Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Declan Bogue: Well, if this is broke I don’t want it fixed

A Mayo fan celebrates his team's win over Dublin on Sunday

With his spirit crushed by the Machiavellian control and financial milking of the punk spirit by Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, Johnny Rotten finished their career singing ‘No Fun' on a San Francisco stage, adding the rhetorical question, “Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?”

Rotten thought himself a poet laureate of the disaffected, but was conned. McLaren's ego and pocket had been filled by the counter-culture.

For a while there, we thought we were cheated by our games. The familiar complaints had us on the brink of giving up on Gaelic football as a sport, but this years' All-Ireland series has made its point. The naysayers and cynics, those who label the present day game ‘boring', the men who call for a review into this and into that, the ‘put the foot back into football' brigade, have lost the argument.

Sometime around the start of the '90s with Ger Loughnane and Clare leading the charge, hurling became a sport that exceeded realistic expectations of what sports fans could expect from a game in terms of skill and courage.

Now, football is heading for the same destination, if it hasn't got there already.

In evidence, we offer up the All-Ireland semi-finals which were incredible affairs. It was said that the high-catching midfielder was a thing of the past, but that was before Neil Gallagher produced five clean catches from kickouts. On the first, he gave a lovely cushioned kickpass to set Karl Lacey away for a point.

It's not an original thought, but instead of just parroting that Donegal's present team have changed facets of Gaelic football, let's look at the ways they have.

Paul Durcan delivers ‘no-look' kickouts with radar accuracy. The spin he puts on the ball invites the likes of Gallagher to claim it in the air.

Martin Carney states that Paddy McBrearty has scored roughly 80 points in 10 club games this season for Kilcar. Yet for his county, his scoring average is only 0.6 a game, four points from six outings.

By contrast, Frank McGlynn who plays with a corner-backs' number on his jersey is away ahead, 1-3 from six games, or if you like, a point a game average.

Somewhere in the relentless practise that Donegal observe, players like McGlynn, along with Rory Kavanagh and Neil Gallagher went from being workaday footballers to becoming exceptional. And they produce exceptional performances as a result.

One thought from the weekend; in Gaelic games, the Croke Park experience is necessary. That famous day in 2008 when John Mullane rolled around on the turf with Davy Fitz after Waterford clinched a place in the All-Ireland hurling final was a beguiling moment, one this column thought was as close to tears as he thought he would get at a sporting moment.

That was before ‘The Green and Red of Mayo' blared over the system last Sunday, accompanied by about 35,000 people who all appeared to know every word of every verse. Believe me it was heady.

As a race, we hunger for theatre and the Jones Road venue has the architecture to enhance matchday. Watching hurling from the upper tiers is not like a puck-around on the local patch, but a Gladiatorial contest. It could be a trick of the eye, but the sliotar almost hovers in the atmosphere before dropping like a stone, only to be met by rage and fury.

These astonishing scenes. Are the games in the early rounds really that bad, or does the emotion of 55, or 80,000 people all camped into a stadium, brightly dressed in the colours of their county, elevate them to another level? Is it even that teams prepare for playing football in August in September, the hard ground of the summer has allowed them to prepare uninterrupted and they have reached this level of excellence?

All these skills, all this effort, at high-stakes. Lose, and teams face a winter of local and national newspaper inquisitions, writers and pundits telling them where they have gone wrong. A one-point loss in the All-Ireland final will get the same scrutiny as if they had bombed out in two Championship games. Everything they will have done would have been wrong, all wrong. Television pundits will sharpen their puns and personal attacks on players, later wishing to laugh it all off as ‘just a bit of craic.'

That's what they have to look forward to after attending over 250 training sessions both collective and personal, as well as taking time away for coaching weekends.

And as soon as that whistle blows in the All-Ireland final, Glenswilly clubmen will wonder to themselves how long it will be before Neil Gallagher and Michael Murphy return to club duty to save them from relegation from the top division in Donegal, same for the three McGee brothers in Gaoth Dobhair.

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