We live in interesting times. Usually, we are bombarded by the noise and criticisms around the state of Gaelic football, but such assaults seem to have been silenced in recent weeks.
It’s like the tide coming in and going out. Huge turbulent waves of discontent, or just flat calm.
I feel as well placed as anybody to testify to the ability of the Dr Crokes team, having seen them at close quarters from the sideline, and finding ourselves on the receiving end of their quality too many times in the past few years.
They are without question the pinnacle of club football in Kerry and have been for quite some time. While not the most physically imposing outfit you are likely to meet, the excellence of the football they play usually compensates for any shortcomings they may have in other departments.
Their attack is one of the most fearsome in the country, with most of their forward eight (and half of their bench) having worn the county jersey at some stage. They know how to play together, they keep it simple, are unselfish to a fault and ruthlessly efficient, all at the same time.
They have also been blessed to have tremendous leadership in their dressing room over the years, with the likes of Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper,
Kieran O’Leary, Brian Looney, and Eoin Brosnan to name but a few, showing the way and setting the standards.
Kerins O’Rahillys were the only team to beat them in a competitive game in 2018. That’s an outrageous record of around 28 wins and one defeat over the season.
To my mind, under manager Pat O’Shea, the man driving those high standards, they have been one of the very top club sides in the country for the past three years and at no stage did I think last Sunday’s final would be decided by anything except a narrow margin.
But Corofin completely blew them out of the water.
To put their performance into context, the Galway champions didn’t just beat some random team who were happy to be there in Croke Park with a decent collection of good footballers.
They absolutely trounced one of the very best club sides to ever come out of Kerry.
Of course, the first half sending off gave the victors a significant advantage, but even by that stage, the Connacht men had already
assumed control and were exerting their will throughout the field.
While lacking the hugely competitive element the neutral had hoped for, that game was a brilliant advertisement for the way football can be played when two teams set up and go after it.
The kick passing of Corofin, their hard running, the unselfishness and score-taking were of the very highest quality and the Crokes simply couldn’t live with it.
You’d imagine those lads who’ll be making themselves available to Kevin Walsh’s Galway side in the next week or so won’t be bursting with enthusiasm to go back in and start playing the type of defence-focused football we’ve seen from the county side so far throughout the league.
With the quality of ball player they have to come into the mix from the Corofin contingent as well as Damien Comer, it would be great to see Walsh and company at least nudge the dial back towards some of the more traditional values of Galway football.
The structure, game plan, and level of skills of the All-Ireland club champions are there in full view for everybody in the country to see.
The challenge for coaches and managers at all levels of the game should be; instead of looking at the Fermanaghs of the world and putting 15 men behind the ball, why not be take inspiration from what Kevin O’Brien has helped to create with Corofin?
Why not make that your template for how the game should be played?
They needed no rule change to limit the number of hand passes they were allowed, nor any extrinsic incentive to deliver a 40-yard kick pass to make the way they play any more effective or attractive.
They didn’t look to batten down the hatches as soon as they got a sizeable lead or sit a permanent sweeper back inside their defence when they went a man up.
Their mentality was to attack everything, even when defending. They were unapologetically bold.
And I’m fully aware that it’s easier to play like that when you have the quality personnel that they have in their ranks. But that’s the challenge for every coach and manager in the country.
While you might have to accept you may never get a team to that level, the way they play the game should be the aspiration for everybody involved in Gaelic football.
We saw some of the same from Mayo on Saturday night in a rain-soaked Austin Stack Park. There was a real adventure to their play.
Similar from Tyrone in their big win over the champions in Croke Park — kicking the ball into Cathal McShane and Mattie Donnelly has made them look like a dangerous football team again. Despite the adverse weather rolling across the league, attacking and kicking have been more of a steady theme the last couple of weeks and it looks as though the game may just be starting to trend back in the right direction.
It may be premature to tell for sure, but that never stops us proclaiming that Gaelic football is dead or dying after a bad game.
Everybody wants a superhero to look up to. It’s Spiderman for some kids, Leo Messi or Ronaldo, LeBron James or Henry Shefflin. The way Corofin play Gaelic football should be the poster up on the bedroom wall of every coach and manager in the country. It should be the last thing you look at before bed and the first thing in the morning.
If you want to emulate a style of play, pick the road less travelled and make Corofin your destination.