The words of Mickey Harte and Kevin Walsh these last seven days brought that home, the Tyrone and Galway managers agitated that their 2017 seasons are remembered more for how they ended than how they developed.
After three wins from three, Walsh was speaking from a position of strength when he addressed how Galway’s previous season was defined by how they floundered against Kerry. “The pen is mightier than the sword — people can reflect on whichever way they want, and people can reflect on it with agendas as well,” he told Newstalk’s Off The Ball.
“We don’t look too much to the outside, even though (perception) can then become reality... (Criticism) happens with every team. You’re out there to be looked at; what you’re trying to do is to achieve.”
In the space of five days, an irate Harte addressed how Tyrone had been filleted for how they went about their business against Dublin. Speaking at the McKenna Cup final launch on Tuesday, the same day as Walsh, he too mentioned the “a” word: “There are all signs of an agenda against Tyrone where there is just continuous talk of how many people we have behind the ball. And I have watched many matches and I see the very same thing happening to other teams, yet the count isn’t on always.”
Following the defeat to Donegal on Saturday, he took umbrage at a BBC reporter who asked if Tyrone needed to be more offensive in their style this season.
“We were very good in the first four (2017 SFC) games. They gave us very good outcomes. They did of course because we won every game by a hatful so I don’t know where you’re coming from. You’re like the rest of them: you’re deciding on one game the whole of our season. Please look at the whole season and then tell us we’re doing an awful lot wrong.”
Both have a point and Walsh alluded to the obvious elsewhere in his interview: only one team can win the All-Ireland. Taking the “end of year accounts” metaphor he was so keen on using, Galway and Tyrone would have shown a modest surplus for their 2017 returns.
But where they differ is that Tyrone’s performance against Dublin has been held up as a victory for Gaelic football. Pundits almost to a man heralded it as a defeat not just for Tyrone but the counter-attacking style that they espoused under Harte last year. They were told in no uncertain terms that if they wanted to beat Dublin they had to join them. Such one-size-fits-all analysis would disappoint a coach as innovative as Harte but what would have really stuck in his craw was that he and his team had been deemed an anti-football side.
Harte, when he spoke last week, would have been disappointed with how his team lost two of their opening three Division 1 games, three of their last four competitive outings and it wouldn’t be any surprise if that sentiment coloured his views.
How he analysed the loss to Dublin last year does beg some questioning, though.
In his recent interview with The Irish Times, he took issue with Con O’Callaghan for scoring Dublin’s goal because in the build-up to the score he hadn’t followed Pádraig Hampsey out the field. Never mind that O’Callaghan is a forward, his dereliction of duty to tag the Tyrone centre-back gnawed at Harte.
He might not have known it at the time but Harte right there provided great insight into his thinking as a coach, that total football philosophy that every player must be as responsible without the ball as they should be with it.
Of course, there were fallacies in how Tyrone approached last year’s All-Ireland semi-final. Unlike times before against Kerry in 2003 and ’08, they didn’t change up. What Dublin would have seen in their four previous championship matches they got on the day. In that regard, not enough respect was shown.
That Harte has yet to address the crippling free-taking problem is also a blot on his copybook but then there was an obvious nervousness in the Tyrone ranks, a condition only Colm Cavanagh seemed to be oblivious to. In the opening stages, Paul Mannion ripped possession from defenders on two occasions. The best Tyrone sides just don’t allow that to happen.
To characterise their defeat as a new dawn for football is brutally harsh as it is untrue. They averaged 23 points a SFC game before the semi-final. Their means are, if not wholly, justifiable. It won’t be by emulating Dublin that they, Kerry or Mayo will beat Dublin. They must go their own way.
Déise, Cork take pain ins short term
Fail to win in Cork next Saturday and Waterford will be in the first Division 1 relegation final since 2014. Three consecutive defeats seems quite the All-Ireland hangover but then it’s not as if last year’s runners-up have done much to cure it, not using substitutes in the opening match and making 11 changes for the Tipperary game from the opening defeat to Wexford.
Derek McGrath could end up being punished for taking too nonchalant an approach to inter-county hurling’s secondary competition.
If it’s not him it might be John Meyler, who hasn’t been afraid to experiment albeit not as extensively as McGrath. Clare, on the other hand, appear to have approached this year’s league as if nothing has changed from last year but when there is another league following a month and a half after Division 1 concludes the wisdom of that attitude can only be judged in the summer.
County boards won’t be too thankful that their managers are trying and testing right now when it’s proven that progressing in the league is more lucrative than advancing in the championship.
That might appear to be illogical but when county boards choose to retain the quarter-finals (for monetary reasons) against the recommendation of the Central Competitions Control Committee you can appreciate how they value the perks of a good spring.
Waterford and Cork’s attitude appears to be short-term pain for long-term gain although it has only prompted more of the same criticism of McGrath’s approach. Jackie Tyrrell on Sunday used the defeat to harness his a-sweeper-system-won’t-win-an-All-Ireland-theory. That neglects the fact Clare utilised it for periods in 2013 never mind the game in question where Kilkenny, who bent themselves so much out of shape to adapt to opposing teams last year, devised their own sweeper tactic. Tyrrell also claimed Walsh Park doesn’t suit Waterford’s style only to add that concession of home advantage in the Munster championship would cost them “two or three points”. Riddle me that.
Colleges must move for their own good
In fairness, the GAA knew they were going to run into trouble with this year’s fixtures schedule.
Maybe they had not expected headaches so early in the year given many of the difficulties last weekend were weather-influenced but they had forecast teething difficulties.
“This year, to be fair, we are going into the dark a bit with this fixture schedule,” GAA director of games administration and player welfare Feargal McGill said in October. “I have no doubt in the course of the next 12 months there will be certain things in it that will work and work very well that we didn’t expect to work well.”
Another thing that won’t work so well is this weekend’s Fitzgibbon Cup final taking place a day before the penultimate round of the hurling league. As McGill pointed out last week, November seems to be most preferable month for the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup competitions even if such a move would impinge on college league matches. But wouldn’t it be more appropriate than Kieran Molloy receiving a Garda escort so that he could play some part of NUIG’s Sigerson Cup final having won an All-Ireland semi-final against Corofin just over an hour beforehand at a venue 103 kilometres away? Or Liam Silke being denied a winning medal because he had to prioritise the chase of another over it?
The GAA’s motto must be “let them play”.