23 Jan 2022

INSIDE TRACK | Gaelic football has changed but the skills and object of the game haven't


INSIDE TRACK | Gaelic football has changed but the skills and object of the game haven't

Seán Boylan rang the changes, among them, sending Colm O’Rourke in for Colm Coyle.

How did we sports-minded do it, get through almost four months without any of the activity that was part of our lives?

No football, racing, golf, tennis, tiddlywinks, nothing. Television did its best, taking continuous peeps into the past. Newspapers did much the same, and you’d have to say there was more than enough on the back pages to keep interest alive. The two circulating in this area did heroic work.

The younger generation probably missed current stuff the most; but if looking in on, or reading about, deeds of derring-do, which mostly featured in television’s backward glances, they could at least make comparisons.

What struck me most about soccer throw-backs from the English League was the poor state of the pitches for games played over the winter months. Quagmires some of them were, and looking in one night, I was reminded of an interview Don Revie gave on Match of the Day after his league-winning Leeds team had played Derby County.

The game was at Derby’s Baseball Grounds, which had a bit of grass on the flanks but nothing more than mud down the middle.

“Brian is going to have to do something about that pitch,” Revie said. He wasn’t in the best of pickle because his vaunted side, with Hunter, Giles, Cooper, Bremner, Big Jack and ‘Sniffer’ included, had been turned over. The Brian, of course, was Clough, who, together with Peter Taylor formed a most formidable management. That their sideline squelched on most Saturdays wouldn’t have caused this County team too much bother.

The surroundings are more salubrious, but the pitch where today’s biggest GAA matches are played would only be slightly better conditioned than the one that housed the lockdown classics. Croke Park, of course, doesn’t, or didn’t, have the winter activity of the Baseball of old. (It will have this year, the All-Ireland football final scheduled for December 19, a fortnight after the semi-finals and just a week later than the hurling final. In all, seven major matches are to take place in December.)

A difference, however, in today’s and yesterday’s matches is the style of football.  The 1991 football final, shown a few weeks ago, is remembered for Meath’s near successful comeback in their joust with Down. The Royals had come through the famous four-match epic in the early stages of the Leinster Championship and then had another replay – against Wicklow – in the semi-final.

Fatigue was being offered as an excuse when the Liam Hayes-captained side trailed by 11 points at the break. Seán Boylan rang the changes, among them, sending Colm O’Rourke in for Colm Coyle. Together with the other corner-forward, Bernard Flynn, O’Rourke helped change the trend of the game, but not by enough. Down got home by two points.

Exciting stuff in a game much changed from what we are looking at now. You could say there was more risk-taking in this final of nearly three decades ago, 60- and 70-yard passes, some of them from drop-kicks, coming from both sides, And they weren’t always delivered with pin-point accuracy either. Whoever they were intended for had work to do to win possession.

Nowadays, possession really is nine points of the law. Hand-passing is king, while the more athletic a player is the better his/her chances of succeeding. But that’s not to say today’s game is lacking in skill or incapable of producing a thriller. Last year’s two-tie Dublin/Kerry final was one for the ages, a particular Brian Fenton catch a reminder that there will always be room for one of the great skills.   

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