There’s a much greater choice. And in­ter­na­tional suc­cesses can lead to a boom in par­tic­i­pa­tion. Look at those girls win­ning gold at box­ing. That’s the Katie Tay­lor ef­fect.

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - Ea­monn Sweeney

ONE way of look­ing at to­day’s semi-fi­nal be­tween Ty­rone and Mon­aghan is as a play-off for Gaelic foot­ball’s Man­ager of the Year ti­tle. To get this far, both Mickey Harte and Malachy O’Rourke have had to re­cover from morale-sap­ping de­feats, over­come the odds away from home in the Su­per 8, defy harsh crit­i­cism which ques­tioned their whole foot­balling phi­los­o­phy and make ex­tremely ju­di­cious use of the play­ers avail­able to them. Mak­ing it to the semis un­der th­ese cir­cum­stances has been a fine achieve­ment. Reach­ing the fi­nal would be a re­mark­able one.

At this stage last year ev­ery­thing looked pretty rosy for Harte. The veteran man­ager ap­peared to have fi­nally built a Ty­rone side with a chance of em­u­lat­ing his great team of the noughties. They ar­rived in the semi-fi­nal with an av­er­age win­ning mar­gin of al­most 12 points per game. Ty­rone might not have been fan­cied to beat Dublin but they were ex­pected to pro­vide the All-Ire­land cham­pi­ons with a rig­or­ous ex­am­i­na­tion

Seventy min­utes later, it all laid in ru­ins. Ty­rone had been out­classed to an ex­tent not fully re­flected in their 12-point mar­gin of de­feat. They might have taken some con­so­la­tion from the post-match con­sen­sus that Dublin had just taken Gaelic foot­ball to a new level. But the nar­row­ness of Mayo’s de­feat in the fi­nal made Ty­rone’s per­for­mance look shab­bier still.

Worst of all for Harte was that Dublin had made his game plan, based on blan­ket de­fence and swift counter at­tack, look ab­surdly old-fash­ioned. He’d also been slow to re­act when a flurry of early Dublin scores ren­dered Ty­rone’s safety-first strat­egy en­tirely re­dun­dant. Ty­rone’s most suc­cess­ful man­ager was por­trayed as a man out of time who was hin­der­ing rather than help­ing the de­vel­op­ment of his team and liv­ing off the mem­ory of past glo­ries.

When Ty­rone be­gan the 2018 cham­pi­onship by los­ing at home to Mon­aghan, the crit­i­cism grew louder still. A for­tu­nate ex­tra-time qual­i­fier vic­tory over Meath did lit­tle to si­lence the doubters. Then Ty­rone be­gan to gather mo­men­tum. Cork were dis­missed by 16 points and Roscom­mon by 18 be­fore Ty­rone gave Dublin the kind of test they’d been ex­pected to in last year’s semi-fi­nal.

Done­gal were still fan­cied to knock Ty­rone out seven days ago. Play­ing at a ground where they hadn’t won a cham­pi­onship game since 1973, the vis­i­tors found them­selves three points down at half-time af­ter gift­ing a goal to Michael Mur­phy. Ty­rone didn’t just come through, they did so with a con­fi­dence epit­o­mised when, in­stead of play­ing keep-ball, they went the length of the field in in­jury-time for a De­clan McClure goal which put seven points be­tween the teams.

There was a re­morse­less­ness about that sec­ond-half per­for­mance which brought to mind the 2008 cam­paign that also be­gan with a de­feat in Ul­ster and halt­ing qual­i­fier per­for­mances be­fore end­ing with an All-Ire­land vic­tory. It sug­gested that for com­pet­i­tive rigour, calm­ness of nerve and phys­i­cal fit­ness, Ty­rone may be sec­ond only to Dublin at the mo­ment.

Mickey Harte de­serves credit for that but he’s not get­ting much. He never has. Even the great Ty­rone teams were largely por­trayed as bar­bar­ians rend­ing asun­der the sa­cred fab­ric of the game when they ac­tu­ally played im­mensely at­trac­tive foot­ball most of the time. The 2005 at­tack con­tain­ing Cana­van, O’Neill, Mul­li­gan and McGuigan was as good a for­ward unit as any since the hey­day of O’Dwyer’s Kerry. The fi­nal they won against the King­dom that year was prob­a­bly the out­stand­ing de­cider of mod­ern times.

How could any­one be­grudge Mickey Harte more suc­cess with Ty­rone? Here is a man who lost a beloved daugh­ter in the most hor­ri­ble cir­cum­stances and must have en­dured a level of emo­tional pain few of us will ever ex­pe­ri­ence. The ef­fort re­quired to keep sol­dier­ing on has to be im­mense. It’s re­mark­able that, at a time when showy dis­plays of sym­pa­thy are all the rage in the GAA and else­where, Harte has been the sub­ject of as much op­pro­brium as un­der­stand­ing. For some peo­ple, his re­li­gious con­ser­vatism makes him a bete noir to be mocked when­ever pos­si­ble.

My views on so­cial is­sues are very dif­fer­ent from Harte’s but the man has ev­ery right to stand up for what he be­lieves in. He did so, af­ter all, when car­ry­ing the cof­fin of mur­dered PSNI of­fi­cer Ro­nan Kerr seven years ago in one of the most pow­er­ful ges­tures ever made by a GAA man­ager. When Harte fi­nally does leave the stage, foot­ball will be poorer for his ab­sence.

