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Friday 19 October 2018

A long way from Spain to Salthill

Curveball

Monaghan’s players are helpless to stop David Clifford’s goal-bound effort in the dying seconds at Clones 11 days ago – so they will be all too aware of the dangers of attempting to run down the clock. Photo: Sportsfile
Monaghan’s players are helpless to stop David Clifford’s goal-bound effort in the dying seconds at Clones 11 days ago – so they will be all too aware of the dangers of attempting to run down the clock. Photo: Sportsfile

What have 'the Disgrace of Gijón', round three of the 'Super 8s' and the evocative phrase, "fluting around with it", got in common?

Answer: quite likely nothing at all. But we implore your patience for the next while.

The aforementioned scandal happened at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, where West Germany defeated Austria 1-0 in their final group game thanks to a tenth minute goal from Horst Hrubesch (the Eoghan O'Gara of his day) … and both sides proceeded to play a non-contact version of tiddlywinks for the remaining 80 minutes.

Why? Well, maybe it was just a coincidence that a 1-0 or 2-0 win for West Germany would ensure that both they and Austria advanced at the expense of Algeria.

The north Africans had earlier stunned the Germans in a history-making group win. Crucially, they had already played their final game against Chile the previous day.

Infamous: Horst Hrubesch’s goal against Austria for West Germany settled ‘The Disgrace of Gijon’ in 1982
Infamous: Horst Hrubesch’s goal against Austria for West Germany settled ‘The Disgrace of Gijon’ in 1982

Thus, Austria and their Teutonic neighbours (we refuse to use the word rivals) knew the score before kick-off.

Sledgehammer

Even as Algeria and the rest of the world cried foul, the two 'protagonists' could not be punished. They didn't break any rules; they merely took a sledgehammer to the notion of sporting morality.

At least the 'Disgrace of Gijón' prompted one major change.

Subsequently, from Euro '84 onwards, the last pair of group matches in international soccer tournaments have always started at the same time.

Which brings us to the 'Super 8s'.

The GAA has long embraced the concept of playing the last round of national league games simultaneously, just to avoid any suggestion of one team getting an advantage over another.

So, it was only proper and to be expected that this summer's introduction of provincial round-robin groups in hurling and All-Ireland quarter-final groups in football would see a similar development.

Thus, Galway will host Monaghan in Salthill's Pearse Stadium this Saturday (6pm) at the same time that Kerry welcome Kildare to Killarney.

Risk

But even that doesn't fully remove an inherent risk with round-robins. Galway, already qualified, know a draw will secure top spot. And Monaghan know a draw will guarantee second and eliminate Kerry.

Is there a danger - or even the perception of one - that Galway and Monaghan could play out a mutually beneficial stalemate?

Even Curveball, for all its jaundiced view of the world, hasn't become so steeped in cynicism to believe this. Gaelic football may be a feeding ground for all manner of cynical fouling (even with the black card) but it hasn't reached the stage where teams would seek to 'engineer' results.

Never mind the theory, how would you achieve parity in practice? You might afford your opponent enough wiggle room to land an equalising point in the last play - but what then if they miss?

It's true that, even sub-consciously, Galway mightn't be going full throttle this weekend - purely because their semi-final place is assured and they might be wary of injuries or emptying the tank just a week or eight days out from a game that is actually must-win.

But, for Monaghan, Saturday is stand-alone do-or-die.

Where it could get interesting is if the sides are deadlocked with five minutes to go. At that point, couldn't they both pull the handbrake - if only driven by fear of being the player who tries an ambitious pass and coughs up the ball that ultimately leads to mortifying defeat?

In which case, you could have one side playing keep-ball around its own '45' while the other retreats en masse and doesn't engage …

Thank God it's Gaelic football; that could never happen!

Running down the clock to protect a lead has become a narcoleptic scourge. But it doesn't always work, as Monaghan discovered against Kerry 11 days ago.

Only Dublin (thus far) appear to have perfected the art … but it's a tactic not designed to win friends, and even Sky Blue legend John O'Leary has expressed his dislike in public.

Momentum

On RTÉ's GAA podcast, the retired 'keeper described it as "very high risk" and referenced the 2011 All-Ireland final, adding: "Kerry lost the ball in the middle of the field in the last couple of minutes when they were doing the same thing, fluting around with it.

"They turned the ball over, Dublin got the ball and stuck it in the back of the net. The momentum was gone."

This Saturday in Salthill, whoever wins will definitely avoid the Dubs. Perhaps the best incentive against "fluting around with it".

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