Extra Time

Opening shot – ‘Northern football’ isn’t only played in the north

In 2014 Donegal adopted a cynical style of play in order to win their All-Ireland title

In 2014 Donegal adopted a cynical style of play in order to win their All-Ireland title

By John Hughes

Wexford manager David Power was providing some comic relief last week  as he got tore into Antrim and their ‘physicality’. Except it was just that he was getting tore into, it was that odious bete noire –  northern football.


“Conditions were very tough, but Antrim’s physicality took the game to  another extreme,” said Power.

“There was a stamping incident, a punch in the face and a clothesline offence and the referee [John Gilmartin] failed to do anything about
it. I’m not making excuses [of course you aren’t, David], but this is not football, it’s thuggery.

“The weather and underfoot conditions are very conducive to the northern style of play, which is very defensive.”

Well that’s us told.

Antrim won that game 1-8 to 0-7, but obviously they couldn’t possibly have won it because they were simply better than Wexford.

The Saffrons now sit top of the division four table, but that could only be down to their MMA stylings rather than any actual football

No, for too many managers down south the low blow of convenient stereotyping is just too handy a stick not to reach for when you’re on
the wrong side of a beating.

I am reading the southern press and listening to southern managers long enough at this stage to realise that talking pejoratively about
‘northern football’ is like the pouring rain at a McKenna cup fixture, an inevitable fact of life which you just have to learn to live with.

The most obvious question is what precisely is northern football supposed to be? Reading between the lines it’s cynical, negative, hand-
pass ridden, over-coached automaton rubbish that only relates to football in the same way that Katie Price relates to classic literature.

Do we ignore the fact that Kerry are probably the side most guilty of all these sins in the past few years? Do we ignore the fact that they
deployed this style to bring football to a new low in the 2014 All-Ireland final?

Apparently we do.

I watched during the 1980s as a succession of Ulster champions went down to Croke Park and took their annual hiding. From 1968 to 1989
Ulster’s role in the All-Ireland last four was to serve as the plucky loser.

Then in 1990 Donegal did something that no Ulster team of their generation had tried to do in an All-Ireland semi-final before. They set out to win the physical battle first, then think about winning the game.

It was a grand plan, except that they were taking it for its first try out against a side of Meath assassins who were oul hands at that sort
of thing. Nevertheless, it was as hard a game as that Meath side ever got and it flicked a switch in Ulster.

The realisation finally dawned that you had to earn the right to play football in Croke Park, and that right was earned at the point of the

It’s no surprise that once we learned that lesson, Ulster’s success at HQ dramatically improved. It wasn’t that a new phenomenon with the
moniker ‘northern football’ had been magically invented. It was simply a matter of Ulster sides doing what every other successful side in the
GAA knew how to do as a matter of instinct.

So the moral of the story is this. When a southern manager or pundit starts slagging you off and sniffily describing your style as
‘northern football’ then you know you must be doing that thing they hate to see Ulster sides do more than anything else; Winning.

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