Joe Kernan: Honesty the best policy for Croke Park decider
The GAA can boast many honourable virtues but from time to time, both on and off the field of play, there can be a marked absence of one particular element — and that is honesty.
If people were prepared to hold their hands up and shoulder blame in certain circumstances, would there be any need for the Disputes Resolution Authority?
And if players displayed the more manly virtues associated with both football and hurling rather than producing Oscar-winning performances in striving to have opponents punished wouldn’t more games become spectacles rather than endurance tests for fans?
Let’s admit it, we have all grown rather tired of the age-old excuses being trotted out in the wake of unseemly incidents to the effect that ‘the pressure out there was huge’ or ‘it was do-or-die for us.’
So when Tipperary and Kilkenny served up that mind-blowing hurling classic last Sunday they not only brought their sport to a new peak of excellence but fired out a strong challenge to their football counterparts to dispense with cynicism, leave acting to members of Equity and render the task of our beleaguered referees that little bit more straightforward when they do battle on Sunday week.
For part of the summer at least, serious concerns were being expressed about the tactics and ploys in which some teams were engaging as the All Ireland football championship unfolded.
Feigning injury, goading opponents, participating in unnecessary histrionics and time-wasting were just some of the dubious practices in which players engaged to the consternation of even their colleagues and most certainly the paying customers.
Over the course of the past three weekends in particular the GAA has benefited from the best marketing tool of all – trouble-free games played at a hectic pace against a backcloth of feverish intensity but all within the parameters of the rules.
Think back to the All Ireland Minor and Senior football semi-finals.
Those four games did not yield one red card — Ross McConnell (Dublin) and Donnacha O’Connor (Cork) incurred two yellows in their respective games — while last Sunday’s hurling decider was quite simply a master-class in sporting endeavour of the purist form.
Not for a long time has a match in either code elicited such a positive reaction from all quarters — and not for a long time has there been such a heightened level of expectation that the football decider will follow suit.
The gauntlet has undoubtedly been thrown down to Cork and Down — beat that if you can!
This will not be easily achieved.
Cork have quality players who can set the tone for this — Paul Kerrigan, Daniel Goulding, Michael Shields, Pearse O’Neill and Graham Canty (if fit).
Down, meanwhile, should be warned that they will be encountering experience, craft, blistering pace and rugged
physicality on this occasion and it’s certainly never easy for any side no matter what their credentials are to cope with such ammunition without occasionally having to engage in some guerrilla warfare.
But with Martin Clarke pulling the strings up front, Kalum King a revelation at midfield and Kevin McKernan and Dan Gordon central planks in defence, the Mournemen have both the attitude and skill to triumph without besmirching their reputation.
The challenge for both teams indeed is to do for football what Kilkenny and Tipperary have succeeded in doing for hurling. That means every ball must be contested as if it was the last play of the game, tackling must be firm but fair, histrionics must be conspicuous by their absence and cynicism must be left in the tunnel.
For all its perceived shortcomings — and here I’m thinking in particular of the farcical situation that developed in the Meath v Louth Leinster final and the scores that weren’t in the Down v Kildare All Ireland semi-final — championship football has the capacity to delight and enthral.
It also of course can engender frustration, annoyance and even violence. But if a positive approach is taken on all sides than the curtain can be brought down with pride and joy on the All Ireland series irrespective of who takes delivery of ‘Sam.’