Dublin have the resources to bounce back
THE MIDDLE THIRD:THE DUST is settling and the winter’s coming in. It’s time to get back to the local stuff, the club championships that will keep us going for a while. I went to a few Kerry county championship matches over the weekend and it did the heart good. Colm Cooper scored 1-4 for the Crokes against Stacks without ever getting out of second gear.
And the day after burying his father, Aidan O’Mahony had a great old tussle with Liam Hassett when Rathmore played Laune Rangers. The pair of them hopped off each other all day and it was mighty stuff. But before we let the year go, it’s no harm to look back at the summer we had.
GAME OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP
There were great games in Croke Park, especially Donegal’s win over Kerry and Mayo’s win over Dublin. But I think the event I enjoyed most all summer was Kerry against Tyrone down in Killarney in the qualifiers in July. It was a summer’s evening with a crowd of 25,000 people packed in and they saw what was Kerry’s best performance of the year.
It wasn’t just that the opposition was Tyrone, although that was obviously a big thing at the time.
There was just a special atmosphere that night, partly because it’s a very rare thing for Killarney to host a qualifier.
The only one I could remember before it was against Longford in 2006.
Whatever about the quality of the game – and it was stop-start with a few flashpoints mixed through it – as an event that goes to make up your summer, it was one that will stick in the memory.
We all know now that neither Kerry nor Tyrone were at the top of their game this year and so maybe people will say that there wasn’t a lot to be taken from Kerry’s win that night.
But you just remember some games for the buzz in the town before it and afterwards. You remember it for giving you that bit of hope in a poor year. You remember it for the people you had around you – I was doing the match on TV with Peter Canavan so that made it especially good fun.
GRIPE OF THE YEAR
It’s not a new complaint but it’s not going away either so I’m going to keep harping on about it. The refereeing situation hasn’t improved at all this summer and nothing is being done about it.
I walked around Croke Park between the minor match and the senior match on All- Ireland final day and I saw the best of the association. I saw a gleaming stadium with thousands of workers making the day go smoothly and every need and whim catered for.
And then I watched the match and saw the one person in the place who can have most influence on the actual game be hung out to dry. We’re making these referees look bad by not giving them a good enough support structure to help them get their decisions right. We’re not giving them help from the stands, we’re just leaving them at it and hoping for the best. It’s not fair on them and it’s not fair on the players.
Losing John Egan back in April was one of the sadder things that happened.
Over the last couple of months, old games have popped up a few times on TG4 and it’s never any hardship to sit down for a few minutes and watch the teams he played on. He was just such a wonderful player and it was a sad thing for Kerry people to see another of that great old team gone.
I see his son John played for the Ireland under-21s there last months when they beat Italy 4-2 and also he’s progressing through the ranks at Sunderland. It’s a pity his father won’t be around to see what he makes of his career in years to come but I’m sure he’ll carry on the legacy in good style.
For all of Donegal’s success, I think Dublin are the team that go into 2013 in pole position. They’ve had so much underage success over the past few years – two of the last three All-Ireland under-21 titles, as well as this year’s minor All-Ireland – that Jim Gavin knows he’s walking into one of the best jobs in football.
There is great continuity in Dublin. Their minors and under-21s play the same way as the seniors do, with serious physicality and half-backs who get up the field alongside very strong midfielders, all trying to get the ball into a couple of gallery forwards.
It means that players know what they’re doing at each new level.
And the same goes for the manager. Gavin is definitely the right man for the job there. I’ve seen him in action with the under-21s and he goes about his business very professionally.
Every Dublin player will be starting with a blank page now and he will lift them automatically just by virtue of the fact that he has had success and he knows how to go about it. All players want is a manager who is going to get them more titles and they know that Jim Gavin has that capability.
Donegal will obviously be back next year and they’re coming back as exceptional champions. I admire them totally for the way they stuck to their plan all the way through and weren’t influenced by any criticism that came their way. Whether they can keep at it full tilt is another matter.
That title is very hard to defend these days.
A NEW JOB
For me, the winter will bring a new challenge where I’m in charge of the Kerry under-21s. I’m looking forward to it and finding it daunting at the same time. The whole thing is invigorating really. It’s a huge honour to be asked to take over any county team.
It’s something I have wanted to do for a long time. I was a selector last year and I found that a very interesting experience. I really enjoyed working with a group of lads that I found very entertaining. Young lads who want to succeed for Kerry, who want to get out there and work hard and get better. You couldn’t but enjoy being around them.
Getting out there and managing a team gives people a bit of rope to hang me with as well, which is no bad thing. Even when I was out and about at the Kerry county championship games over the weekend, I had people hopping balls with me the whole time.
“It’s about time you stopped yapping away in papers and started doing something for a change,” said one fella. Fair enough, I thought. We’ll see how the whole thing goes.
It’s something different for me. It’s a privilege and it’s an honour but there’s a big responsibility that goes along with it too.
I’ve spent my whole life in football only worrying about getting my own little corner right, looking after my own business and making sure I performed. Now I’m in charge of a dressing room full of guys who are still just finding their way in the game. There’s a huge onus on me to get the best out of them now and I can’t wait to get started.
Player of the Championship
The contenders were really all from one county here. You couldn’t look beyond Donegal. Karl Lacey, Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden (left) were head and shoulders above the rest and the likes of Frank McGlynn and Neil Gallagher had massive years.
