Not Quite Convinced…
By Barry McAllister
Saturday two weeks ago, I went down to Armagh to see the McKenna Cup Final.
I have to say, I was quite impressed with the crowd. It was great to see stewards turning people away from the stands and sending them around to the far terrace.
It’s great to see such large numbers (over 11,000) at a pre-season tournament game. Shows that people are still interested to see the competition between the two competing teams, and by God, these teams have had a fair bit of competition down through the years (*cough cough* 2003).
While the play itself was typically defensive, with Tyrone coming out on top in that category, it was all the same quite entertaining.
The largest lead there was in the game was 4 points, and it was tit for tat throughout the 70 minutes.
Armagh played better than I expected. I was thinking that Tyrone would line out fairly strong and try and take McKenna back as best they could as Harte would be looking some sort of title to get the season going well.
However, they lined out with 5 or 6 regular outfield players, keeping Mattie Donnelly, Conor Meyler, Kieran McGeary and the likes on the bench for reinforcements should the situation turn sour.
While Armagh threw a few rookies into the mix, such as Rian O’Neill and Jamar Hall, they lined out a fairly experienced side with Grimley, Grugan, Campbell and Clarke making a start for the Orchard.
Throughout the game, Tyrone always looked like they could step up a gear slightly, but were for some reason holding back.
Armagh took advantage of that, and put on a good performance in the first half, taking the lead up until the 25th minute when Tyrone drew the game up.
After that, Tyrone were in the lead and Armagh never went in front, even though they had several strong chances to do so.
Once again, Tyrone won the Dr. McKenna Cup for the 7th time in 8 years.
From this game, and several other games in the tournament, it’s fair to draw a few conclusions from what we’ve seen in the past few weeks.
Armagh have an improved side from this time last year.
The addition of a few new players, coined with the experience of a few old heads should serve them well.
But they need to change their game plan.
Too many times I saw them hold possession, travel along the ’45, pass the ball out to a player on the side line only to give it back to his passer.
All the while, there was 3 acres of space in front of him, where a half-forward should be looking to try and invade.
I also get the feeling that this is as good as it may get for Armagh, that they have no more firepower left to offer and they’re not too far away from their peak, which isn’t an ideal situation this early in the year.
However, once the league is gone and it’s Championship time, the whole thing could be flipped around.
Tyrone are the same.
Typical defensive. Typical possession. Typical sickening.
I was filled with a disgust of sorts when I saw Tiernan McCann the other night.
He’s dyed his hair white.
He reminded me a bit of Mark Vaughan that played for Dublin there in the last decade, or Ciaran McDonald from Mayo.
Only, I (sort of) liked Vaughan and I have a place for McDonald in my list of favourite players.
McCann? I don’t like so much
He’s a man to go down handy, he’ll fall over with the first gust of wind that comes his way.
He’s got a vein feel about him too, he parades around likes he’s the best thing since fresh slice pan, but his decision to dye his hair doesn’t do him any favours for me.
It’s symbolic of the individualistic, precious, delicate attitude that some footballers have about them these days.
He had white boots on him.
Say no more.
Tyrone are also the same delicate team too.
Many times I saw Tyrone diving and falling over handy as well.
Peter Harte was being tackled fairly by two men and he threw himself down onto his knees and won a free in.
He got clipped on the shoulder and he fell down like a sack of spuds and won a free also.
Jarly Og Burns near got the head pulled of him and not a card was handed out.
The distribution of cards towards Armagh was insane compared to that of Tyrone, and it may have something to do with the tumbling over they were at.
Whenever a tackle was made, they lay down holding their faces, stopping play from resuming and subsequently winning themselves a handy free in.
But, funny, there not too shy when it comes to scuffles.
I happened to see a bit of a row going on in the centre of the field.
Don’t ask me who was involved, but the Tyrone player was sort of pulling the Armagh player down on top of him, despite the fact the Orchard Man was trying to lift himself up and that he had his arms in the air to prove his innocence.
The Tyrone man simply wrapped him arms around him and continued to pull him down on top of him.
Their football was just as bad, with players shouting to each other “Keep the ball”.
A coach of some description was standing on the side-line in front of me and instructed them to “Hit them”.
Seems mildly inappropriate for a game of football all the same.
Just a sad reflection of how poor the quality of our games has turned.
Which leads me to the next topic of analysis.
The rules and the referees.
Thank God the 3 hand pass rule was abolished.
It did nothing but slow the game down and hinder a flowing passage of play.
The forward mark doesn’t work either.
It slows the game down as well, it stops the game from being played in its glorious, uninterrupted state.
No amount of rules is going to change how the game will be played.
The more rules there are, the more complicated it becomes.
The more rules there are, the more rules there are to be broken, resulting in stopping play.
The more rules there are to be broken, the harder it is for referees to marshal the game.
They can’t even manage the game as it is at present.
A big issue is soft frees.
That, unlike defensive football is one issue that can be addressed without bringing in new rules.
Too many frees are being given for shoulders, men running themselves into tackles and lying down on the ground.
Referees need to make them get up and get on with it.
If players know that they’re going to get nothing for going down handy or diving, they won’t do it.
I recall umpiring a junior game in Monaghan, and none other than Eamon McEneaney was the referee.
The full-back and the full-forward both went in for a 50/50 ball, with a fair shoulder going in, and the full-back emerged the victor and won possession.
Well, the full-forward went down holding his head and stayed there until the medics came out and nearly pronounced him dead.
McEneaney went in and said “What’s wrong with you, why are you lying down?”
The actor said “F***in’ hell Eamon, he hit me a thump, he fouled me for Jesus sake!”
McEneaney was having none of it.
“He went in and hit you like any good full-back would, now get up to f***, there’s nothing wrong with you”.
And by God he got up and played on.
Referees need to stamp this play out.
If players know that they won’t get anything for going down easy or playing dead, they’ll see there’s no point in it, and perhaps decide to try and avoid that sort of stuff and contribute in a more efficient and better way to help the team.
Instead of lying down, try to stay on their feet or get up straight away and work to regain possession or try and play the ball instead of working their way into a free.
Perhaps when players stop going down for handy frees, they might start manning up and take on their own man.
We could even possibly see the revival of the concept of individual battles on the football field, and who knows what that might lead to…
A surge of confidence in one’s own ability to play on their man might lead to some abolishing the blanket, finally seeing that the best way to play the game is that of 15 vs 15.
At present, we’re just going to have to make do with what we have.
We should look at the GAA as an example, an institution for the young kids to look up to and take inspiration from.
It’s not good raising the next generation of ballers with this sort of game going on.
I couldn’t find room in my barbers with all the kids all the same.
They were all in getting their hair dyed white…
Comhghairdeas to John and Carmel Fearon for over 40 years of business in The Lantern Bar and I would like to wish them the very best in their retirement.
I played several gigs in there and it was always one of my favourite venues due to the closeness and cosiness of the establishment, and of course, the football content!
John was a loyal and dedicated Rangers man and was always open for a bit of craic and conversation.
My next article is based on those that are important in our association, such as the devout fans and supporters, and John Fearon fits the role very well.