Belfast Telegraph

Time for a reality check or it will all end in tears

By Declan Bogue

Armagh and Tyrone, the 2014 showdown... it really wasn't supposed to end in this manner.

On Saturday, we carried an interview with Peter Canavan who talked about his introduction to county football, and how his debut game against Armagh ended up being abandoned as 27 men stood toe to toe in the middle of the pitch trading blows.

Neither county were up to much back then. But getting the upper hand meant everything to both.

There was a little bit of that spirit at the very start of Sunday's game, but most of it was posing from the same old culprits.

Armagh selector Peter McDonnell spoke of how some of their players were on their hands and knees in the dressing room, crying after their 13-10 win, such was the emotion of the occasion.

Back in 2012, Paul Galvin and other Kerry players reacted in a similar way.

However, they needed to catch themselves on then, as do Armagh now.

The Tyrone teams that had their number in the last decade are long gone, replaced by several players who may develop yet into serious footballers at this level, but there are too many imposters wearing the jersey at present.

We will make this point, though.

Last winter, when it was announced that Kieran McGeeney was joining Paul Grimley in the Armagh management team, the gut feeling was that Grimley has less ego than most inter-county managers.

From then on, any progress of the team would be attributed to McGeeney's input, after their messy summer of 2013.

Sunday was a chance for him to play the big 'I am' in post-match comments, but he eschewed the opportunity. A peculiar 'Chapeau' for that.

Another man over the weekend waging his own war was Davy Fitzgerald.

The views of Peter O'Connell in the Clare Champion newspaper have earned him a press ban from the 2013 All-Ireland hurling champions, as insisted upon by Fitzgerald.

The most stinging criticism it seems, was that he had suggested that Podge Collins might have felt isolated when Davy suggested after the Munster Hurling Championship defeat to Cork that 'some lads feel they can go off and play football...'

Collins and his brother Sean are keen footballers, and their father is manager of an impressive Clare sidee currently making great progress through the backdoor. Podge scored two goals last weekend in their win over Carlow to leave the Banner in the last 12 of the race for Sam Maguire.

What Davy said was manipulative and cold towards someone who worked miracles last summer for Clare and as a dual player, is one of the most dedicated GAA volunteers in the country.

Davy has little regard for the media. But no dagger pierces quite like the one from your own, and so he created a sideshow that threatened to overshadow the sheer majesty of their two-game series against Wexford that went to extra-time over two consecutive Saturdays.

Early league performances, when they were blowing teams away were delivered almost from muscle memory.

No matter what players and managers say, and we have heard some impressive rhetoric in the recent past, it is a minor miracle to defend an All-Ireland title.

As soon as Sam or Liam is captured, there is a never-ending carousel of partying and presenting the trophy in every corner and crevice of the county, not to mention the county associations in Dublin, New York and London.

Then, the local domestic Championships will be shoehorned in, leading to fatigue and injury that carries over into the difficult second season.

Another factor that is seldom mentioned is the arrogance that champions immediately accrue. It can be a blessing in some situations, a curse in others.

They are all within areas that if you wanted to, you could impose some measure of control. What you cannot control are the feelings of those outside your group, but within your own county.

Club players will put up with just about anything for a breakthrough All-Ireland, but soon get fed up with their own action being indefinitely suspended while their county remains in the All-Ireland.

Just look at the number of transfers out of Donegal clubs in recent months if you need further proof.

This week, there is now a palpable feeling of relief in Tyrone that they are now free to play an unhindered club schedule.

We doubt there is that same mood in Clare, but their exit from the All-Ireland hurling Championship shows us that their hopes of retaining the title were almost doomed from the start.

Which brings us neatly back to Dublin and Jim Gavin. All year he has done a fine job of dampening expectation while his team has laid waste to all in front of them. What they need now is a good honest-to-goodness scare. No better team than Meath to give it to them.

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