It took on the guise of an O’Byrne Cup match, played in squalid conditions; a championship clash with a wintry backdrop. Hopefully it’s the first and last time the GAA will have to organise its summer festival in the depths of winter.
The standard of Sunday’s game was on a par with what you’d expect from a pre-season competition. All heart, plenty of effort and no lack of determination, but an inherent shortage of quality. And while there was hope of a different pattern of play, purists were always going to feel disappointed.
Not that they were to be the sole disgruntled patrons at full-time as Louth Gaels were left to ask all too familiar questions.
‘Where do we go from here?’
‘How do we improve?’
‘Can things get any worse?’
‘Until we implement change to colleges’ and underage structures, the situation can’t get any better.’
However, it’s a less complex issue which made the journey home furthermore infuriating. Why is it that players are unable to replicate their club form in the red jersey? How come they commit basic errors when representing Louth that they simply wouldn’t if parish pride was at stake?
The obvious answer is that the intensity and standards are much higher at the elite level, and yet it stinks of a deeply-rooted issue within Louth GAA and, to a certain extent, its domestic scene.
There is an obsession with removing players from their strongest positions to suit a system. The prime example in Louth seniors’ case is Patrick Reilly. His recall to the set-up was as a consequence of his intermediate championship efforts with champions St. Bride’s, when he operated as an attacker or at midfield. Yet he’s employed as a sweeper for Louth, a role in which he has limited, if any, prior experience.
This isn’t a criticism of Reilly’s performance at Cusack Park. In fact, Longford’s two winning points came when the Knockbridge man was replaced by a more offensive option, Gerard McSorley, late on. But where was the logic in selecting a player due to his form in a certain position and yet completely ignoring the abilities which drew attention to him by handing him a brief to the contrary?
And the design here isn’t to nitpick at side selections, rather in a bid to highlight a wider issue. Wayne Kierans admitted that clinical options are lacking within the set-up, but that’s inevitable when offensive threats are systematically neutered.
One relevant example is Ben Collier, a precocious talent and St. Joseph’s clubman. Finishers are the hardest players to find, those with ice in the veins and a sixth sense for the goals. Collier’s reputation emanated from a sublime underage career in which he scored freely, and yet Joe’s played him all year miles from the scoring zone, as a sweeper or third midfielder or whatever you want to call it.
Neither Stefan White nor Colin Kelly nor Shane Lennon, three of Louth’s greatest-ever forwards, would, or were, ever be placed a considerable distance from where they could hurt the opposition. So where is the benefit in doing it nowadays? Does modern day coaching guard against maximising talented players’ skill sets?
It’s happened all too often in my own club, Roche Emmets. I’d a man tell me a few years ago that a half-back line made up of x, y and z would be “some half-back line”. The two flankers in his combination wouldn’t know a defensive instinct if it had feathers on it.
Second nature to them was to look for the scoring goals and yet the inclination was to, for some reason, remove them as offensive threats. It’s like subbing an armoury of machine guns for blunt bone arrows when in combat. The outcome: Roche stopped scoring and were relegated to junior football.
More recently, there was a young lad that came through our club, a ruthless finisher who had the makings of a potent marksman when 16 or 17 years of age. Though, after seasons of moving him from the pillar to the post and over to the ditch, his confidence is shattered, scoring prowess has lessened and, ultimately, the sport has become more of a chore.
I hope I’m wrong and young Collier goes on to shine, but the longer you prevent free expression of intuition on a football field the untold damage it does to a player.
Josh Arrowsmith for Geraldines was a fox in the box as a juvenile, a lad whose unique selling point was his vision for the net. I recall watching him scoring a match-winning major for Gers in a minor semi-final as far back as 2011, when he was still an U16. Now, he’s been castrated into a ‘worker’ in the half-forward line, running everywhere but where he’ll hurt the opposition. Rarely scoring. It’s not his fault whatsoever.
The Haggardstown club seem to thrive on doing this to players at adult level, so much so that 10 years since he first took up the mantle, Jim McEneaney is still the only man they have to score.
Other samples are plentiful and yet this isn’t a trend you would associate with the successful teams and counties. A priest says mass, farmers shovel dung and barmen serve drink. Forwards score, but in Louth, the majority are stopped from doing just that. This wouldn’t happen in Dublin or Kerry or Mayo. And yet it does in Louth, Derry, Down, etc. And sure you’ll never guess which sides are contending for All-Irelands.
Survey this on a localised level. Mattock Rangers never played David Reid anywhere else but up front. Now, Ben Watters and Cathal Fleming are going to lead their attack for the next decade, never to be placed anywhere else but across the front six.
Newtown Blues would never entertain playing Ciarán Downey as a half-back or centre-half, nor should they. Could you imagine St. Mary’s employing Ciarán Keenan at No7 or shifting Liam Jackson from his natural midfield position to full-back or somewhere nonsensical?
St. Patrick’s rarely took Paddy Keenan out of midfield or did the opponents’ job by maneuvering Danny O’Connor, their most lethal threat, away from the vicinity of maximum opportunity. It hasn’t done any of the above any harm where silverware is concerned.
So why do the pretenders break what’s not broken in a bid to reinvent the wheel? The Wee County will soon have enough defenders, sweepers and playmakers to fill the widening gap in the Irish economy.
Championships, programmes and structures can change, but until Louth begins to maximise its assets and refrains from convoluted crap, lunacy will continue to produce misery.
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