Joe Brolly

JOE BROLLY: Decisive contributions

THE difference between Dublin, Kerry and the others is that the big two are capable of making decisive contributions in big games. The Mayo-Kerry game on Saturday evening provided a perfect example of this. With the sides level and two minutes of injury time left, Mayo, with the wind, were in control of the ball. The ball was kicked long and the Mayo player called for the mark. Only he was on the right touchline, 14 metres out, on his right foot. Instead of playing the ball out and working the ball carefully for the last shot from the right player (eg O’Donoghue, Fergal Boland, Jordan Flynn) he took the shot on. It was a 10/1 shot at best and he missed it.

Now, Kerry had possession with one minute to go. They worked the ball up field, waiting for Clifford. Waiting and waiting. When he looped round and took possession 35 metres out in a perfect position, there were ten seconds left and no time for Mayo to respond even if he missed. He didn’t. For over a decade, including five All-Ireland final defeats, Mayo have been unable to make decisive contributions.

Donegal meanwhile tore through Fermanagh just as they had torn through Cork. 2-16 to 0-8 they scored, playing demonically. “Purity of effort” Jimmy calls it. They are working on a revolutionary high press, reminiscent of Klopp’s Liverpool.

Fermanagh, like Donegal’s two previous victims in this league, could not get out of their half and were eventually reduced to panic. A few days after Jimmy was formally announced as manager, the squad began training on the beach. 53 days in a row. They are now fully under the spell of the great Rasputin of football. Those flashing eyes would hypnotise even the greatest cynic. Jimmy has Derry on his mind, then Ulster.

Derry meanwhile are voracious and rampant. We lost an All-Ireland semi-final two years ago against Galway. Having won Ulster after 24 years, that game was a bonus. We were woeful and unready. Last year, we were nearly ready against Kerry, but nearly ready is not enough. It was a game we ought to have won.

In 1992, we expected to beat Donegal in the Ulster final and lost. Then, we had to watch them winning the All-Ireland. Two things came of that. We knew we were good enough and we were stung deeply. We were driven. Demonic. Our training sessions were merciless.

Night after night we drove ourselves on, fighting for every ball, fighting for every inch, sometimes just fighting. We were full of revenge and hatred of our opposition. The young men wearing our jerseys today are feeling exactly the same. That primeval instinct that something has been taken from us. An urge that stops us resting until we have claimed it. Monaghan felt the force of this on Saturday in Celtic Park. 3-17 to 0-13.

Dublin cannot be expected to feel that. Their search is an entirely different one. It is to find motivation come the latter stages of the championship. Roscommon played as well as they could in Croke Park, with Enda Smith driving them on throughout the game and forcing Brian Fenton to exhaust himself chasing him. They kicked cleverly, played hard and scored very efficiently, kicking just one wide. Dublin meanwhile, like their previous two games, had an O’Byrne Cup feel about them, with loads of players getting a run out. The difference here was that they decided to kick the ball into Con O’Callaghan. In turn, he did what he was born to do, kicking five beautiful points from play, an exquisite mark and an easy free. It could have been more.

In the 12th minute, a long ball was kicked in to him, he outmanoevred his man with his body and shoulder, caught it high and was heading for goal one v one when Sean Hurson blew a free out. Two minutes later, another long ball was kicked in. He shrugged his man off again and again won the ball and headed for goal, only to be blown up for another free out.

The Bomber Liston would never have made it in the modern game and especially not with Sean refereeing. Con, a dual player, must feel like a schizophrenic. In the hurling, frees are considered ungentlemanly and woe betide the referee who gives them before grievous bodily harm has been committed. In the football, they are given for the mildest contact.

Dublin played efficiently but without urgency, just as you would expect. Even so, had they kicked the ball into Con in the first two games they would be sitting on six points now. But like Kerry’s Golden Years crew, winning the league is an embarrassment they are not prepared to suffer.

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