Malachy O’Rourke has re­ceived plenty of praise for his achieve­ments with Mon­aghan. But some of the county’s fol­low­ers think it’s the wrong kind of praise. They find it con­de­scend­ing that Mon­aghan are for­ever praised for punch­ing above their weight with men­tion of the county’s small pop­u­la­tion never far away.

But at a time when Cork in­voke their dual sta­tus as an ex­cuse for dire foot­ball dis­plays and ev­ery­one be­moans Dublin’s nu­mer­i­cal ad­van­tage, it is gen­uinely re­mark­able to see the fourth least pop­u­lous county prov­ing that de­mog­ra­phy is not des­tiny.

Mon­aghan un­der O’Rourke emerged as a power with their up­set vic­tory over Done­gal in the 2013 Ul­ster fi­nal, but their sub­se­quent All-Ire­land quar­ter-fi­nal de­feat by Ty­rone seemed to set a pat­tern. There was an­other Ul­ster cham­pi­onship two years later and an­other loss to Ty­rone in the last eight. In 2015 and 2017 they also made the quar­ters be­fore be­ing heav­ily de­feated by Dublin.

The im­pres­sion was of a good team which lacked the qual­ity to chal­lenge for hon­ours. This year’s vic­tory in Omagh sug­gested Mon­aghan might have moved up a notch, but the Ul­ster semi-fi­nal loss to Fer­managh led to many peo­ple dis­miss­ing the team al­to­gether. Tak­ing the gap be­tween abil­ity and per­for­mance into ac­count, it may have been the most dis­ap­point­ing dis­play by any team this year. When Done­gal ex­posed Fer­managh’s short­com­ings in the fi­nal, it be­came clear just how badly Mon­aghan had played.

Yet the Fer­managh loss has in many ways been the mak­ing of them. The con­sti­pa­tion and timid­ity ev­i­dent that day has been re­placed by a more ad­ven­tur­ous out­look. Mon­aghan’s per­for­mance against Kerry in Clones was prob­a­bly the best in this year’s cham­pi­onship. That’s if you ex­clude the last five min­utes when the un­der­dogs threw away an his­toric vic­tory. Hav­ing picked the team up off the floor af­ter the Ul­ster semi-fi­nal, O’Rourke now had to re­vive them again.

Like Ty­rone, Mon­aghan went into last week­end’s fi­nal round of Su­per 8 games as out­siders. Yet it was ev­i­dent from early on that they would score a fa­mous vic­tory in Pearse Sta­dium. Gal­way’s pedan­tic sys­tems foot­ball was no match for the drive and en­ergy of the vis­i­tors.

To a cer­tain ex­tent, Mon­aghan have taken over the man­tle of res­cuers of the cham­pi­onship from Mayo. Their game with Kerry al­most jus­ti­fied the Su­per 8 on its own. The on-pitch cel­e­bra­tions af­ter the win in Gal­way were stir­ring old­school stuff. Were Mon­aghan to reach a first All-Ire­land fi­nal in 88 years to­day, it would give the foot­ball cham­pi­onship the kind of emo­tional punch it’s lacked this year. O’Rourke would make the jump from foot­ball’s most un­der­rated man­ager to na­tional sport­ing fig­ure. We’d all start claim­ing con­nec­tions in Castle­blayney, Clon­tibret and Car­rick­macross.

Though both man­agers have en­hanced their rep­u­ta­tion this year, to­day’s semi-fi­nal is still some­thing of a make-or­break game for them. Ty­rone are favourites and af­ter two los­ing semis in the last three years an­other fail­ure would be very hard to swal­low. The jour­ney Mon­aghan be­gan in Clones five years ago seems to have been lead­ing to­wards to­day. This is their big chance to make the fi­nal. To­day’s losers will find it hard to re­group.

That’s an­other rea­son why this is the most in­trigu­ing clash of the cham­pi­onship so far, by some dis­tance. There will be no short­age of ex­cel­lent play­ers on show. Mon­aghan can boast the best goal­keeper (Rory Beg­gan), de­fender (Karl O’Connell) and for­ward (Conor Mc­Manus) of the cham­pi­onship. For Ty­rone, Mat­tie Don­nelly, Colm Ca­vanagh, Tier­nan Mc­Cann, Frank Burns and Niall Slud­den have looked wor­thy heirs to the stars of a decade ago.

Yet it’s hard not to think that the de­ci­sive bat­tle will be that be­tween two of the crafti­est man­agers in the game. This year no­body has used the bench to such telling ef­fect as Harte. O’Rourke has been un­matched in get­ting the most out of his play­ers. Both men richly de­serve a crack at the big­gest game of all.

Who­ever wins, you’d have to be de­lighted for them. How of­ten can you say that about a big match?

How could any­one be­grudge Mickey Harte more suc­cess?

Malachy O’Rourke and Mickey Harte have both had to re­group af­ter set­backs ear­lier this sum­mer and to­day their teams go head-to-head, with a place in the All-Ire­land fi­nal on the line

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.