The pre-game atmosphere on the field usually speaks for the truth. How will the battle between two equal teams develop? What will make the difference?
And in cases where one side is a strong favourite, what are the chances of an upset? Will we see anything memorable today? These are the questions that generate particular enthusiasm and turn mere furnishings into occasions that stimulate the spirit.
That’s what sport is about, no more than the All-Ireland Championships, the traditional heartbeat of an Irish summer/autumn before it was decided to start them at Easter and squeeze them into a ridiculously tight timeframe.
Regardless of the date, however, some rivalries capture the public imagination. Or at least earlier. It still happens in hurling, but football has lost two of its prized assets – Dublin to Meath and Kerry to Cork.
It has also lost Down, not to any particular rival but as a brand that has had a daring presence on the fields of since winning their first Ulster title in 1959, followed by a first All-Ireland title in a year Ulster and quite often also Croke Park had later.
No more. Now they’re reduced to Tailteann Cup status and the sound of boots scurrying out of the dressing room before it even begins. Unlike other counties, where an All-Ireland club win usually gives a boost to the county team, Kilcoo’s success has highlighted dysfunction at Down.
In a blatant example of self-deception, some Kilcoo players seem to believe that winning a club title is the ultimate achievement. It’s enough to fill up without testing yourself in the whiter inter-county heat. Welcome to the comfort zone and lock the door.
Down’s only respite of the year came against Meath in the Allianz League when they drew with Navan. The other six Division 2 teams beat Down by an average of six points.
It was ominous for Meath and, as last Sunday’s poor performance against Dublin showed, a depressing sign for the future. It helped explain why the atmosphere around Croke Park was so subdued.
I walked up Clonliffe Road around 1.30am and while the Kildare and Westmeath supporters had a semblance of excitement, small groups of Meath supporters arriving early looked like people for whom loyalty was their only motivation.
Five hours later, a larger number of Meath supporters were on the same street, moving as fast as they could from the scene of the final embarrassment.
I ran into a few familiar faces, shaking their heads and requiring no further elaboration. Once again, Meath was demolished, bringing the average loss to Dublin to almost 14 points in their last six games.
Such a different world from the days of thunderous intercounty clashes, culminating in 1991 when their epic four-game first-round fight at Leinster changed so much for the GAA, not least the idea that big games could be held on a Saturday and televised live.
Before that and for a long time after, Dublin v Meath provided major events that drew national interest. No more.
Just over 38,000 spectators turned up for Leinster’s semi-final doubles header and even Kildare supporters didn’t bother to stay long in the second game. Why hang around to witness a non-event?
Meath has long been missing. Leinster’s title win in 2010, fought in dubious circumstances against Louth in the final, does not belie the side’s dismal decline since losing to Galway in the 2001 All-Ireland final.
A season in Division 1 since 2006 underscores the magnitude of the implosion. And when they got promoted to the top flight in 2020, they didn’t win any of the seven games.
Cork, who fought several big clashes with Meath between 1987 and 1990, are equally despondent, underscored by the fact that they found some solace in giving Kerry a decent 50-minute challenge in the Munster semi-finals. It wasn’t long before they were eventually beaten by 12 points, another in a string of floggings (other than 2020) by Kerry.
How long will Meath and Cork, tied fourth in the All-Ireland standings, and Down, tied fifth, be that far from what’s happening at the top end?
Is there a risk that they will never return to previous heights? Now there is a worrying thought for the GAA.
To me? Defend a colleague – never!
Shane Dowling was shocked and confused by the referee’s decision to send off former Limerick colleague Gearóid Hegarty during the Clare-Limerick game.
“Absolutely insane,” he explained to The Sunday Game while recounting the events leading up to Hegarty’s two yellow cards. He assured viewers he was not biased before more footage was shown of an incident in which Hegarty was pulled off the ball but no action was taken.
“Why didn’t the referees pick that up?” an indignant Shane asked before insisting again that he wasn’t taking his point just because his former teammate was involved. Of course not.
He may be the most objective expert in sports history, but the optics are wrong.
That’s because they’re wrong. Why use experts when it comes to their own districts, especially last year players commenting on guys they shared a dressing room with? It’s not just sloppy, it’s a terrible verdict.
A head-to-head race is not effective
Cork and Waterford each have a win en route to the final round of the Round Robin tournament in Munster.
There are just two points between them (Cork -7 Waterford -5) in points difference ahead of their respective games with Tipperary and Clare next Sunday. If both win, Cork will take that precious All-Ireland qualifying spot in third place behind Limerick and Clare.
Even if Waterford beat Clare and end up with a much better points difference than Cork, it doesn’t count as the winners of the head-to-head decide the standings when two teams are tied on the table.
Now, if Tipperary wins and Waterford loses, both will come to Cork with two points, in which case final placement will be decided by points difference. Fair enough, but why doesn’t it count when two teams are tied on points?
The round-robin format should take into account how a team has fared in all games, not just a head-to-head competition.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/gaelic-football/is-the-collapse-of-former-football-giants-meath-cork-and-down-terminal-41660371.html Martin Breheny: ‘Is the collapse of former football giants Meath, Cork and Down final?’