Thursday 24 May 2018

Same old chorus of boos from the sidelines

Dublin manager Jim Gavin looks on during the All-Ireland SFC Final against Mayo. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin looks on during the All-Ireland SFC Final against Mayo. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

This was the opening paragraph in the Irish Independent's match report on the morning after Dublin beat Armagh in the 1977 All-Ireland SFC final.

"The case for an open draw in the Al-Ireland Senior Football Championship received a powerful fillip at Croke Park yesterday," it read.

"This was when the final of '77 fell flatter than a Shrove Tuesday pancake - all because of the yawning gap between the prized 'professionalism' of triumphant Dublin and the seemingly artless amateurism of hapless Armagh."

The more things change …

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column on these pages predicting that if Dublin won the All-Ireland final, I'd spend as much of my Sunday night partaking in a debate about population, resources and the requirement to dilute the county's footballing strength as analysing another incredible win by an incredible team.

So it came to pass. Rather than fully recognising and contexualising this Dublin team's greatness, The Sunday Game panel reverted to a think-tank into how to stop Dublin winning again.

Divide the county into three? Four? Why stop there? But I can respect these views to an extent.

As a Dub, I've waited years for a group like this to arrive and for all those who jibed us in the past to take note of this team's brilliance.

We've seen the investment in youth and witnessed the thankless, tireless hours a huge number of football people in Dublin have contributed away from the sparkle of Croke Park to make all this happen.

But people like Colm O'Rourke and Joe Brolly are football men and GAA men, for whom the betterment of the Association is a cause genuinely close to their hearts.

I can respect their opinions, even if the lament for the poor club footballers of Dublin unable to crack the senior county panel sounds disingenuous - nobody cared about unloved club footballers in Dublin until Dublin starting winning All-Irelands.

But where the past week has turned sour and frankly, a bit bizarre, was the input of some journalists, who demonstrated a chronic lack of understanding of the culture of Gaelic football. What's worse was the self-righteous way their messages were delivered.

Eamon Dunphy's assessment that Dublin players "fancy themselves a bit more than they should do," doesn't ring any bells with me about the guys on the panel I know, nearly all of whom are disarmingly humble.

And Paul Kimmage's performance on Off The Ball last weekend (and I intentionally use the word 'performance') struck me squarely as totally ill-informed.

I'm not anti-media. I'm part of it myself these days and I understand that by association, I'm outside the tent. I also respect the opinions of journalists who ingest and interpret our games on a regular basis.

But to question Jim Gavin's integrity on the basis of a press conference performance was contrived nonsense.

Whatever system Jim uses for dealing with the media and keeping his players focused and grounded has quite clearly worked.

I know from my playing days how the media can be a distraction. I was on a team that sprung leaks, where fellas went off and did their own stuff with papers, something which didn't help the unity among the group.

Jim controls that now. And once he delivers results, that has to be respected.

It might be frustrating for those with column inches to fill and nothing colourful to put in them from the man who made it all happen, but that's his prerogative. Jim has his methods. He's cool on the line, he's cool in the dressing-room and he's cool on the training pitch.

The idea that he would then come in and put on a circus for journalists smacks of self-regard from anyone who expected anything else.

Jim's not obliged to toss out the soundbites and empty platitudes so the accusation that he lacked empathy for Mayo is, frankly, ludicrous. Asking the Dublin manager whether he felt sorry for Mayo is akin to asking Stephen Rochford if he was delighted for the Dubs doing three-in-a-row.

Dublin don't feel sorry for Mayo. They see Mayo as the big, snarling force that has smashed into them almost every year since Jim took over and who pose the greatest threat to them claiming the All-Ireland they empty themselves to win each year.

Given the sort of matches these teams have played at such important stages since 2012, there'd be something wrong if they started having empathy for each other in the middle of this frequently bitter rivalry.

And for anyone to call the Dublin players cheats and thugs is firstly, defamatory and secondly, shows up a naked lack of understanding of modern football.

I don't like cynical play. Dublin don't like cynical play. Mayo don't like cynical play. But until the GAA comes up with an adequate deterrent rather than persisting with a black card that is treated as collateral damage, players will do whatever they can to win.

If they don't, and the opposition takes home Sam Maguire, who's going to pat them on the back for upholding Corinthian values?

It happens everywhere. Go to a club match or an underage game. It has become part of the culture, albeit an unwanted one, and to single out one or both of the All-Ireland final participants for such behavior is to show an absolute lack of knowledge of what goes on every day in every county in Ireland.

It's just unfortunate that the resonance of such a phenomenal achievement can be drowned out by the roaring ignorance of the few.

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