Ciaran Murphy on the sidelines wearing the wind-breaker so admired by Wexford manager Jason Ryan. INPHO/James Crombie
Between the lines

Sideline cut: Ciaran Murphy's pitchside perspective

Radio’s own Ciaran Murphy will spend the summer reporting on the GAA action at championship Ground Zero. We’re going to tag along.

THERE HAVE BEEN many occasions in the last few years when I’ve had cause to curse Brian Cowen, but this weekend, (on behalf of the rest of the Irish people, I’d like to think) I had a chance to even the score.

Picture the scene – it’s the press box in O’Connor Park, Tullamore.  Half-time between Offaly and Wexford in the Leinster senior football championship, and I fancy a quick cuppa.  On offer – one last remaining slice of chocolate swiss roll.

Between me and the confectionery – one former Taoiseach, out supporting his native county.  I’ll see you your Universal Social Charge, Brian, and I’ll raise you one Central European chocolate delicacy.

If iar-Thaoiseach Cowen was disappointed to be beaten to the punch at half-time, I’m sure it was as nothing to the disappointment he and his fellow county-men and women felt at the end of a dispiriting 70 minutes of football on Saturday evening.  I had hesitantly given Offaly my vote before the game, but in reality Wexford were far too good for them.

I don’t know if my role on the sideline for Newstalk’s coverage of the GAA championship is going to give me an accurate steer every weekend, but to see how relaxed and confident Jason Ryan was before the game was a real eye-opener.  He had a bit of a laugh for me, asked me if my unspeakably hideous Newstalk jacket was warm enough for me, and rolled on by.

“There’s a man happy with his place in the world” I thought, and his players soon showed me why.  They were excellent.  Pacy at the back, even if the full-back line were caught a few times, and with a new (to me, at least) midfield partnership that really looked the part.  Rory Quinlivan in particular was excellent in the middle of the park, and along with Ciaran Lyng was for me the stand-out performer.

Another man who impressed on Saturday evening was Wexford goalkeeper Anthony Masterson, who is a great man for the upfield forays.  He twice ventured beyond his own 45, and got the ultimate accolade from our co-commentator, former Laois player Colm Parkinson who said – ‘I only ACT mad, Masterson really IS mad’.  High praise indeed.

The game up north on Saturday evening looked high quality stuff having watched it on delay after I got back from Tullamore.  One thing that really struck me was the atmosphere created by those who weren’t put off by the clash with the Champions League.

The Armagh County Board have done an excellent job of renovating their Athletic Grounds, and they showed restraint in not building it with a capacity bigger than 20,000.  The crowd seemed to be in on top of the players nearly, and created a really buzzing atmosphere.

If only there were more grounds with modest capacities that really create an atmosphere like that – the only other example I can think of is Pearse Park in Longford, although Parnell Park in Dublin can be great too when it’s full.  Too many grounds, like Pearse Stadium in Galway and the Limerick Gaelic Grounds, are far too big, and filled far too seldom.

Croke Park certainly wasn’t full on Sunday afternoon, and maybe Parnell Park might have been a better option in retrospect but I thought Dublin-Offaly was great stuff.  Dublin were the better team and deserved their win but speaking to Joe Dooley on the pitch immediately afterwards it was clear he was immensely proud of his players and also a little upset they didn’t take full advantage of the chance presented to them.

How likely was an Offaly win?  Looking at it dispassionately, not all that probable.  They never led, and you could say they were only dominant when Dublin put their foot off the throttle, but they have to be commended for showing the spirit in a bind that was sorely lacking, it must be said, from their footballers the evening before.  There was a real championship edge to it in the second half, when it was clear Dublin had to up their physicality to match Offaly’s late scoring burst in the second quarter that brought them to within a point at half-time.

‘He puffed his chest out like a galapagos frigate

There were a few flash-points on the Hogan Stand side of the pitch in the second half, which brought both sets of management to their feet.  There was one moment when Anthony Daly had walked down towards the Davin Stand end, right in front of the Offaly bench.

As a little bit of handbags was teetering on the brink of becoming a shemozzle, and even (Lord help us) graduating to ‘melee’ status, Daly took umbrage to something being said on the Offaly bench.  His eyes took on that maniacal glare of theirs, he puffed his chest out like a galapagos frigate bird and I leant forward from my sideline position expecting fireworks.

The Offaly bench predictably told him to get back to his own selectors, and Offaly selector Brendan Kelly hopped out of his chair.  Up he went to Daly, put his hand on his shoulder… and started laughing.  Daly started laughing too, and the moment was very quickly defused.  My blood-lust would remain unsatiated.

But it was good stuff from Dublin when the fat was in the fire, and plenty of hope too if you’re an Offaly man. My only concern for Offaly is that they had moral victories twice against Galway last year and failed to build on them, so they’ll look for more too.

Our work on Newstalk was done at 4pm but watching Tipperary and Cork afterwards, it’s obvious that Tipperary are the team to beat.  The sheer class at their disposal up front is frightening, and it’s great to see Seamus Callanan back to his best.

Next week we have Galway v Westmeath in the hurling (an away jersey will be required!) and then the Dubs and Laois in Croker on Sunday.

  • This week Murph was – really not happy to be reporting on the imminent demise of Mayo over in London.  Honestly.  Honestly!  Galway’s game in Castlebar is the only thing we have to look forward to.  Like Sherlock Holmes yearning for his Moriarty…  thankfully, Ruislip was no Reichenbach Falls, and the big showdown in the West is still very much on.

All pictures the author

Ciaran Murphy is producer of Off The Ball sports show on Newstalk 106 and pitchside reporter for the station’s live GAA coverage this season.

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