JOHN FOGARTY: GAA losing war on cynicism

Dublin win not only because they are the best but because they are the boldest too, writes John Fogarty.

You may recall the reasons why Croke Park rejected Congress’ decision four years ago to back the introduction of the clock/hooter. On the basis of trial games, it was felt the initiative was liable to cause “potential damage to the reputation of the Association” and so, on the word of that report, it was shelved.

Five “concerns” were cited ranging from human error – “officials failing to operate the clock or hooter properly” (don’t referees face that task as it is?) to “systems failure” (Hawk-Eye, anyone?) to “over-analysis” of seconds lost to the clock by the amount of time taken by players to take frees, sidelines and kick/puck-outs (that type of human error has been largely permitted for years).

Another explanation was “negative possession”. It was felt having seen the clock/hooter in action in the trial games that the countdown system had a major influence on how the final few minutes of a game was played.

The report read: “There was a temptation – almost exclusively in football – to play ‘keep ball’ over and back in defence while protecting a lead. This did not make for entertaining view and led, in some of the games, to games literally petering out, even when on occasion there was very little between the teams on the scoreboard. This type of negative possession also led to a lot of passing backwards in order to retain the possession.”

As Dublin did just that on Sunday without a clock/hooter in place, one wonders what the powers-that-be must have thought.

A final argument against the clock/hooter was the impact it made on sides to be cynical. “Teams were likely to use the visibility of the time remaining to ensure they get ‘over the line’ in winning games, regardless of the consequences. There were several instances of ‘fouling down the clock’ where teams literally fouled constantly in the closing minutes until the hooter sounded to protect a lead. The time taken to book or caution players in such circumstances eats further into the time available.”

Joe McQuillan allowed sufficient time for the seconds it took to book Cormac Costello and black card Ciarán Kilkenny for bringing down Lee Keegan as David Clarke attempted to restart the game following Dean Rock’s winning free. Nevertheless, the clock/hooter wasn’t required to make that finale look unedifying, which above everything else was the greatest worry about its introduction.

Rock didn’t need a countdown clock to slam himself into the back of Chris Barrett after he sent over the free.

Mayo have no right to be aggrieved by such behaviour. They almost certainly would have done the same were they a minute or so away from consigning 1951 to history.

There may even be a case that Kilkenny served just desserts to Keegan after he threw his GPS monitor at Rock as he stepped up to convert that free.

Mayo scored a point in the first half largely due to Andy Moran tripping Jonny Cooper to gain an advantage on him in completing a one-two move with Cillian O’Connor.

Speaking of O’Connor, it could be argued that he has succeeded in convincing referees to black card three players these last 12 months – James McCarthy in last year’s drawn final, Thomas Flynn in this year’s Connacht semi-final and Darran O’Sullivan in the All-Ireland semi-final replay – but so many forwards now have form in the dark arts.

In Austin Stack Park earlier this year, Kilkenny picked up a late second yellow card as he brought down David Moran as Kerry went in search of a winning score. In last year’s All-Ireland semi-final as Kerry chased a goal in additional time to steal it, Costello put Brian Ó Beaglaoich in a headlock to stop him from advancing and was black carded. Cynicism no longer starts and ends in defence.

Four years ago, Dublin committed a series of late fouls to stop Mayo generating any momentum in their play. Jim Gavin attempted to deflect any criticism by claiming the referee was a 16th opponent of Dublin’s and blamed tiredness for those infringements at the end. On Sunday, when quizzed about the actions of Costello, Kilkenny and Rock, he offered: “I think it was like that from the start of the game, it was a very physical game. There was a lot on the line, both teams going hard at it. I wouldn’t expect anything else from either team.”

That Dublin find themselves in leading positions obviously makes it likelier for them to be accused of such cynicism.

All the same, it can’t be denied that they will do what they have to do when in front and oh how Mayo wish it were them doing the dirty deeds.

Dublin win not only because they are the best but because they are the boldest too. The GAA, meanwhile, continues to lose its war on cynicism. They don’t need a countdown clock to tell them that.

Let’s stop naming teams that don’t start

GAA losing war on cynicism

Just as Pat Gilroy did, Jim Gavin invited the media to a get-to-know-you event at the outset of his management. That hour or so provided the greatest insight into the man. He spoke about his love of Dublin football’s traditional values, American football as well as his opposition to how managements are compelled to announce teams before matches. Gavin has never hidden his disdain for that protocol. He wasn’t best pleased when the GAA made a rule of teams including subs having to be released to Croke Park for championship matches a few days before gameday.

And once where he publicly announced teams on Friday, he now does so on a Saturday (he actually didn’t reveal anything for the Tyrone semi-final).

He did so again before Sunday’s final, Stephen Rochford a day earlier, but this time they took the unusual decision to make an alteration to the named team for an All-Ireland final. There has always been codology in replays including finals but there was something almost sacrosanct about the team named for the first All-Ireland final game starting as selected.

Well, they’re used to be. Before Eoghan O’Gara came in for Niall Scully and Patrick Durcan for Diarmuid O’Connor at the 11th hour, there had been no late change to an All-Ireland SFC final team since Rory Kavanagh and Darach O’Connor came in for Christy Toye and Paddy McBrearty in 2014.

Prior to that, it was Cork in 2010 when John Miskella took not fully fit Graham Canty’s starting berth and Cork again in ’09 as injured Ray Carey was replaced by Kieran O’Connor. In 2008, Tyrone’s goalkeeper John Devine’s father had passed away just before the final and Pascal McConnell took his place. We in the media are guilty of conveying fake news when it comes to relaying announced teams. At least on that count, Gavin and others don’t want to make fools of us when match-day panels would be a far wiser option for everyone involved.

David Clifford doesn’t fit bill – he is the bill

GAA losing war on cynicism

“A man undeceived by victory or defeat” was how Brendan Kennelly described Mick O’Connell in his poem. Understandably, in his gait and kicking style, it’s Maurice Fitzgerald that David Clifford is being compared to but seeing how he reacted to his 4-4 man-of-the-match winning feat in Sunday’s All-Ireland minor final, the same line afforded to the Valentia giant could be extended to the teenager.

Reaction to the brilliance of the Fossa fella has ranged from downright fear that an AFL team will come and whisk him away – after his display in the semi-final win over Cavan, former TD and Kerry corner-back Jimmy Deenihan called on Kerry GAA to pay Clifford to stay playing Gaelic football – to downright jealousy – on Sunday on Twitter Corkman Joseph Blake quipped, ‘He will be having a testimonial dinner this year’.

Kerry won’t need to be told the value of the man and by that we don’t mean monetary-wise as much as he has the potential to ring the turnstiles for years to come, or him being remunerated for his services. Although, coming days after Colm Cooper announced his testimonial, it is bound to be a discussion point.

We mean that as much as winning a fourth All-Ireland minor title is all well and good for Kerry it’s exemplary individual footballers that they need to be coming through, not teams who are greater than the sum of their parts. Clifford doesn’t fit the bill – he is the bill.

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