Conor Neville: The maligned ‘system’ due a break for one week

The traditional lethargy of the losing provincial finalist was on full display on Saturday evening.

Westmeath went down like a team who’ve been residing comfortably in bonus territory for four weeks now. After the match some of their players posed happily for selfies with distinctly non-distressed looking supporters.

For Cork, meanwhile, bonus territory isn’t even a speck on the horizon. More maligned than ever now (and that’s saying something) they haven’t got to enjoy the comfy environs of that warm no-pressure space for five years now.

Given the success of the two raiders from the qualifiers, one might have assumed that the bellyaching about the system might cease - for a weekend at least.

On RTÉ’s Sunday Sport, Ray Silke didn’t dwell too long on the romance of seeing Fermanagh, a team with no provincial title in over 100 years of trying, reaching the All-Ireland quarter-final. He seemed distracted by the unappealing prospect of their scheduled hammering in Croke Park in two weeks’ time.

As ever, the system was the root of all evil. The instrument that has led us to this apparently sorry pass.

GAA pundits expect a great deal of the system. This stems from the traditional (and touching) concern for the fate of the so-called weaker counties. The so-called weaker counties’ failure to prosper is deemed the fault of the system. An outsider might deem their very designation (notwithstanding it’s over-sensitive prefix) as not incidental to their difficulties.

Creating a system where Fermanagh have a realistic chance of winning an All-Ireland would represent quite a feat of engineering, possibly involving points handicaps and the enforced atomisation of more than just their quarter-final opponents.

The fact that the present system has enabled Fermanagh to reach the All-Ireland quarter-final is surely proof that the qualifiers have worked to some degree? What are we really expecting from systems?

Are Cork worse off than the mid-1990s?

Cork’s wait for an All-Ireland hurling title extends into an 11th year. And only a hopelessly optimistic supporter would predict that the famine will end in 2016.

During the mid-1990s, Cork went five whole years without winning a championship match, at least if we discount the win over Kerry in 1995. Between 1993 and 1997, Cork’s season typically ended in a sparsely populated Gaelic Grounds, in a game which was only visible to a television audience later that evening.

The nadir was reached when Cork were humbled on their own turf by Limerick in 1996. Incidentally, that was Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s first year as Cork manager. He survived and led Cork to glory within a few years.

His second spell is following a very different trajectory — and a less positive one. There was an atypical flash of authoritarian sternness from the man when Joanne Cantwell made to ask him about his future in the job. The feeling outside of Cork is that he may face a fight to keep his job.

Cork’s fallow period in the mid-90s was exacerbated by the absence of a back-door, which made them look more irrelevant than they were, losing narrowly on a couple of occasions to teams who would win All-Irelands.

The present team haven’t the same complaint. Their Munster famine lasted longer than the 90s side and now they have gone longer without the big one. There are many stats which damn Cork on a chastening weekend. The sheer number of wides Galway hit being one of the most embarrassing. Ger Loughnane observed that Galway goalkeeper Colm Callanan could have brought a picnic, so little had he to do. Anthony Nash, by contrast, hit a whopping 52 puck-outs in 70 minutes.

Paddy Solemn kicks up fuss over anthem

This column has been forced to attend a few Irish rugby internationals in the past. He has stood for attention for ‘Ireland’s Call’, in defiance of some of the subversives who would rather not stand in respect of Phil Coulter’s much despised ditty (which, like many a stirring anthem, was penned in the office of a PR agency in Dublin in the mid-1990s — true story).

There was great disappointment on this column’s part to learn that the final line of ‘Ireland’s Call’ was perfectly audible, all of its words discernible.

The misguided few in the GAA hierarchy possibly look on in envy at the respect which is accorded to rugby’s anthem.

Every now and again a few bespectacled Paddy Solemn types raise the cry that the anthem isn’t being fully respected in county grounds. That the rabble who unleash a frenzied guttural roar which drowns out the final line of the anthem are insulting the memory of our dead patriots.

Flann O’Brien created the character ‘Paddy Solemn’ more than a half-century ago. He is a man who lives with the perpetual fear that ‘Ireland will let him down’.

His mantra was summed up in the line: “Of what avail his personal respectability if he is dragged down by an entity that refuses to be respectable.”

But Paddy Solemn misses the point on this matter.

The final line of ‘Amhrainn na bhFiann’ is, to all intents and purposes, a guttural roar. This column believes that the line ‘Seo libh canaidh Amhrainn na bhFiann’ was made to be roared over. A rendition of Amhrainn na bhFiann in which the final line was wholly audible would be rather alien.

For years, there probably were kids in the midlands who believed that the final line of the national anthem was ‘C’mon Offaly!!!!’

Sky and the curse of the empty stadium

Back in the 1980s, there was the Jimmy Magee curse. The Irish football team would be sailing along under the watchful eye of George Hamilton perched up in the gantry, racking up victory after moral victory. And then some genius would assign Jimmy to commentate on a game and Ireland would promptly lose or fall victim to some deeply suspicious refereeing howler.

And in later years, there was the TV3 curse - a less irrational phenomenon than it seemed given that TV3 typically only screened Ireland’s away matches. Still, they made their debut in the field of rugby coverage at the 2007 World Cup disaster and it was their furry mics that were on the ground in the 5-2 loss in Cyprus in 2006.

Sky’s GAA coverage seems to be blighted by the curse of the empty stadium.

On successive weeks now they have gone to a dank looking Pearse Stadium to watch Galway and Derry (not two of the most fanatically enthusiastic sets of supporters around) and then last Saturday they headed for Thurles where just over 3,000 ‘patrons’ squeezed into the 52,000 capacity Semple Stadium.

Paddy Solemn would be appalled to realise that the Brits might see that we’re not supporting our own games. The optics do not look good. Not good for creating a buzz.

The weekend in Tweets

@gergilroy:

52 puckouts for Cork.

@EoinMcDevitt:

Loving Kildare’s tactic of handpassing the ball until Cork full back line falls asleep and then delivering it in and kicking great points.

@jonnyfallon:

Johnny Glynn should run for election now.

@donaghwisey:

Fair play to Johnny Glynn for bringing smile to my face after a horrendous weekend for the Rebels.

@AndrewHorgan:

joe canning had his worst game in a long while, galway hit 23 wides and still hammered Cork!! #disgrace

@Denis_Hurley:

1998 — the last time that neither Cork hurlers nor footballers played a championship game in Croke Park.


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