Kevin Madden: Club form doesn't always translate to the county stage
WITH no inter-county football on last weekend, it was back to the club scene for most.
County players will all have been looking forward to this, especially those on the fringes of the squad who saw very little game time during the Allianz League.
Apart from the enjoyment of getting back out there to cut loose, it also presents a more realistic opportunity to impress the ‘gaffer' ahead of the Ulster Championship.
Of course, the manager might only be able to take in a game or two, so making an impression is always going to be easier for a forward who can lay down a marker by running up a nice tally of scores.
I heard a very funny story recently about the legendary John Joe O'Neill, who used to play for Moortown. One Sunday afternoon, his club were playing The Rock in a league game. John Joe was untouchable that day, scoring from everywhere, and he finished with a massive tally of about 3-10. So on the Monday night, as bold and bullish as you like, he rang the Tyrone manager Art McRory to tell him that based on that form he couldn't ignore him any longer. But big Art had a very different take on his impressive scoring feat. He told John Joe: “The next time Tyrone are playing The Rock, you be sure to give me a shout.”
Last Sunday, Trillick's Lee Brennan didn't miss his opportunity to impress Mickey Harte as he kicked an incredible 3-14 (3-8 from play) against Strabane in a Division One league game.
Considering Tyrone's problems have been in the forward line of late, this will surely propel him higher in the manager's thoughts for a starting berth against Derry. But as John Joe found out many years ago, unbelievable club form won't guarantee that you will get the chance, nor will it ensure you can deliver on the bigger stage. There is a world of difference between club and county and herein lies one of Gaelic football's great anomalies.
There have been lots of unbelievable club players down the years who have, for some reason or another, never quite made the big impact at
Tyrone have had more than their fair share.
For a decade or more Frank McGuigan (junior), Feargal Coyle and Brian McGuckin would have been the go-to men for their clubs and topped the scoring charts most weeks. But none made the impression at county level which many felt they were capable of. A more recent example would be Kyle Coney who was an absolute sensation at 18-years-old but never properly cut it for Tyrone in the subsequent years.
I remember when Eoin Gormley from Errigal Ciaran first burst on to the scene. Some people at the time were touting that he would go on to be even better than Peter Canavan. And those claims were not without substance as he oozed class, particularly when playing for his club.
Physically he was extremely strong. He was naturally
two-footed and deadly accurate from distance. In his early to mid twenties he was an automatic choice on Brian McEniff's Railway Cup teams, and it looked like he and Canavan would lead that Tyrone forward line for many, many years. But he never truly nailed down his place and he played his last game for Tyrone around 2002 when he should have been coming into his prime.
In Antrim we have had quite a few like that.
There were very few footballers in Ulster with the talent and potential of Kevin McGourty but in a county jersey we only got to see a glimpse of this for a few seasons. Gerard O'Boyle, who played for Cargin, was arguably the most dangerous forward in Antrim club football for many years. He was good for nine or 10 points every game. Yet, he only played a handful of games at county level, all late in his career.
In my book, Sean Kelly of St Galls was as good a half-back as there was in Ulster during the noughties.
I remember meeting Donegal trainer Rory Gallagher in the Burlington the night they won the All-Ireland. He had played with Sean on the St Gall's team that won the Andy Merrigan. He made no bones about it as he told me that he rated Sean Kelly every bit as good a player as four time All-Star and former Player of the Year, Karl Lacey.
Although the platform to shine was never that elevated, we probably never got to see the best of Sean in a Saffron jersey. I don't think I have witnessed a more dangerous forward in club football than Geoffrey McGonigle, who played for Dungiven. But that club form was never really enjoyed by Derry either.
Trying to make sense of why some great club players don't translate the form to county is a complete minefield and nearly every case is unique.
For some it may have been lack of a physical attribute such as pace, strength, size or stamina. In other cases it may have been a relationship issue with the manager and as result he wasn't picked or didn't fancy playing for him.
Fitting into the culture of a county set-up can be more difficult for fellas who are inwardly shy and less outgoing. To be a top county player, commitment and lifestyle have always been important ingredients and some maybe just didn't think all the sacrifice was worth it.
Handling the pressure and expectation isn't for everyone either. A good temperament is crucial.
At just 21 years of age, Lee Brennan is sure to have a big future ahead of him. But club form won't cut it on its own.
Mark Bradley was by miles the best forward in Tyrone club football last year. His virtuoso display of score-taking in the county final replay was breath taking. If Tyrone are to flourish they will need inside forwards like Bradley, Brennan, Darren McCurry and Ronan O'Neill all stepping up.
Whether that happens or not is anyone's guess. The only thing you can be certain of is that the answer won't be found in any club game.