By Joe Brolly
MY son Niall says the GAA should sell tickets for the last ten minutes of games.
The rule makers are incompetent and have been unable to do their job, so the spectacle has been ruined. Most games only begin these days when the 60th minute mark is passed.
The new 10 minute ticket would solve the problem.
The teams could go through their dull repetitive routines for the first 60 minutes, but behind closed doors. Then, the spectators would come in to see the real game.
The Ulster final turned out precisely as we knew it would, yet another Kieran McGeeney team flunking it. I kept saying to the Derry 1998 lads around me, “Don’t worry, they’ll blow it.” When it went to penalties, I was taking bets. Kieran hangs over them like a ton weight. Fifteen years (Kildare then Armagh) without a trophy. Maybe management is not his forte?
After the throw in, the game settled into a dull nothingness. Gaelic football nowadays is like a rugby game played in slow motion. One team goes forward slowly towards the zonal defence. The ‘keeper goes with them to try to force a small gap. They probe along the defensive line. The ball goes from one sideline to the other. The inside forwards make short runs towards the sideline then cut back in, hoping to create enough room for a handpass over the top, which almost never happens. The ‘keeper makes a few short bursts to see if he can get a shot off or create an overlap. When he can’t, the ball is handpassed back and the process starts all over again. Yawn.
By half-time, nothing had happened, save for a jammy enough Derry goal from a miscued point effort. Derry were passive and not playing with our normal intensity. Armagh had decided to mirror our game plan and play conservatively. They allowed us to take short kick outs all day long, instead dropping back to the half-forward line. This stopped our very fast defenders from getting in behind their defensive cordon but took away Armagh’s attacking threat. Their long ball game was nullified. Instead, everything was slow, boring, predictable probing. In the end, they were totally dependent on their ‘keeper Ethan Rafferty (a truly superb footballer) and Stefan Campbell, who had been left on the bench to start with.
Rafferty kicks points every bit as well as David Clifford and casually scored a few monsters. A few monsters from the ‘keeper delights the crowd but does not win games. Campbell meanwhile was the only Armagh man able to create an overlap with his powerful rampages, including the one that gave them the equalising free at the death.
Aside from that, both teams waited for the other to make a mistake. When Derry made a big one near the end of normal time, Jarly Óg Burns opted to fist a point rather than draw the defender and square the ball for a palm to the empty net. This was symbolic of Armagh.
With the game being played on Derry’s terms, all it needed was for Derry, at some point, to rouse themselves. With five minutes left in extra time, this is exactly what they did, finally going to battle speed. They should have won it at that stage. Armagh were saved by a free that wasn’t a free as Campbell rampaged through like Mack Hansen, but the reprieve was temporary.
Armagh, tense and anxious and stiff in their body language, were about to endure a second consecutive disaster in a penalty shoot-out. In the quarter-final against Galway last year, they managed to score only one penalty.
On Sunday, they scored another one. Derry meanwhile, by this stage focused and composed, gleefully blasted them out of it. Fergal McCusker and Enda Gormley jumped on top of me at the final whistle and why wouldn’t they? Two of their prodigies had nailed the killer penalties.
Like the Ulster final last year, which Derry won in extra time, it was another gripping last ten minutes. The GAA must now give serious consideration to a ’10 minute ticket.’ This would a) be cheaper b) be fairer (Why pay for 70 minutes of entertainment when you are only getting 10?) and c) give supporters the opportunity to get tipsy in the pub before arriving in time for the start of the real game.
Like cricket, Gaelic football is no longer watchable sober.