Belfast Telegraph

Let's get with the programme and put the tactics aside

By Declan Bogue

On Sunday, the priest celebrating Mass in Aughnacloy took very little heed of the few Donegal jerseys scattered around the back of the church, offering up a prayer that "Our neighbours in Monaghan" would prevail in the Ulster final.

Perhaps the Almighty had more on his plate with events in Russia and Gaza, or not even the man above can find a way through the Donegal blanket defence. It's a possibility, especially with the McGee brothers standing in your way.

Over the last three years, the Donegal squad and management have had post-match outfits sponsored by a menswear shop in Letterkenny. Sunday's ensemble featured a Grandad-style T-shirt, navy chinos and blue plimsolls.

It was a casual look, perhaps more suited to the younger man. It's just a hunch, but I don't imagine that men such as Damian Diver and Pat Shovelin deliberately choose to look like off-duty members of One Direction if it were their choice.

Anyway, they have a recent tradition of getting a team photograph like this, when the stadium is deserted. What was noticeable as around 10 players gathered around the mouth of the tunnel was the lack of interaction.

All the players were absorbed in what was happening on their smartphones. We aren't saying there's anything wrong or right about it, just noting how much the Ed Sheeran generation live in a virtual reality.

Our minds turned back a couple of hours earlier when we read in a matchday programme question and answer section that Frank McGlynn counts playing cards as one of his hobbies.

Whenever we interview retiring players about the overriding impressions of their playing career, inevitably they will mention how a deck of cards provided amusement and entertainment, as well as fiscal difficulties while they served their apprenticeship.

The raucous team buses of their youth then gave way to silent commutes with players plugged into their own personal technology entertainment.

Presumably Frank has to play a round of '45' against a computer programme. That's not much banter.

While those Q & A's are worth checking out, the main reason for anyone buying a matchday programme are the teams in the middle pages.

Credit the Ulster Council – they produced an 80-page booklet for Sunday, with features, previews, records and pen pics.

But at £5, does it represent value for money, especially when teams are never right?

This is not the Ulster Council's fault. The matchday programme is a wonderful keepsake for any game and many fans get great pleasure from their collection.

They do their bit, even launching the programmes online which are available for download as early as they can in the week.

But in this regard, they are frustrated by county management teams who this year have channelled Ger Loughnane's love of the 'dummy team'.

Hence, five minutes prior to throw-in in this year's Ulster Championship, the tannoy will crackle out: "Fogra, there are three changes to the (as appropriate) team, as appears on your programme ... "

The only team to not make changes to the named team in Ulster this year was Antrim. Donegal made seven changes to their named teams, Monaghan made the same for four games.

The GAA's Director-General Paraic Duffy is known to be exasperated at this practice.

He would prefer teams to be named early in the week, therefore generating some debate about the choices and how the game might shape up as a result.

Quite often we see teams withholding information, with the message coming back that they will name their team as soon as the opposition name theirs. That particular brand of brinkmanship is made all the more redundant when we already know it won't be the team that starts.

Managers know the value of not showing their hand. Donegal's team was named at Friday lunchtime but everyone suspected Karl Lacey would start.

Paddy McBrearty was named as corner-forward but he did not start, instead coming on to become one of the game's most influential figures.

Afterwards, his manager Jim McGuinness explained: "We knew that Patrick would make an impact on the game. I'm sure that Monaghan had match-ups in their minds. We didn't want to give them that."

Other managers go even further.

When Dublin played Tyrone in the National League this spring, Dubs manager Jim Gavin made four changes to his team which were unannounced, with players in the wrong jersey number to add to the confusion.

The only document that matters is the sheet you hand to a referee. Some teams are even handing out a dummy team sheet to whoever is asking for it, but keeping their genuine one for the referee.

Programmes should still have a place in the game, but right now they are similar works of fiction to those of team news stories.

We will come up with the solution in a future column.

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