A swarm defence and a thriller
THE emergence of the county players relatively unscathed from the white heat of Sunday’s championships will have eased the anxiety of Mayo management as they prepare for that Galway date in Pearse Stadium.
In MacHale Park on Saturday evening, the intermittent mist and underfoot conditions were injury hazards during the meeting of Castlebar Mitchels and Ballaghaderreen. And while Danny Kirby took a blow to the face which forced him to retire at the break, his county colleagues Barry Moran, Tom Cunniffe, Neil Douglas and Andy Moran suffered no apparent setback. Kirby will have a black eye for his endeavours, but the injury is unlikely to hamper his preparations with the Mayo squad.
Castlebar will be pleased with their victory having finally negotiated a way through the swarming defence mounted by Ballagh’. Nothing they faced in the past seemed so impenetrable, and frustration flooded their faces as they walked to the dressing-room a point down at the interval.
Manager Eamonn O’Hara relied on the muscular nature of the Ballagh’ men to trouble Castlebar. It was stand-up stuff at the halfway line, straight from the Jim McGuinness stable. ‘Not an inch’ was the motto.
Little opposition was offered the Mitchels from kick-out to the halfway line. Over the halfway line the Ballagh’ resistance was stubborn and overwhelming ... and not very pleasant to watch.
Reluctant to shoot from distance, Castlebar spent most of their time moving the ball in almost every direction but forward. Sometimes they sallied up the wings, but were forced into unproductive corners. Sometimes their defensive concentration dropped and Ballagh’ gained ground.
Having wrestled with the problem at the break, Castlebar put Barry Moran to full-forward and let the ball into him ... and it worked. They also attacked in force and took heavy hits that drew fouls from the packed defence, which Aidan Walsh punished from frees.
Ballagh’ failed to score in the second half and their experiment failed because they were not fast enough to profit from the breaks.
In Bangor on Sunday, we were witness to a classic. It had us on our toes from start to finish, a pulsating hour or more of fervent endeavour, hard, open football, hell-for-leather stuff with a suitably dramatic conclusion.
Kiltane won it with a goal well into injury time, just as Jarlath Jennings’ Shrule/Glencorrib side were about to rejoice in a famous victory, a fate to which Kiltane themselves are no strangers.
This one they seemed to have lost too, until Ultan Corrigan stabbed the ball into the net, a reward for their persistence when all seemed lost. In the knife-edge seconds that followed, you would forgive the flare-up when Kiltane ensured that man of the match Mark Ronaldson would not endanger their narrow lead. It resulted in the dismissal of the home side’s Jason Healy and Shrule/Glencorrib’s James O’Dowd.
Ronaldson, who took some heavy hits, played like a man inspired. He scored eight points, two from frees. He was the dominant figure throughout the game – his speed, his inventiveness, and his accuracy were quite astonishing.
There will be disappointment in Shrule though that his singular effort was so near to wringing out a victory, and yet so far ... spoiled by Ultan Corrigan, who got the winning goal and was Kiltane’s best forward.
Ronan Walsh confined Mikie Sweeney to a single point, and the exchanges between Kiltane’s midfielders Jason Healy and John Reilly and the visitors’ David Geraghty and Adrian Moran were also fascinating.
The loss of Geraghty to two yellow-card offences ten minutes before the end was a blow to the visitors’ hopes, but Kiltane boss Martin Barrett will heap praise on his depleted side for squeezing out a win that looked beyond them as normal time ticked over.
Linesmen can help detect sledging in the GAA
SLEDGING. A new word added to the GAA lexicon for an old insidious indiscretion. I would have thought sledging a more appropriate term for the fisted efforts made by players to dispossess opponents.
But in addition to other definitions, it is a term also used in cricket for baiting a batsman by upsetting his concentration. In GAA parlance it will soon be in common use.
The word is topical following the disclosure by Tyrone’s Seán Cavanagh of the extent to which some opponents will stoop to upset the concentration of their opposite numbers.
When the ball is not won – even in an aggressively physical tackle – the offender will take to personal verbal insults about the family or friends of his opponent ... any hurtful slur that will disrupt his concentration.
It’s a cowardly but virulent weapon in football, and it is neither new nor confined to inter-county games. At club level county players fall victim to verbal abuse of that nature in varying degrees of toxicity, and sometimes in open physical retaliation are caught and punished when in fact they are the victims.
Cavanagh, who admitted the problem was widespread, said he laughed whenever someone shouted that he was going to miss a free or some other similar shot.
“But whenever it gets deeper down into family history, girlfriends and wives, it gets a bit malicious at that stage.”
Some players are immune to conduct of that nature, clearly aware that the player who employs such irresponsible behaviour has himself lost concentration on the play, and also the battle for possession.
Younger players, however, and perhaps the more sensitive of them, might find it difficult to cope mentally with such conduct.
Donegal minor manager Declan Bonner has accused a Tyrone player of vicious verbal abuse against a member of his team in their championship battle which preceded the senior game between the same two counties, an allegation that has been refuted.
Some county managers have denied ever advising their players to engage in such behaviour, which would seem to suggest it is characteristic only of a certain calibre of individual.
But it is a growing problem. It has occurred in this county in the past, and it is to be hoped that no club manager would advise his players to partake in such reprehensible tactics.
In prescribing a black-card sanction, the powers-that-be have recognised the seriousness of the offence, but the surreptitious nature of the abuse poses difficulties for referees in detecting culprits. Unless the officials hear the words uttered, they are powerless to take action.
Former referee Pat McEneaney is on record as detecting in an inter-county game a player verbally assaulting an opponent. Although he had not heard what was said, McEneaney issued a yellow card ... under heated protest from the offender.
“What did I say?” asked the culprit.
“It was nothing reverential,” or words to that effect, replied McEneaney.
The warning had the desired effect, but who else would have the courage to take similar action?
Linesmen are better placed than referees to detect breaches of that nature, and they need to act before sledging becomes an ugly, irrepressible feature of our games.