Sometimes it is as simple as it looks. Gaelic football, like everything in life, constantly changing. Evolution, though, often means things have been known to end up back where they once were. Now read on…
If you were to look at footage if the Dublin-Kerry games from the 1970s – lauded as the old game at its zenith – the pre-emenant methodology of the time was to handpass the ball ad naseum. A style brought back into vogue by the likes of Tyrone and Donegal a decade or so ago.
In between the two time periods mentioned thus far came what to my mind was the purist and greatest era in the game’s long history. Comprising great Meath, Dublin and Cork teams and, in their wake, a plethora thereof from Ulster. Playing football as it should be – high fielding, long kicking and a thundering manliness that would make today’s slick shots wince or need a washing machine!
Thankfully for those of us beholden to such simplicity, things appear to be going full circle yet again. Long ball, Route One football is back ‘In’ again. To the extent that those to whom mere mention of such things would be stone wall blasphemy have joined those of us long condemned as the ‘Dark Side’. Look no further than Kerry and Kildare. Once bastions of the handpass, their stories interwoven by Messrs O’Dwyer and O’Connor. The former being the author of the proclamation of the handpass while the latter – on the evidence of yesterday’s convincing win over Meath – has propogated something of a revolution on the planes of Kildare.
Simply by eliminating the pedantic procrastination which is an unavoidable consequence of long-winded passing moves. Opting instead for the deployment of the versatile Kevin Feely on the edge of the Meath square and thereafter festooning the towering figure with ammunition.
At no stage did it appear the Meath rearguard were coming to terms with the bamboozling influence of the languid Athy star. Albeit in genuine mitigation, having lost the two spiritual leaders of the team, Donal Keoghan and Bryan Menton along the way. Were those war wounds singularly fatal? No, but, with the possible exception of Dublin – and even they are human – take down two of the recognised pillars in any structure and it will wobble.
However, even that wouldn’t explain how flat the visitors were off the pace. At times it resembled sending a heavy ground, three mile chaser, out to try and win the Epsom Derby. For me, though, most disappointing aspect was the manner in which, to borrow a modicum of rugby parlance, Meath fell off far too many tackles too easily. Enabling a Kildare team which – with due respect – is not in a dissimilar position status-wise in the game as a whole, look eons ahead.
Granted, the eventually vanquished did improve in the second period – it would be impossible not to have done so – but any mitigation must be judged against the reality that Kildare were a man down for an elongated period of time and had also lost tallisman Feely through injury. That’s without mention of the basic errors which will be jumped all over by the better teams.
Cynics will doubtless answer in the negative to the following, but then, what would one expect from a pig but a grunt, is there any positivity to be derived, from Sunday, or the league campaign in totality? You may be talking in slivers rather than slices and this corner’s need to accentuate the positive may be, at this moment in time, greater than ever before, but, yes, there were morsels of hope which can be nurtured and developed.
Perhaps best to get the ugly business out of the way first. Kick outs remain an area of concern, especially given the current unavailability of first choice midfielders Bryan Menton and Ronan Jones, but, the further development of the likes of Cathal Hickey, Fionn Reilly, Eoin Harkin, Mathew Costello and the return of Padraic Harnan do offer hope but being coldly analytical, there will be massive improvement required if the summer journey is to have any longevity to it. We can but hope.