By Peter McNamara
Perched in the Hogan Stand last St Patrick’s Day for the AIB All-Ireland Club SFC final, it was clear we were watching an attacking master craftsman at work for Corofin.
And no, we are not talking about Martin Farragher, scorer of six points in open play.
Instead we are referring to a man Joe Brolly called the “consummate footballer” on The Sunday Game, Ian Burke.
The roaming corner-forward, something a man on the field that day in Tomás Ó Sé acknowledged, also on The Sunday Game, tormented Nemo Rangers. Scratch that, we’ll go with mesmerised.
Burke is not particularly imposing physically, but he has the Goliath of footballing brains. Added to that, he has the vision of a shrewd snooker player, the real top-level ones that think four, five and six shots ahead of their opponent. And both his brain and vision allow Burke to appreciate space more efficiently than the other players around him.
Burke raised just two white flags against Nemo, and one in St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge last Sunday.
Yet, on those occasions, and as has generally been the case throughout this year for club and county, I would strongly doubt any other player in the country has directly contributed to as many scores for his teammates than Burke. The man must have the highest assist count in the land.
When Galway get Burke on the ball in the opposition’s defensive third of the field, scores tend to follow.
Traditionalists that prefer the use of the foot as a player’s greatest weapon might lavish less praise on Burke. However, he is arguably the deadliest fist-passer of a ball in the game at present.
After he drops off his marker to turn and face the goal the Tribesmen are attacking, Burke sees the landscape in front of him as Magnus Carlsen would a chessboard.
And his execution of a pass that links the play so effectively is devastating. Short kick-passes and handpasses might seem like the easiest things in the world to get right. However, at that level you have so little time to get the execution on the money that they are far tougher exercises than some people might suggest.
And, as we saw in Monaghan’s last attack in added-time against Kerry when the game was there for them to win again, if a handpass is mistimed or misplaced even a tiny bit, an offensive play can breakdown easily.
Yet, with Burke around, Galway do not have that problem. Obviously, no player is going to be completely accurate and penetrative with his plays, but the forward in question is right at the top of his game currently and whichever team meets the westerners in the All-Ireland semi-final, they will have a task on their hands to nullify him.
While some will point to Damien Comer as being Galway’s central attacking operator, there is a swell of support behind the theory that Burke’s presence is of equal importance.
Galway, basically, would not be half as effective offensively without him.
Therefore, their potential opponents may be based served to man-mark Burke in the last four of the All-Ireland series.
Of course, even then he may still have the desired impact on the game Kevin Walsh and co so desire.
On Saturday night in Healy Park, Omagh, the going got tough, but the tough got going and, again, James McCarthy produced a significant moment in Dublin’s season by scoring a vital goal.
McCarthy’s courage is a massive part of this Dublin machine. He sets the tone time and again for his teammates by engineering darting runs from deep that usually lead to crucial pieces of an in-game jigsaw falling into place.
When Dublin need something extra, McCarthy tends to provide it. He is a uniquely talented individual.
Dublin now face Roscommon in the final phase of the Super 8s at headquarters and will be expected to blow Kevin McStay’s side out of the water based on the form we have seen from both teams.
Everybody knows sport is not an exact science, but on a strict form-line through Donegal Dublin are a 12-point superior outfit to the Rossies. Realistically, at full pelt, Jim Gavin’s men are probably 16 to 18 points superior.
With that in mind, will Gavin be tempted to make four or five changes to his starting 15 with the All-Ireland semi-final the following weekend? Probably.
Whoever their opponents may be will not have that luxury as Galway, Monaghan and Kerry will need to be at full strength on the other side of the draw.
Now that is a proper advantage that Dublin have earned. Frankly, it is getting to the point I cannot see any of the remaining teams in the competition getting within four points of them in a semi-final or All-Ireland final anyway.
However, the fact Gavin can keep some of his key men fresh can be a decisive factor on either August 11 or 12 when they contest the penultimate round of the championship.
People seem to seek flaws in their make-up, however Dublin have been, and continue to be, operating on a totally different planet to all other counties.
Some pundits put the case that when Tyrone attacked them late on that they were shaky. Yet, you always feel with Dublin that they are holding something in reserve.
It’s one of those whereby if their opponents hit fifth gear to put them under some degree of pressure that they would somehow find a sixth.
They will always find a way to win.