Gal­way must come out of their shells against Dublin

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - COLM O’ROURKE

SO it all ends to­day with two big games in Croke Park. In many ways the Di­vi­sion 2 fi­nal be­tween Ca­van and Roscom­mon will at­tract more in­ter­est. The Dubs might want to win the big games but league ti­tles and Dublin are hardly rare cur­rency while Gal­way’s thoughts have al­ready turned to Mayo in six weeks in Castle­bar.

The rush for com­ple­tion has caused plenty of prob­lems. The bad weather is an ob­vi­ous source of com­fort to the head hon­chos in Croke Park, but when was the last time that Jan­uary, Fe­bru­ary and March had good weather? The win­ter is the win­ter ev­ery year. For the last 40 years I have been in­volved in schools foot­ball and I can­not think of one year when there was not mul­ti­ple post­pone­ments due to water­logged pitches, snow, frost and, in­creas­ingly, gale-force winds.

Just be­cause the GAA de­cide to play dur­ing the worst months of the year does not mean the weather is go­ing to be more be­nign.

April is now sup­posed to be free for clubs just be­cause there are no county fix­tures. The only way to solve this is to is­sue a de­cree that no county team can train or play dur­ing April. That would de­liver play­ers back to their clubs — the vast ma­jor­ity have not trained or played with their own since last year. Iden­tity checks are needed to en­sure that these young men are who they say they are when they re­turn to their clubs.

On top of that the league, which could be a bril­liant com­pe­ti­tion, is played in poor weather, of­ten on bad pitches in front of crowds which could be dou­bled or tre­bled if it was run at the right time. Losers all round.

Any­way, back to the fu­ture. As Dublin are play­ing it will mean a fairly healthy crowd, even if they come late and are usu­ally able to belt away early as mop­ping-up op­er­a­tions take place in the last ten min­utes.

Soon there will be a mon­u­ment un­veiled in the Ho­gan Stand which peo­ple will read in 100 years and won­der what it is all about. The in­scrip­tion will read some­thing like this. “Dublin saved foot­ball from the Bar­bar­ians”. The mean­ing is that the Dubs brought a style of their own to the game which in­volved at­tack, kick pass­ing and en­joy­ment when the rest re­duced it to a com­puter game of de­fen­sive cover, cross-field hand pass­ing and dam­age lim­i­ta­tion.

Of course Dublin have the best play­ers as well so they would prob­a­bly win ev­ery­thing even if they copied the style of some other coun­ties.

This game will have more than a lit­tle edge and I will be sur­prised if both sides fin­ish with their start­ing num­ber. The last match in Salthill two weeks ago was spiky and ended in a draw, but most of the match was played off the ball. The in­struc­tion of one player to a ref­eree in a club match some years ago when I was play­ing (it wasn’t me) comes to mind: “never mind the ball,” he said, “just get on with the game”.

Gal­way have de­vel­oped a par­tic­u­lar for­ma­tion this year. A few weeks ago I de­scribed it on TV as ugly. The ob­ject of the ex­er­cise is to pro­tect their backs at all costs and it is at all costs. The penalty paid for this pro­tec­tion is that their best for­wards like Ea­mon Bran­ni­gan, Shane Walsh and Damien Comer spend as much time de­fend­ing as they do up front.

When Gal­way dis­pos­sess a team then ev­ery­one has li­cence to at­tack, so they charge up the field like wild buf­falo. I asked Michael Lyster, who is from Gal­way, would he pre­fer his team to be win­ning play­ing this ugly brand of foot­ball or get­ting beaten play­ing the tra­di­tional Gal­way style of fast, at­tack­ing foot­ball. The an­swer is fairly ob­vi­ous and sup­port­ers in gen­eral take con­sti­pated, win­ning foot­ball over joy­ful ex­pres­sion.

Maybe Gal­way, in time, might find a mid­dle road and tell their backs to do their job with­out half a dozen ex­tras rid­ing shot­gun. They should leave Comer and Walsh close to goal. Walsh has speed and even if the end prod­uct is lack­ing at times, he should be per­sisted with. There is gold at the end of his rain­bow. Comer is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent an­i­mal. His sheer strength is his great­est as­set and he should be scor­ing goals. He is built like Jake LaMotta, the rag­ing bull. He has a jaw that could take a punch but at the mo­ment he is the best un­der-utilised full-for­ward in the game.

