LIT UP Croke Park under floodlights.
Saturday night live
IT was very much a case of lights, action and cameras in Croke Park last Saturday night. It might have been a nervous lead-up for both teams but it can hardly compare to the panic that beset our gang when the television suddenly went blank to signify non-payment of the monthly Setanta Sports sub.
I might live a full life and never again witness a public house empty so quickly. It might as well have been the Special Branch at the door and I’m certain I saw a 50-year-old man sprint down the main street of the town in search of a compliant publican. We found one in jig time and thus counted ourselves present and correct as the yellow ball was about to be thrown in.
I found a stool in the company of a few former Rossie greats and I asked if they had played with yellow balls in their day. The local wag insisted he had ‘once played with a pair of frozen blue ones on a bitter cold day in Tulsk’.
The advent of floodlit games is a godsend for the struggling local pub in these days of cigarette bans and drink-driving clampdowns. It was standing room only in this inn (okay, I know I had a stool, but you know what I mean) and the atmosphere was superb. Remember this was a match that did not feature the local favourites.
The local wag was not finished with me either. He called me over to his squad and asked if I might offer an opinion on a theory of his. On the premise that I would know about these things – sniff the trap?
He pronounced that Tyrone, trailing badly at half time, had left their best form in the dressing room because the captain and the manager had a blazing row before the throw-in. And the cause of the row? Mickey Harte wanted to play with the moon at their backs but Ryan McMenamin felt it was better to face into it.
If you watched the game courtesy of Setanta you will know that when the moon issue was sorted at the interval, Tyrone ploughed into the Dubs and turned a likely defeat into a thrilling victory. It put the icing on a superb night and an historic night. Of course the event was of greater significance than the actual two points, but it will further chip away at the Dublin confidence levels.
And a word about our own ‘Man-at-the-Mic’; our dearest sports editor was launched upon the nation and Mike Finnerty pulled off a championship-type performance. I am not sure if he has ever played with yellow balls but if you, like him, have attended all over Ireland during a harsh winter, no doubt you played with blue ones too.
THE KINGDOM COME AND ARE CONQUERED
IT WAS great to be doing a TV piece where the dominant comment on a Mayo performance was most positive. A pacy, bubbly, determined and spirited performance announced the arrival of the latest drive by a gang of Mayo men to lift big prizes.
Of course it is early days, but we occupy top position in the division by virtue of the aggregate score. This edge on the scoring chart is worth an extra league point in reality so the team must remember this if the chance of a scoring spree presents itself.
Much of the after-match comment concerned the referee and it is true he was a little over-officious and whistle-happy. But I also felt a little sympathy for him. He did get some of the yellow card calls wrong but the rules do not help him either. A relatively innocent trip or jersey pull is a cautionable offence and thus you are in immediate trouble.
And jersey-pulling by both defenders and forwards is a national phenomenon. The games are plagued by this reasonably new development. The jersey tug was always there, of course, but used mainly by a mono-paced corner man in an effort to keep the attacker within a couple of yards of him.
I felt sorry for big Donaghy but our Trevor can have little complaint as the rules gave the referee no option. But it was the ref’s lecturing and pontificating that annoyed most, and a small bit of common sense and advantage rule might have improved his performance.
But back to the Mayo boys. James Kilcullen gave it socks and I thought Liam O’Malley was mighty. Peadar Gardiner scored three from play and will do well to outdo that total this year, though he is known to score the odd goal.
BJP tried very hard and Andy Moran kept at it all through with his soft hand pass to Pat Harte an assist of some delicacy. Billy Joe has a great kick of the ball and can send it long when he has room to swing the leg. I would prefer to see him use that option rather than bringing it into contact where the turnover hurts.
The Ballina pairing of David Brady and Pat Harte ran, tackled and contested and are good players that have a contribution to make. Alan Dillon was brilliant up front: work-rate, passing and scores from play underpinned an absolutely fantastic performance. He gets the gong but O’Malley and vice-captain Gardiner were in the van with him.
It’s two precious points, and next comes Donegal, a team on the up and up. They are big and physical and rangy players and will offer a different type of problem. Yet Mayo are in good shape and every game played is another one between now and last September which will have a positive medicinal impact. Well done all round – a good start to what will be a viciously competitive national league.
The NFL Explained
A FEW e-mailers want to know how this league actually works. You will need a pencil and a blank page in front of you but here goes. When the league positions are finalised after round seven is played on April 7/8, we will be in a position to announce the make-up of the 2008 NFL. More importantly, we will also know the teams who get a single shot at the championship in 2007.
Presently we have four divisions (1A, 1B, 2A and 2B with eight teams in each) and this will morph into four divisions (1, 2, 3 and 4), again with eight teams. Who will make up the new divisions?
The top four in 1A and 1B go into the new Division 1 – simple as that. The new Division 2 will be populated by teams five and six from 1A and 1B and will be joined there by teams one and two from 2A and 2B – easy enough there too.
Here comes the twist: teams seven and eight from 1A and 1B go to Division 3. Teams three and four from 2A and 2B head there too.
Finally, the bottom four teams (teams five, six, seven and eight) from 2A and 2B form the dreaded Division 4. If they lose a championship game this year (2007) they are goosed and head straight to the Tommy Murphy Cup (sometimes known as the Frank Murphy Cup but that’s a story for another day!). There will be no qualifier matches for the teams in Division 4 unless they reach a provincial final and lose. Tough love.
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