Tuesday 25 October 2016

Is it too late to save our SFC season?

Liam Kearns
Liam Kearns

It's official: the All-Ireland hurling championship has been rescued from the claws of tedium by the brilliance of three semi-finals that kept on giving.

But what are the odds that Mayo/Tipperary this Sunday, followed by Dublin/Kerry seven days later, will perform a similar salvage operation on the football?

Perhaps we should rephrase that question and ponder the merit of a competition that can be deemed retrievable at such a late stage in the season?

It's not that this has been a terrible football championship, per se. There have been more shocks than the recent norm, what with Galway's ambush of Mayo; Longford's giantkilling raid on Clones; Clare's fairytale run to the last-eight; and, most notably, Tipperary's trail of destruction against Cork, Derry and Galway.

But, without the oxygen of these outcomes, it would have been a truly depressing football championship.

Two of our provincial kingpins - Dublin and Kerry - retained their crowns while suffering only fleeting moments of discomfort.


Kerry were only occasionally troubled by Tipp. Dublin's first half travails against Westmeath were only partly attributable to the quality of the opposition - it was as if they were waging a battle against the boredom of knowing that, however well or poorly they played, the Delaney Cup was staying in Parnell Park.

For all the sporadic magic of the qualifiers, the football championship format passed its sell-by date several years ago.

This reality was best summed up by the timing of Páraic Duffy's blueprint for reforming the All-Ireland series - unveiled in August, when punters should be so consumed by the on-field action that championship reform is the last thing on their minds.

Still, obsolete formats (provincial or otherwise) aren't the only reason why we have less fans coming through the turnstiles.

For all the aforementioned shocks, there has been a grim predictability about most matches that pit a heavyweight (such as Dublin or Kerry) against a lower-ranking county.

A graver issue still is the slow death of a gung-ho mindset. For too many teams on the ball, possession at all costs is king; but possession without risk is a recipe for going sideways and backwards. Literally.

True, there can be a certain fascination watching a talented team operating a blanket defence when they know how to transition with deadly intent (such as Tyrone in their pomp, or Donegal at their best).

But when their winning formula is mimicked by less gifted groups, you quickly discover the definition of 'turgid'.

The evidence is everywhere: not just at county level but, increasingly, at drab club matches up and down the country.

The good news? This is not the Tipp way: under Liam Kearns (above), they have attacked with relentless positivity and, thus far, been rewarded for their bravery.

This opens the possibility of a high-scoring collision with Mayo who, for all their faults, rarely do boring at this climactic stage of the season. Once the dust settles on that, the build-up to the second semi-final promises another Dublin/Kerry nostalgia-fest ... but even that old romantic guff is starting to wear thin.

Truth is, while Dublin/Kerry 2013 was a bona fide classic, we are more likely to get something stylistically closer to last year's All-Ireland final. Partly because of the elements, even more because of Kerry's staid approach, that was the type of damp squib that Championship 2016 doesn't need.

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