Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 6°C
INPHO/Cathal Noonan Dublin's Bernard Brogan celebrates a late point against Meath.
5 things we now know after the weekend's GAA action
Ewan MacKenna learns a handful of lessons from the weekend’s Gaelic football action.

1. Video killed the sense of fair play

Both Pat Gilroy and Seamus McEnaney had no problem with Eoghan O’Gara’s 53rd-minute point being given after initially being waved wide while the GAA are merely covering themselves when saying it wasn’t the big screen that caused linesman Maurice Deegan to get the initial decision reversed. But all are completely wrong because the end doesn’t justify the means and this opens up a big pile of variables the association doesn’t want to have to deal with.

Deegan clearly had his attention drawn to the big screen by the booing of the Dublin fans after it was obvious the ball did go over the bar. Everyone in the press box saw him, right below us, glance up at the replay, and only then did he make contact with the referee. It sets a weird and uncomfortable precedent going forward.

Look at it this way. What if there’s a wrong decision in a quarter-final or a semi-final and it doesn’t have to be a point, it could be a crucial free or a penalty call or even a sending off? Will it be shown and who has the power to put replays on the big screen and where is he or she from and why do they get to make these calls? Does it take a fan base as big as Dublin’s to create enough noise so that an official glances at the replay? And what if the call isn’t given when Dublin have already benefited from such a decision? Thankfully, O’Gara’s point wasn’t crucial but the precedent has already been set and before the end of the year there will be more controversy because of it. If a replay isn’t shown or if it’s not acted on having been shown, there’ll be cries of double standards and favouritism.

2. Donegal — they are that good

We’ve talked about their 2011 revolution and their 2012 evolution before but the extent of their improvement needs to be put into perspective. Just two years ago a team containing Paul Durcan, Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Karl Lacey, Frank McGlynn, Neil Gallagher, Mark McHugh, Michael Murphy, Colm McFadden and David Walsh were embarrassed and made to look utterly incompetent in a qualifier against Armagh, having already fallen at the first Ulster hurdle at home to Down. Yet now those 10 players make up two-thirds of what may well be the best team in football.

We knew from last year they had a defensive system to grind even the best attacks down but now they’ve maintained that system while putting together a gameplan that caters for one of the best attacks about.

You can get too excited by the way they ran away with the Ulster final as Down are limited and always struggle against counter-attacking teams but time and again this summer we’ve seen Donegal do the same. They have a half-forward line that can create space because of their long-range shooting ability and it’s that threat which draws defences out creating more room inside. Thanks to that, the speed with which they break from defence and the amount of times they break, it has allowed Colm McFadden to prosper when he struggled so badly in isolation a year ago with the lateral and tentative style. On top of that, they are achieving all this with Michael Murphy only playing at about 60 per cent due to fitness. Right now they are the side no one wants to face in the quarter-final and if all goes to plan, their semi-final against Cork could be legendry.

3. Dublin –  they may not be that good

People say it’s harsh to have a go at a side that won another provincial crown when not playing well. And there are positives in the form of James McCarthy, Cian O’Sullivan, Denis Bastick and Eoghan O’Gara. But not once this year have we seen even little signs that they could head into the last eight and come out with a statement win like Tyrone 2011 which gives them the confidence and momentum to go even further. We know they have huge potential, they are just so far off it at the minute and they have earned the right to be judged by the highest of standards, thus the complaints even as they win.

Hard work has always been key, particularly in defence where they cover for quality problems with quantity, clogging up the channels, hassling the ball carrier, turning over the ball and breaking when their forwards are isolated. But the breaks haven’t been there as often this year and in fact when Meath’s big players but their heads down and ran from deep in the second half they caused plenty of problems and could have had more than the one goal. If there are major problems there, there are minor problems at the other end of the field as there’s so much pressure on Alan Brogan. He has some good and some great players surrounding him but they can’t get the ball in dangerous positions without him. Because of all that, they’ll be coming from a long way back if they are to retain the title.

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4. Kerry – they aren’t that good

It may seem a strange thing to say after all the positivity and emotion of finally getting the better of Tyrone and Paul Galvin’s tears showed what it meant. But this is a completely different Tyrone to the one that Kerry couldn’t get by and this is a much different Kerry to the one that has come through the qualifiers and stunned the nation in 2009. They simply don’t have the quality of players that went before.

You cannot lose Darragh Ó Sé, Tommy Walsh, Tadhg Kennelly, Mike McCarthy and Tom O’Sullivan and expect the same heroic results at the end of it all. They have enough now to get past the likes of Tyrone, they have enough to be seen as the best team in the qualifiers and they have enough to possibly reach an All-Ireland semi-final. But beating Cork or Donegal is asking too much of a side that know their own limitations.

Jack O’Connor is aware of the defensive problems thus the half-back line continually drop deep so they avoid going man to man. But having Declan O’Sullivan, Darran O’Sullivan and Paul Galvin defending means losing so much in attack. Against Tyrone those players were able to fulfill the double-role but against better attacks that create more openings and better defences that can shackle those players, they won’t be as effective at getting from 40 to 40. So as much as the weekend win meant to them, perspective is needed. And as much as they are still the third or fourth best team in the country, all things are relative and it’s a decline in a county that expects to be number one and has been for so long.

5. The biggest threat to the game

Too much attention is given over to the effect massed defences have on the game when the real problem are the stall tactics and systematic fouling that make them so effective. Cork and Donegal do it too but the worst case we’ve ever seen came in Killarney on Saturday and the advantage Kerry got from breaking the rules was astounding. Yes, they played some majestic football and no, no refereeing decisions would have denied them a comfortable win. But time and again in the second half a Tyrone kickout would result in a player being hauled down. A Kerry opponent would stand in front of the free taker, holding up the game and when a short pass was eventually made because there were no other options because of the stall tactic, the same thing would happen again. Nastiness like that from Conor Gormley will make more headlines and get more people talking, but that doesn’t cause anywhere near the same level of disruption to the game. Indeed, by the end, Paul Galvin, Darran O’Sullivan, Aidan O’Mahony and particularly Declan O’Sullivan were lucky to be on the field.

Right now there aren’t the rules, the referees or the natural deterrent to stop this happening. That’s a great pity because if anything this is ruining the game played by possibly the best ever generation of players ever.

Well played: here’s your Gaelic football team of the weekend

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