Fear of the unknown without foundation

Fear of the unknown without foundation

Somewhere recently, Meath’s defeat of Donegal in the NFL quarter final of 1990 came up in conversation. Brian McEniff’s men had been kicking our lads around Breffni Park – in more ways than one – all day before two late goals from David Beggy set the Royals on a collision course with arch nemesis of the time, Cork.

In the humble estimation of this observer, that year’s incarnation the secondary competition was of a particularly high standard. A view obviously helped by the fact Meath ended up winning it.

More than that, though, it was the season in which what were very progressive rule changes for the time were trialled. Free kicks and kick outs were taken from the hand, as were line balls. Allied to that, matches were played over four quarters.

The only stipulation of note not experimented with which, thankfully, was eventually adopted was The Mark. Moral of the story being that the fear of change that so often holds the GAA back is (a) unfounded and (b) eventually overcome.

Whether it was The Mark or red and yellow cards or the Qualifiers, scepticism and abhorrance towards it eventually dissipates and the proposals are seen and accepted for the good they by and large bring.

To that end, it has been pleasantly surprising to note the mostly positive response thus far to the Tailteann Cup. Most importantly from the players and those involved with the county teams.

Now, there are those – including some not far away who were formerly in GAA administration – who continue to cling to the admittedly noble notion that the club scene is higher on the totem poll than county fare.

At local level, absolutely. Clubs and the people in them are the heartbeat of communities up and down the country and indeed overseas. However, be under no illusion, teams being vibrant and competitive at county level is what generates the financials which then filter down to the clubs allowing them to keep rolling.

Pat Spillane Jnr is blossoming with Sligo

The key to all of the above, mind you, is having teams at a level where they can actually compete and prosper. However, equally as important is for teams to accept where they are in the grand scheme of things rather than where they think they are.

Once they have bought into it, the naysayers have the choice to either put up or shut up. It’s here and it’s to stay and if anyone had any remaining doubts about the new Cup, the exhibitions of football produced by the four teams in last weekend’s semi finals at Croke Park should need no further convincing.

Add to that the fact the nearly 16,700 patrons paid in and had the old field awash with colour and things should explain themselves. Right, so knockers will immediately point out how much short of Croker’s limit that figure is.

But the fact is that the figure was well above what the doom mongers were predicting. By their estimations, there should have only been numbers commensurate to what attended the late, lamented Railway Cup before it was sadly culled. Anyway, those of us that did see the action, either in person or on television, couldn’t but have been impressed by what transpired.

Two absolutely wonderful games of football, but, in a way, what was most important and encouraging was to see the manner in which counties – and by extension their supporters – bought into the concept. Undoubtedly the greatest boon from the competition – and this is only from a spectating perspective – has been the realisation that pitting teams of equal merit against each other is the way to proceed.

So to the football itself. Tony McEntee and his players must still be trying to decipher how exactly they didn’t win it. I have never seen a team hit the posts and/or crossbar with so many gilt edged goal chances as did the men from the Yeats County.

Cavan, on the other hand, raced into a 0-06 to 0-00 lead and, even though a Paddy O’Connor penalty and some fine play by Pat Spillane did allow the Connacht outft to get a foothold in the game.

For all that, impressive scores from their fulcrum Gearoid McKiernan and Gerard Smith sent Mickey Graham’s men down the tunnel leading by 0-11 to 1-04.

Gearoid McKiernan is to Cavan now what Dermot McCabe was in a previous era.

Sligo did improve markedly in the second half, with fine scores from Pat Spillane, Sean Carribine and Paddy O’Connor left them well in the hunt as time elapsed. However, eventually their profligacy with regard to the net was ultimately their undoing.

Simply because the Breffni radar was locked on as scores flowed from Thomas Galligan, McKiernan, Gerard Smith, Paddy Lynch and Cian Madden. Thus booking themselves another Final date in Croker which is due reward for their continued progress under Mickey Graham.

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Therein they will encounter a revitalised Westmeath side who, like their forthcoming opponents, are making incrimental progress under a former player in Jack Cooney. The versatile Kinnegad man is also involved at Development Squad level in the Lake County and the fruits of same are already starting to come through.

I had seen Cooney’s crew already this season when they took on Kildare on the same ‘card’ as Meath played Dublin. And though the all whites were comfortable enough victors in the end, the fact that the eventually vanquished got through the Lily rearguard for 3-12 indicated the potential in the maroon and white forward line. Of course it also signposted the frailties in the Kildare defence, so ruthlessly exploited by the Dubs thereafter, but that’s neither here nor there.

Jack Cooney is overseeing incremental progress in Westmeath

In the interest of fairness, it should also be noted that Offaly, too, have been commendably on an upward curve under the chairmanship of Michael Duignan at Co Board level and with the considerable backing of Shane Lowry. Most notably in the progression of their Minor hurlers to the All Ireland Final and the annexation of a similar title by their U-20 footballers last term.

From the aforementioned, Jack Bryant, Lee Pearson, Dylan Hyland, Cathal Flynn and the luckless Cormac Egan have all made significant contributions thus far and will continue to for years to come. Indeed it might be difficult to estimate how big of a loss the injury-blighted young Egan was to the Faithful County.

That said, on the day in question forward power wasn’t their achilleas heal. Rather, in very similar circumstances to what did for Westmeath against Kildare. Lorcan Dolan, John Heslin, Sam McCartan, Ronan O’Toole and Luke Loughlin all scored freely and though the evergreen Niall McNamee, Anton Sullivan, Keith O’Neill and substitute Hyland did likewise for Offaly, their difficulty in containing the trio of McCartan, Heslin and Lorcan Dolan ultimately led to their midland neighbours booking the date with Cavan which their superiority throughout the contest merited.

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