Gaelic GamesFive Things We Learned

Five things we learned from the GAA weekend: Omens looking good for Galway

Media given short shrift in Ennis; Croke Park has some kinks; Tipperary lean on experience; pressure rises on Henry Shefflin

Galway’s serial crops

One of the statistical details of Galway’s retention of the Connacht title was that it marked the county’s first three-in-a-row in the province for 40 years. A survey of such sequences throughout their history reveals a mixed experience.

The longest winning run was the five years from 1956-60. This produced one All-Ireland title, in the very first year and thereafter three semi-final defeats – two to eventual winners, Louth and Dublin – and one further final, which was lost to Kerry in 1959.

Most famously, the four successive wins between 1963-66 led to the high point of Galway football, the three-in-a-row All-Irelands in 1964, ‘65 and ‘66. The first year had ended in defeat against Dublin in the 1963 All-Ireland.

Two other All-Irelands came about in years of back-to-back Connacht wins, the controversial first success in 1925, awarded in the committee room, and the 1934 victory.


There was also the head wrecking run from 1940-42, losing the first two years’ All-Ireland finals to Kerry by a point and four points. In 1942 they eventually beat the champions in the semi-final only for Dublin to beat them in the final.

Serial provincial success has been the starting point for six of Galway’s nine All-Ireland titles. The other three came in 1938, sandwiched between Mayo’s Connacht crowns in 1937 and ‘39; more recently in 1998, again with Mayo both preceding and succeeding them, and the one that completely broke the mould in 2001.

In that first year of the qualifiers, Galway had to recover from provincial semi-final defeat by Roscommon before progressing along the highways and byways to claim Sam Maguire with an emphatic nine-point win against Meath, current manager Pádraic Joyce excelling on the day with 0-10, 0-5 from play.

A three-in-a-row now under his belt, PJ has already sampled an All-Ireland final two years ago. Can he now deliver on what he stated at the outset would define a successful tenure? — Seán Moran

Journalists asked to leave Cusack Park one more example of coverage being taken for granted

This, sadly, is where we are.

On the day the Clare footballers delivered a very competitive and credible performance in the Munster senior football final, less than one hour after the final whistle the media present to cover the game were asked to leave Cusack Park.

As journalists returned to the press box following interviews with those involved in Munster football’s showpiece event, the first signs of a potential issue emerged – several Clare hurlers trotted out on the pitch! It soon became apparent Brian Lohan’s side had arranged a training session for Cusack Park – which was something nobody in the press box had been made aware of before the players appeared.

A Munster Council official then approached the press box to inform journalists that the Banner hurlers were indeed training at 5pm and the ground would have to be vacated before they started. An exchange of views and several phone calls later, members of the press pack were packing their bags and scampering off to a hotel in town.

The official Clare X/Twitter account had posted the final score of the provincial final at 3.23. After that initial exchange with a member of the Munster Council, the phone calls, and a subsequent conversation with an official from Clare GAA who said an alternative work space had been arranged in a local hotel, ultimately journalists were walking out of the ground at 4.32 – tails between legs and laptop chargers hanging from backpacks.

Now, understandably, you don’t really care – perhaps the press should stop being so precious. And maybe you’re right. But this isn’t about individuals – this is about the GAA’s presumption that coverage of its games is a given.

Is there any other sport in the world where the media in attendance to cover and promote the event would be asked the leave the arena because their presence was no longer welcome?

Imagine if the British press reporting on Northampton v Leinster in Croke Park on Saturday were told to make themselves scarce afterwards because there was a training session about to take place on the pitch?

And it wasn’t a nothing game on Sunday, it was the Munster final – and the first time since 1919 a provincial senior football decider had taken place in the town. Yet those charged with organising the game were asking those covering the game to leave the ground.

It comes just days after Clare football manager Mark Fitzgerald had graciously and admirably opened his training session to the media in the build-up to the Munster final, leading to Off The Ball’s Tommy Rooney producing a thoroughly insightful package on the team’s preparations. It did no harm to Clare’s performance against Kerry.

But sadly it didn’t take long for the straitjacketed paranoia which drains so much potential away from the GAA to seize control again.

The Munster Council, to its credit, is one of the most progressive and engaging of the provincial councils and it seems its officials might also have been caught unawares by the training session.

In such a scenario, it would be easy to blame Lohan but the truth is none of his counterparts would have wanted the press sitting up in the stand either.

Malachy Clerkin of this stable spent an evening at a Wicklow training session before their Leinster SFC quarter-final against Kildare. Oisín McConville opened the doors to The Irish Times and RTÉ ahead of that game and it led to some fascinating pieces.

But when you stop and think about that for just a second, this is where we are, celebrating the fact a county manager allowed some journalists to watch a training session.

Then, a few weeks later, reporters are getting asked to leave stadiums.

And the former is more surprising than the latter.