In­ci­den­tally, I did see a very en­joy­able game of foot­ball last week be­tween St Ro­nan’s Lur­gan and PS Chorca Dhuib­hne from Din­gle in the All-Ire­land col­leges semi-fi­nal. Play­ers ac­tu­ally kicked the ball too, so we can set the age of 18 as the time that the malaise of hand-pass­ing prob­a­bly takes over.

St Ro­nan’s have qual­i­fied for their first fi­nal which is a won­der­ful achieve­ment and they will play Rice Col­lege West­port in the fi­nal, the old or­der changes and it will be the first time in five years that the ti­tle will go out­side Kerry.

Gal­way’s best as­sets are up front, and de­fence is Dublin’s weak­est di­vi­sion, mainly be­cause they are left iso­lated at times. They still be­lieve in Dublin that a back should be able to beat his own man with­out hav­ing some­one holding his hand. As a re­sult, they give away goal chances. Jonny Cooper will prob­a­bly be back to­day which is a big help, but Philly McMa­hon is struggling as a de­fender and is get­ting him­self into plenty of in­dis­ci­plined scrapes too.

He has writ­ten a great book but if he does not im­prove very quickly there will be no loy­alty shown and he could be a new Ernest Hem­ing­way as he rails against the world in print. Do­ing so from a house in Paris or a pad on the Florida Keys might not be a huge im­po­si­tion but that can wait.

McMa­hon was dread­ful against Done­gal in the league and is get­ting passed very eas­ily by good for­wards. When it comes to pick­ing teams for the cham­pi­onship, Jim Gavin does not for­get these things, so McMa­hon needs a big game to­day with­out any off-the-ball in­volve­ment.

Two weeks ago, Ciaran Kilkenny was given plenty of “treat­ment” by Gal­way in the first en­counter. The Dubs are ed­u­cated ele­phants, they file away all in­for­ma­tion for fu­ture ref­er­ence and Kilkenny is one of a num­ber of young Dublin play­ers who value team above all else. So, too, Brian Fen­ton and Con O’Cal­laghan, when­ever he reap­pears.

It means that the Dubs are not go­ing away, even if they are drip­ping in gold. The en­joy­ment is play­ing and win­ning, then mov­ing on to the next chal­lenge. Add in Colm Basquel and Niall Scully, who have been very im­pres­sive in this league, and at this stage it is hard to know what the Dubs’ best team is. The only cer­tainty is Stephen Clux­ton, they are much less with­out him so he will have to play un­til he is 60.

The big-name ab­sen­tee is Diar­muid Con­nolly and there is al­ways a bit of in­trigue in­volved with him. In Viet­nam he would have been MIA, miss­ing in ac­tion, now he is miss­ing with­out any ac­tion. Most of the time he just goes about his busi­ness play­ing foot­ball and hurl­ing with St Vin­cent’s, which to my mind is a great way of en­joy­ing your youth. In any other county he would be a mas­sive loss, not so in Dublin, but they would be all the bet­ter for his pres­ence.

Gal­way have a very good team of in­di­vid­u­ally tal­ented play­ers but I do feel that their sys­tem gets less than the sum of the parts, not more. Apart from those men­tioned, Gareth Brad­shaw, Paul Con­roy and Gary O’Don­nell are good play­ers, while Seán Andy Ó Ceal­laigh looks to have a fu­ture at full-back and Sean Arm­strong is a use­ful im­pact sub.

To­day will tell a lot about their fu­ture di­rec­tion. If they de­cide to throw off the shack­les and let in early ball to Comer, Walsh and Bran­ni­gan they will cause Dublin plenty of prob­lems. The chances are, though, they will re­vert to a ster­ile game plan of no risk and no re­ward. Dublin will be pa­tient and even­tu­ally play through them and will take a bit of sat­is­fac­tion in do­ing so af­ter what they con­sid­ered strong-arm tac­tics two weeks ago in Gal­way.

Hardly a sur­prise that I am go­ing for a Dublin win, but I hope Gal­way go at them in the hope of death or glory. Oth­er­wise they face a paralysing de­feat with­out any long-term gain.

Comer is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent an­i­mal. He is built like Jake LaMotta

Damien Comer’s sheer strength is his great­est as­set, and he should be scor­ing goals

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