But in the end, I think you have to come back to McFadden. This is a guy who has improved so much under McGuinness and who has become their go-to guy on big days. He handled the pressure of big occasions and every time Donegal needed a score from him, he provided it. Donegal do everything as a team but the one thing that still comes down to the individual is taking the scores. McFadden never went missing once and was their top scorer – either on his own or jointly – in every game.
DARRAGH’S TEAM OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Paul Durcan (Donegal)
A guy who gets overlooked I think. Time after time in the final, he hit kick-outs 60 yards into a team-mate’s chest. There was one that pinged into Neil Gallagher’s chest that hardly rose above 10 feet off the ground. It was the best kick-out I saw all year and just a sign of the improvements that Jim McGuinness has made with each player in that squad.
Frank McGlynn (Donegal),
Neil McGee (Donegal),
Keith Higgins (Mayo)
McGlynn and Higgins hardly put a foot wrong all year. McGlynn covered every blade of grass and epitomised Donegal’s gameplan while Higgins shut down nearly everything that came his way. At full back, Neil McGee was solid all year and gave Donegal peace of mind if and when the ball made it as far as their inside line.
Aidan O’Mahony (Kerry),
Karl Lacey (Donegal),
Anthony Thompson (Donegal)
It might seem strange to have a Kerry player here after a poor year but I thought O’Mahony had an exceptional year. He was moved around a lot but he put his head down and just performed in every game. Lacey is an automatic choice here, as is Thompson. Nobody came close to either of them in terms of influence on each game they played.
Neil Gallagher (Donegal),
Michael Darragh Macauley (Dublin)
Rory Kavanagh is probably unlucky not to make it here but Gallagher couldn’t be left out and Macauley was Dublin’s best player when Pat Gilroy played him in the right position. Any time he went into the centre of the pitch, he lifted Dublin as soon as he got on the ball. Jim Gavin surely won’t make the same mistake next year with him.
Paul Flynn (Dublin),
Andy Moran (Mayo),
Alan Dillon (Mayo)
You might expect Mark McHugh to be on most teams of the year but I wouldn’t quite have him on mine. I thought once teams started to work him out near the end of the year, his influence on games started to wane. Flynn had an exceptional year and Dillon was Mayo’s best forward. On the basis that he couldn’t have done any more prior to his unfortunate injury, I will go with Moran at centre-forward. He was at the heart of everything Mayo did right up until his injury.
Colm O’Neill (Cork),
Michael Murphy (Donegal),
Colm McFadden (Donegal)
This is the easiest line to pick because the two Donegal lads are nailed on and O’Neill was maybe the most natural forward in the country throughout the championship. All three of them were a constant goal threat as well.
Murphy came through as a leader as much as a player in the final, in a very similar way to how Henry Shefflin stood up for Kilkenny in the hurling final and replay.
Dublin SFC: UCD v St Judes, Iveagh Grounds, 7.30
Dublin SFC: St Vincent’s v St Maurs, Lawless park, 7.30.
Dublin SFC: Na Fianna v Erins Isle, Parnell Park 6.45, Ballymun Kickhams v Parnells, Parnell Park, 8.15. Down SFC Semi-final – Bryansford v Kilcoo, Newry, 8.30.
Dublin SFC: Templeogue Synge St v St Pat’s Palmerstown, O’Toole Park, 3.30; Kilmacud Crokes v Ballyboden St Endas, O’Toole Park, 5.0; St Brigids v Thomas Davis, Parnell Park, 3.30; St Oliver Plunketts v St Sylvesters, Parnell Park, 5.0 Cork SFC Semi-finals: Duhallow v O’Donovan Rossa, Páirc Uí Rinn, 7.15; Na Piarsaigh v St Nicks, Páirc Uí Rinn, 5.30. Kildare SFC Semi-final: Athy v Carbury, Newbridge, 5.0. Derry SFC Semi-final: Kilrea v Slaughtneil, Celtic Park, 4.0
Women’s All-Ireland football finals: Junior – Louth v Antrim, Croke Park, 12.0; Intermediate – Armagh v Waterford, Croke Park, 2.0; Senior – Kerry v Cork, Croke Park, 4.0. Down SFC Semi-final: Longstone v Mayobridge, Newry, 6.30. Tipperary SHC Semi-finals: Thurles Sarsfields v Eire Óg Annacarthy, Thurles, 2.0; Loughmore-Castleiney v Drom Inch, Thurles, 3.30.
Cork SHC Final: Bishopstown v Sarsfields, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 3.45. Limerick SHC Final: Adare v Kilmallock, Gaelic Grounds, 3.30. Sligo SFC Final: Curry v St Mary’s, Markievicz Park, 3.30. Wexford SFC Final: Castletown-Liam Mellows v St Anne’s Rathangan, Wexford Park, 3.15.
Kildare SFC Semi-final: Sarsfields v St Laurence’s, Newbridge, 2.15.
Wicklow SFC Final: Baltinglass v St Patrick’s, Aughrim, 3.15.
Laois SFC Semi-finals: Arles Kilcruise v O’Dempseys, Portlaoise, 2.0; Portlaoise v St Joseph’s, Portlaoise, 3.15. Offaly SHC Final: Kilcormac/Killoughey v St Rynagh’s, Tullamore, 3.30. Louth SFC Final: Dreadnots v St Patrick’s, Drogheda, 3.30. Kildare SHC Final: Celbridge v Confey, Newbridge, 4.0. Kerry SFC semi-finals: Daingean Uí Chúis v St Kieran’s 2.00, Tralee; Dr Crokes v Laune Rangers, 3.30pm, Tralee.