be no television signal further back.
Thankfully, competition in the market and the advent of things like GAAGO and YouTube channels have sorted the latter half of that out, but unfortunately, the other elephant still hasn’t been herded out of the room. Indeed, ironically, in this strangest of years, Cavan and Tipperary may in fact be victims of their own successes.
Conservative trumpeteers will surely pipe up with a ‘Told you so’ in defence of the Provincial Championship system. Not for a moment is this a detraction of the wonderful achievements of the counties concerned. While there may be a spot in the corner of my mind wondering did this year’s circumstances play a part in the exciting turn ups which have occured, the thought isn’t revolving them being an advantage to the underdogs.
Rather, a pondering as to whether their more vaunted opponents were, consciously or not, in a bit of a security slumber. Their eyes perhaps even a millimetre off the ball. Unlikely, but possible in both cases. In Ulster more so. Donegal must surely have felt they had at least one hand on the Anglo Celt Cup when they disposed of Tyrone. Such mental conclusions are often unavoidable, no matter what psychological barriers are constructed.
Around Tralee and the likes, they had, albeit in an unusual manner, won the league and, I’m sure, been bombarded by tales of Cork football in flux. Though that wasn’t exactly accurate either given that Ronan McCarthy’s charges had attained promotion from Div. 3 and the county had won All Irelands at both Minor and U-20 last year. If anything, Kerry’s failure to make any hay at the latter grade following five good crops of Minors on the spin should be a bigger talking point.
Cavan, on the other hand, are seeing the benefit of what were a few bountiful harvests at underage level. And there may be even greater yields yet to accrue. Which, when thinking about other teams, is interesting considering that Mickey Graham’s crew were actually relegated from Div. 1 of the league last year. That doesn’t have to be such a big deal. The experience of dining at the top table will stand to any team, and being at a level where they can start winning games again will never do anybody any harm.
During the television coverage, before the match started, Colm O’Rourke threw in a few wisecracks in gentle fun before sincerely, and rightly, paying tribute to Cavan people for their loyalty and dedication to their teams. Something I had first hand in the lead up to the match when my inherited niece was busy at school making blue and white headbands. Despite both her parents, grandparents and, cough, aunt being fanatical Meath fans.
In commenting on Cavan’s captivating capture of the plaudits up north, I employed the phrase ‘old fashioned’ to describe the brand of football they used in triumphing among their own. Not in any sort of derogatory fashion though. In fact, the wording was deliberately chosen as a tribute to the manner in which Mickey Graham’s men went about their business.
By utilising the novel idea of kicking the ball, would you believe that. In all of their games, use of the long ball, servicing a target man on the edge of the square and an ability to kick scores from long range were hallmarks of their wonderful odyssey through this year’s championship campaign. Indeed, we can only earnestly hope that other teams might take note and perhaps even follow suit. Sometimes simple is effective.
When the Breffni men caught the throw in and Martin Reilly cut through and clipped over a fine score it was clear that they were intent on at the very least trying to stick to their tried and trusted methods. And, even allowing for a couple of quick scoring salvos which Dublin could now patent, the underdogs were still within a handful of scores of the seemingly unbeatable, 0-07 to 0-12, at the short whistle.
Thomas Galligan was, before the game started, lauded by one of the analysts as one of the players of the championship. An understandable summation given how impactful the midfielder cum forward had been the fulcrum of everything Cavan had achieved during the season. Either winning ball to be pumped in long from midfield or being parked on the edge of the opposition square awaiting delivery of same.
All of which was made possible by the pinpoint accuracy of the kickouts dispatched by Galligan’s cousin Raymond (pictured above) between the posts. The latter named was of course formerly a forward. Thus, there was something almost fitting that it was his monstrous late free against Monaghan which kept their voyage afloat when it was nearly left at the start.
To have any chance of even competing with this Dublin side, opponents need to be winning all of their own kickouts. A tall order for any team at any time, but, against a unit with the personnel and aura of this blue and navy brigade. In fairness, Raymond Galligan’s restarts were of such quality and accuracy that his colleagues performed more than admirably in terms of winning primary possession.
Where their admirable efforts floundered, though, was the ease with which Dublin – and Brian Fenton in particular – turned over possession from them. Now, I’m not old enough to remember Brian Mullins playing, but more senior and learned observers than this one are adamant that the Raheny clubman is every bit as good, if not better, than the St Vincent’s colossus.
Fenton has, or at least had, gone an incredible number of championship games with tasting defeat in a Dublin team. Gut feeling is, mind you, that he has been, in fact, chief among the reasons for that statistic. Aerial dominance is one thing, but add to the mix that Fenton kicked five points from play and his supreme athleticism make him, as stated earlier, the lynchpin of everything this Dublin team do.
They are more than that, of course. Much more. Consider that there are only three of the team which won in 2011 still involved – Stephen Cluxton, Mick Fitzsimons and James McCarthy – in the starting 15. Right, so it’s a decade ago, but, most, if not all, other counties would simply have to have players of such longevity in order to even attempt to remain competitive.
You could write an entire thesis on Dublin’s throughput of players and the structures they have in place in order to keep the talent coming through and the success train rolling. Rather than try to obsess with them and trying to deconstruct their methods, surely it’s up to each county to get their own house in order. There will be more about that anon.
For now though, there’s little sign of the Dublin dominance juggernaut jack-knifing any time soon. Not as long as they continue to churn out players of the ilk of Robbie McDaid and Sean Bugler, to name just a couple. Admittedly, I had prior knowledge of McDaid as he was one of the stars of the Ballyboden St Enda’s side managed by Andy McEntee which won the All Ireland Club SFC, but, he could hardly have had a better audition for broader recognition than his most recent outing.
It’s a hallmark of an Andy McEntee team that half backs are not only given license but actually encouraged to push up and attack. Therefore, with absolutely no disrespect intended to the brilliant Jack McCaffrey, one could be forgiven for musing that McDaid has just slotted into the berth and nothing has changed.
Remember the modern incarnation of the ‘Flying Doc’ blazing a trail and blasting to the net an All Ireland Final? It mightn’t have been a final and it was a tap-in shot rather than a blast, but the outline of the plan is basically the same.
McDaid’s ‘major’ maintained Dublin’s incredible streak of scoring at least one goal in every championship game for the past eight years. Meaning the final verdict was distorted in a way which was cruel on Cavan.
The search for six is is sizzling. Dublin roll on. Cavan will too in their own way.