Thursday 27 October 2016

Kevin McStay: Improving Blues have the look of champs

Padraig O'Neill
Padraig O'Neill

SOMEBODY suggested to me, in the build-up to the Westmeath versus Meath Leinster SFC semi-final a couple of weeks back, that a single point defeat for Tom Cribbin's Westmeath would be a great result. But that they must ensure they lose to the Royals, no matter what!

Of course the backdrop to this advice was that a close defeat following a good performance against Meath would leave a team in good stead for the Qualifiers but if Westmeath somehow won it, the hammering against the Dubs in a Leinster decider would leave them on the floor and easy meat in Round 4 of the Qualifiers.

It's certainly outside the box analysis, but at any rate, Westmeath went on and accomplished the unthinkable - they beat Meath and now must face the 1/500 favourites.

Can Tom Cribbin instruct his team to go out and just enjoy themselves?

Hardly - they will be beaten by 20 points if they do that.

And if they set up tight and defensively-minded? They still could be beaten by 20 points. Hobson's choice then.

And I'm afraid this column can offer them little in the way of advice or support.

To my eye and my mind Dublin will not be beaten by any team this year - they have improved dramatically on last year, following their All-Ireland semi-final collapse at the hands of Donegal, and their only remaining concern is to tidy up the midfield area and pairing.

For Westmeath, the build-up this week must also look to how the Qualifiers will be handled following the Dublin game.

Players are realistic and if Westmeath are to continue to develop, following their victories to date over Louth, Wexford and Meath, they must work hard on a last-eight position via the Qualifiers. Because it certainly will not be available through the front door.


Longford's home difficult is Kildare's opportunity

DUE to Health and Safety reasons, Longford have had to forfeit home venue versus Kildare this Saturday and travel east to Mullingar.

It is a serious loss of advantage. Having recovered from a battering by Dublin in the Leinster championship, Longford rehabilitated themselves with decent wins over both Carlow (home) and Clare (away).

Round 3A beckoned and as luck would have it they were first out of the bowl.

As a result home venue was guaranteed until it dawned on all that Pearse Park, a ground Longford love playing on, was not an option.

So, what's all this lark about home venue? You probably hear or read me ranting on about its importance on a weekly basis and might wonder what the big deal is. In the English Premiership, odds can swing violently depending on who has the advantage of the home crowd, which team has no travel worries and can just fall out of bed, familiarity of surroundings and a deep resolve to defend your patch.

It's not as pronounced in Gaelic football but it is still very important.

I came across some great statistics on the home advantage enjoyed in the All-Ireland Qualifiers (see www.gaelicstats.com) and there can be little argument with the facts.

It is accepted now that home advantage in the NFLs is a proven thesis but what of the Qualifiers? Because the games very often throw up teams from different divisions it can be difficult to get a handle on matters.

Teams of different quality can face-off and the result will hardly matter on home advantage at all. Carlow at home just will not beat Dublin in a qualifier game.

Longford and Kildare are now in Division 3 of the NFL and the home advantage win ratio (for teams in the same NFL Division) in Qualifier games is a staggering 81%.


But you might argue that Kildare must be considered a division above Longford - after all, they have tumbled from 1 to 2 to 3 in successive years while Longford came from 4 to 3.

Suppose we go with that, just for illustrative purposes, we still get the home advantage win ratio (teams in the same division or 1 division apart) of 60 per cent.

Either way, Longford have just had to pass up on a big, big advantage. It's the main reason I have to favour Kildare.


Ref justice can be hard to take

REFEREES are usually judged on how they handle the big calls in major games and last weekend I watched two major games swing on the call of the men in black.

This is a fact of sporting life as the competition narrows and little in the way of ability or application separates the teams. It's usually the bounce of a ball, an accident or incident that swings the match. Or a good or bad call by the referee.

In Cavan where Roscommon were the visitors David Gough (Meath) had a superb game and handled the red card incident just before half-time excellently. The next day, down south in Killarney, Kerry benefited from a wrong call by the otherwise splendid Pádraig Hughes (Armagh).


Why did it work out for one ref and not the other? On this occasion it was all about critical decision making and the sequence one should/must follow when a big call is about to be made. Sound your whistle, consider your decision, discuss with other officials if possible and then decide. This sequence is the critical aspect. Don't back yourself into a corner by making the decision immediately when you don't need to.

David Gough knew something had occurred off the ball, talked it through on his mic with his umpires and because half-time was almost upon us, decided to clarify his position during the break. He bought himself some time, came out for the second half, made the correct call and sent Tomás Corr (Cavan) off.

In the Munster final Pádraig Hughes blew his whistle to signal a stop in play (good decision), walked towards the penalty spot and spread his arms wide to signal a penalty was to be awarded (bad decision - he did not need to indicate anything just yet). He then wobbled a little and went to discuss some matters with his umpires (directly) and possibly his linemen via his mic.

But the damage was done - he had indicated a penalty and in truth he could not go back on that. He should have sequenced his decision-making process better.

Still, he had a splendid game before that decision and went on to have an excellent one after it.

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