Curve Ball: No goals? It's all Harte but no soul
HERE’S what Mickey Harte said last Saturday night: “Anybody who is going to Gaelic football to see goals only, maybe they should go to another game.”
By the time he made this utterance, in the Croke Park media auditorium, the 27,469 patrons who suffered through the tedium of Dublin and Tyrone could be broken down into the following demographic groups:
ANGRY ANTS: The 10,000 urgently seeking a full refund from the GAA’s ticket office so they could reinvest last weekend’s entry fee on something more rewarding … like a four-way accumulator on Man U for the FA Cup, Annie Power for the Mares’ Hurdle, Chelsea for the Champions League, and Jeremy Clarkson for the Nobel Peace Prize.
NARCOLEPTICS ANONYMOUS: The 5,000 fans still in their seats who, without any prior warning, had lurched into a sudden, uncontrollable attack of deep sleep.
HURLERS ON THE DITCH: The 3,000 fans who had come to see Dublin hurlers march on towards global domination. As the football proceeds, they are now sending urgent text messages to the Friends of Dublin Hurling, enquiring if Ger Cunningham’s back-line had got their throw-in times and jerseys mixed up and lined up - in error - for Harte’s 14-man Red Hand rearguard.
THE LATE-COMERS: The 2,000 Dubs who invariably turn up late for the appointed throw-in, mutating into the early-goers who have raced back to the boozer long before Dean Rock’s equalising goal.
THE REBEL ARMY: Our 3,000 Leeside visitors who wouldn’t stay on for the Cork footballers if they were paid to do so, so the chances of them watching the Dubs and Tyrone are slimmer again. Thus, as Harte utters his ode to goalless entertainment, they are already speeding through the Jack Lynch tunnel.
ULSTER BLANKET DIEHARDS: All 3,000, who stay until the bitter end (made more bitter still by deadly Dean) and who depart cursing goals as the ruination of Gaelic football as it was meant to be played.
THE TACTICAL JUNKIES: We can now confirm there were exactly 1,000 people present in Croker who revelled in every swarm defence turnover, every misplaced pass or over-carry by a harassed forward, every ballooned wide or undercooked shot into a goalkeeper’s midriff.
THE DUBLIN BACKROOM TEAM: That would account for the remaining 469. On a (slightly) more serious note, it’s worth recounting that Harte’s reconversion to the gospel of massed defence has come straight after the ‘Tyrone in crisis’ headlines that followed their second half collapse to Monaghan at the start of this league, resulting in a grim 1-13 to 0-9 home defeat.
Their average concession in the three subsequent games is exactly 1-8 (three goals, tut tut!); at the other end they have scored 1-34, averaging just over 12 points per game.
Mayo, Derry and Dublin have all struggled with the conundrum of breaking them down; but when you’ve so few players of your own committed to attack … oh, don’t tell me you’re one of those romantic old relics who actually opens your wallet in the full expectation of a goalfest?
Sure, not even the Cork hurlers bother with that.