The journalists scampering away from Cusack Park on Sunday with reports unwritten, we were quite the undignified sight. But the entire episode was an embarrassment for all involved – Clare GAA, Munster GAA and the GAA centrally would do well not to fob it off as merely an unfortunate misunderstanding. — Gordon Manning

Some kinks to iron out for future big days in Croker

Saturday in Croke Park was an experience that will live comfortably enough beside any of the great days there in the past decade.

The DART being out for the weekend for engineering works – they really couldn’t have picked a different weekend? – meant that all the traffic coming in via the Finglas and Ballymun exits off the M50 gave the whole thing an added authentic feel. The Back Page in Phibsboro offering free pints to anyone with a Brown Thomas Bag will presumably be a promotion that lasts through the rest of the championship.

The one bum note was the trouble large crowds had getting in at the Davin Stand entrance. The game had to be delayed by 10 minutes. Some of us made old jokes on social media about it being typical of the Dubs at Croke Park but in reality, it wasn’t a comical situation. Readers have got in touch to point out that it got a little too hairy for comfort – too many people, kids included, trying to squeeze through too few turnstiles, all of it happening too tight to kick-off.

Croke Park will presumably make itself available for these types of matches on plenty of occasions in the future. A kink that needs to be ironed out in the meantime. — Malachy Clerkin

Tipperary’s ageless survivors show the value of experience

In team selection the oldest tension is between old and new. In modern hurling, where teams reach 100 miles an hour in third gear, there is a huge emphasis on legs and in that debate young legs have many admirers.

For Saturday night’s game in Walsh Park Liam Cahill, though, the biggest calls Liam Cahill made concerned his veterans. Even in his youth Noel McGrath was never the kind of player to go haring around the place but in the maelstrom of Walsh Park he was an oasis of calmness, and God forbid, stillness. He operated mostly in a central corridor between the two 45s, linking the play and adding value to the ball. You can only imagine the impact his presence had on Eoghan Connolly and Alan Tynan and others in his orbit.

McGrath made his championship debut 15 years ago, which was the same year that Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher played his first league match. His impact off the bench in the final quarter was immense, scoring a point, creating a couple of scores, and having two critical involvements in the move that led to Tipp’s equaliser.

Maher is 34 since last October; McGrath turns 34 in December. Cathal Barrett will turn 31 on the day of the All-Ireland final and it is 10 years since he won Young Hurler of the Year. On Saturday night he returned to the team after an extended injury lay-off with just one club game in his legs. He was terrific.

The arguments about age, and how old is too old, are often queered by outcomes and preconceptions. When Cork lost to Waterford in the opening round their decision to start three players who had played in the 2013 All-Ireland final generated a lot of finger-pointing. Shane O’Donnell and John Conlon played in that final too but that wasn’t quoted as a contributory factor in Clare’s opening round defeat.

On Saturday night, Tipperary were glad of a couple of survivors from the 2010 All-Ireland final. Ageless. — Denis Walsh

Pressure rises on Shefflin as Galway are left with little room for error

The first thing Henry Shefflin admitted was that he didn’t see this performance coming. In his understandably subdued post-match interview in Wexford Park Saturday evening, it wasn’t entirely clear if Shefflin was talking about the Galway performance, or the Wexford one.

Turns out he was talking about both. Galway’s eight-point loss, 1-28 to 0-23, wasn’t just their worst performance of the season – a first ever defeat to Wexford in the Leinster hurling championship – but it also leaves them uncertain of their progression into the Liam MacCarthy stages with only two rounds remaining.

At the same time Wexford’s win, their first of the campaign, injects real hope and meaning for them – a first win over Galway since the 1996 All-Ireland semi-final, and Wexford supporters won’t need reminding what happened after that.

After a break this weekend, Wexford are away to Carlow and then finish up at Kilkenny; Galway have to head up to Antrim, then finish off at home to Dublin.

For Shefflin, it wasn’t just that Wexford had dominated his team on practically every inch of ground at Wexford Park; it was also the fact he was at a complete loss to explain it.

“It’s probably been the most disappointed I’ve been in a dressing-room since I took charge of this team,” he said, Shefflin still seeking that first piece of silverware in his now third season in charge.

They had met in the last six championships, with Galway winning four and drawing two, but for Keith Rossiter, this was a game Wexford simply had to win to keep alive some hope of a hurling summer of meaning beyond the May Bank Holiday.

Asked what Galway needed to get their season going again, Shefflin also appeared at a bit of a loss. “That’s the major problem for ourselves. It’s very hard to put your finger on it at the moment, we just need a spark from somewhere, we’re lacking that spark currently. And if I could get one thing that’s what I’d like to see.”

“We looked a bit dead on our feet, but there still is hope. We’re still left in the championship. It doesn’t feel like that at this moment in time and it won’t feel like that for a long number of days.”

Antrim have again proven to be stubborn opposition at home, getting the better of Wexford in round two, and if Shefflin is starting to feel some pressure coming on now, should Galway lose that one, there may be no escaping it. — Ian O’Riordan