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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Roche's Point: Club climax puts county in the shade

THIS will be scant consolation to St Vincent's as they ponder the demise of their two-in-a-row dream, but they have contributed hugely to the gaiety of the Gaelic nation over the past two seasons.

But then, so have St Brigid's and Ballymun Kickhams in 2012/13; and Castlebar Mitchels in 2013/14; and Corofin, Slaughtneil and Austin Stacks last weekend.

As a captivating first half unfolded in Tullamore last Saturday, this column couldn't help but ponder the entertainment levels provided by the AIB club SFC in recent seasons. And then, in the same breath, we started drawing a less-than-flattering comparison with some inter-county fare.

Now, we're not daft enough to suggest that the best club teams out there could hope to live with their inter-county equivalents. St Vincent's (even with first call on Diarmuid Connolly) would not defeat Dublin. St Brigid's would not beat Roscommon. And, notwithstanding the recent meandering history of the Galway county team, they would still have too much savvy for Corofin.

CONSUMED

But, as elite football becomes ever more consumed by defensive systems, patient protection of possession, etc, you are left to wonder if the consequent loss of spontaneity has robbed the game of that which makes it precious. Put it this way: in a number of recent All-Ireland senior football finals, some of the combatants have appeared more consumed by the task of stopping the opposition rather than going for the jugular themselves.

There are, of course, several ways to win a football game. A flying defensive block (a la Kerry's Peter Crowley on David Walsh) can be as rewarding as a moment of genius from 'The Gooch'.

There was much to admire in the tactical transformation that saw Donegal evolve into an All-Ireland force, or even the manner in which Donegal were out-Donegaled by Kerry last September.

But when you throw uber-tactics and evenly matched teams and the ultimate pressure of an All-Ireland final into the one cauldron, you can be left with an unappetising mulch. As spectacles go, Kerry/Donegal was one of the worst finals in memory. Donegal/Mayo in 2012 was so-so. Even the 2013 meeting of Jim Gavin's Sky Blue swashbucklers and James Horan's Mayo marauders bordered on grim.

The irony is that we've witnessed two classic semi-finals (Dublin/Kerry 2013 and last year's Kerry/Mayo replay) in this period. But is it asking too much to expect your season's best game in the final?

Hurling has no such problem. Nor, for that matter, do our premier club footballers. We rated the 2013 All-Ireland club final as among the best we had ever seen - until last year's thrill-a-minute climax. The scoreboard doesn't lie: St Brigid's tally of 2-11 (2-10 from play) eclipsed Ballymun's 2-10 (2-7 from play) in 2013 while, last year, a Connolly-inspired Vincent's amassed 4-12 (4-10 from play) to see off Castlebar's 2-11 (2-9 from play).

Okay, so the marking is looser and the defensive systems less sophisticated. But the football has thrilled the soul, just as Corofin's exquisite foot-passing and the dynamism of Michéal Lundy lifted the mood in Tullamore last Saturday.

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