herald

Monday 5 December 2016

Roche's Point: Where's the climax in a dud final?

26 April 2015; Michael Shields, Cork, in acrtion against Tomas Brady, Dublin. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Final, Dublin v Cork. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE
26 April 2015; Michael Shields, Cork, in acrtion against Tomas Brady, Dublin. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Final, Dublin v Cork. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE

THIS column was perched high up in the Hogan Stand on Sunday, muttering a forlorn prayer that the action down below might warm the heart and, more importantly, banish the hypothermia that is a perennial feature of life in the Croke Park press box.

It didn't happen, of course. Does it ever?

And we got to thinking (between shivers): what's wrong with the Allianz Football League? And we don't mean this in a pejorative way: in several ways the league can be a great competition but the climax itself has become the ultimate in anti-climax.

Is this just a transitory phase? Or, because the last two Division One finals have resulted in Dublin cakewalks, are we wrongly presuming this is always the way?

Well, let's just rejig the memory. The 2011 final may have been traumatic for the Dubs, given the surrender of an eight-point lead to Cork, but it was certainly dramatic. The 2013 decider between Dublin and Tyrone was more nip-and-tuck but it still held a certain fascination.

Yet, there have been far more dud deciders than spring sizzlers.

PYROTECHNICS

Our report from the 2009 Kerry/Derry final recalled how that year's league "opened in a blaze of pyrotechnics" (the GAA's 125 fireworks celebrations capped by a Tyrone/Dublin classic) and ended in a "damp squib". "A long way to come for a challenge game, grumbled one jaundiced veteran of the press box."

What about Cork's win over Mayo in 2010? When your first few pars refer to "paint-drying evidence", the judgement can only be damning. "Cork won in an eight-point canter and afterwards admitted they were well off the intensity required for championship," we wrote.

Surely the 2012 rematch was better? "The final whistle sounded to barely a murmur of acclamation - not because the match was so abject, although it was no great shakes and marred by a recurring tetchiness, but primarily because there were so few Corkonians in the 22,827 attendance."

FLASHBACKS

Those flashbacks reveal a few home truths. Sometimes the start (as in '09) is far more engrossing than the finish. The public realise as much, and final attendances have been patchy for years, even when Dublin are involved.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that the last regulation round - when promotion, relegation and semi-final places are finalised - contains far more excitement than what follows.

Teams are more consumed by retaining top-flight status than actually winning it. If you've an early and testing SFC start, it may not be in your best interests to go for broke in a league semi-final or final.

Donegal have conveyed that impression these last two Aprils. We don't believe Cork were holding anything back on Sunday - they appear to have more fundamental problems.

In summary, there may be merit in deciding league trophies on divisional tables. This would go against the GAA's obsession with having a big final to crown every competition; but would it be any less exciting than the current reality?

 

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