Cork players run onto the pitch on Leeside yesterday. Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
1. Welcome home, mate
Remember when it was in fashion a few years back for newspapers to get all hot and bothered about the exodus of Irish players to Australian Rules football. They made out that our games were not only being ruined but that the world might actually come to an end if the trend wasn’t stopped.
We never saw it as a problem as so few made it and the experience for any teenager was something they’d carry with them forever. But not only has it not ruined Gaelic football, right now it is adding to it. On Sunday, yet again we had Michael Quinn and Brendan Murphy taking their counties by the scruff of the neck and dragging them into a place where they can be competitive.
Of course it’s not a one-man game but we don’t think Longford or Carlow would be in this place without those guys and all they learned from professional sport. Even Kevin Dyas looked good for Armagh in spells.
After getting an experience they’ll never forget down under, these players are now giving everyone back home an experience to remember as well.
2. Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter most
When people get carried away with Champions League-style formats and a way to make the championship more marketable, they often think only of the top teams and forget about the little guy.
Yes, the provincial championships may not matter a whole lot to Dublin and Cork and Kerry, other than as a way of streamlining their season and building up a little bit of momentum and confidence. But what about the rest? The provincial championships give teams something tangible to win and something rewarding to aim for.
For Sligo, a Connacht title would make their season. For Clare, just being in a Munster final has made their season. For Wexford, getting a chance to reach a Leinster final is making their season. For Carlow, just still being in Leinster after one game is making their season. So say what you want about championship formats, but remember that the summer is about these teams as much as it is about the very best.
3. It’s all downhill from here
We’ve written off Kerry before in 2009 and were proven to be completely wrong so you’d think we’d know better than to do it again. But anyway, if the sign of intelligence is to learn from your mistakes, then we are struggling on that front because Sunday’s Munster semi-final was the end of an era in the county.
In many ways it was like the 1987 clash with Cork, where they were beaten and their great rivals cast a shadow over them for some years after. That is now happening again as Kerry go into transition at a time when Cork are at their finest. Sure, these things are all relative, and we aren’t saying Kerry will be bundled out of the qualifiers, indeed they may still be the third best team in the country.
But they won’t win the All Ireland and all of a sudden they are now at a level where Mayo, Kildare, Tyrone and Donegal would fancy their chances. There’s no shame in that as a county cannot be consistently great and even Kerry have to go through phases where they are merely good. But 2009 you say again? Well there is no Darragh, Tommy Walsh, Tadhg Kennelly or Tom O’Sullivan and there’s no form from Declan O’Sullivan, Kieran Donaghy or Paul Galvin this time around.
4. There’s nothing like good neighbours
Remember a time when Tyrone and Armagh, despite all their talent, knocked lumps out of each other. Maybe it was the pressure because that game so often decided the All-Ireland and the 2005 Ulster final in particular was a bloodbath. However, so many of those famous faces have now exited the stage and what we got yesterday was a game full of passion and skill, pace and power, but we also got a game that was clean. Indeed the first 20 minutes at the Athletic Grounds provided the best football we’ve seen all year and it’ll be hard beaten. The past matters so much in a rivalry of this nature, especially after what’s gone on in recent years, but it’s refreshing that a new generation of players can leave all that baggage on the sideline and play football the way it is meant to be played.
5. Out of sight, out of mind
On Saturday, I spent the day with the Fermanagh hurlers from breakfast in an airport hotel through to Croke Park for the Meagher Cup final. They lost to Tyrone by a point after extra-time but so much about the day was eye-opening. The skill level was remarkably high but the dressing room was the most revealing and it showed that the game mattered to those players as much as anyone else who gets to play in Croke Park, even at the highest level. The problem is though that the lower hurling competitions have been run off by the GAA as if they are little more than a nuisance, the finals weren’t televised and none of the games through the Ring, Rackard and Meagher Cups were played before big hurling games, meaning the players never got appreciation or exposure.
Indeed, tickets for the games on Saturday were €25 and the price was then defended by the association. The word disgrace is overused in modern society but…