Sport

Danny Hughes: Fermanagh won't care about entertaining the masses

Fermanagh did what they had to do against Monaghan, regardless of the low entertainment value

THE thing that matters most to a player is winning. Closely following after that is your own individual display. How a match is won will be largely considered irrelevant from a player’s perspective.

In a perfect world, all inter-county football teams would play like Dublin. Free-flowing, offensive, with the perfect blend of defensive discipline and shot selection.

The management and players of Fermanagh are well aware of the challenges they face in the coming weeks and months.

The truth is that when Rory Gallagher was appointed manager in pre-season, both the county board and indeed Gallagher himself knew what they were buying into.

Gallagher has the experience of assisting a Donegal team that went from being back door losers to All-Ireland champions within a two-year period (2010-2012).

Whether you buy into Gallagher’s methods or whether you like him or not, you have to respect his coaching and managing credentials.

I have played in plenty of Ulster semi-finals – played poorly and lost.

Give me a poor display and a win with the opportunity to play in another Ulster final and I will take your arm off.

Sunday’s game between the Ernemen and Monaghan was horrible to watch. In fact, much of the 40-metre kick-passing was in a backward direction.

Both teams would work the ball by fist-passing laterally into one of the corners of the field and, after being shepherded out again by the defending team, there was eventually a kick-pass back towards their own goal.

This is the way the game has gone at club and county level. Fermanagh, won’t care.

Again, this is a game which highlighted Monaghan’s over-reliance on Conor McManus. Stop McManus and opposing teams have a chance.

With the exception of Karl McConnell and Drew Wylie, the Monaghan players were well shackled.

Indeed, it was McConnell and Wylie who put Monaghan into the driving seat with decisive running and quick hands, not to mention two excellent 40-metre scores from Wylie.

The only way to defeat a defensive system is to run at angles, at pace, with quick off-loads. When it happened, Monaghan saw excellent scores, including one notable point from Colin Walshe in the 65th minute.

The stats from the game all allude to Monaghan’s dominance in most sectors.

If you hadn’t seen the match, you would wrongly assume that the Farneymen had won the game.

Perhaps, though, the one bit of luck in the game went to Fermanagh – from that high dropping ball into the square heading into injury-time.

That happens in football. Like last year, at the same stage, Monaghan were the masters of their own downfall.

The Farneymen didn’t do enough in the 15 minutes beforehand, when they were dominating the match, to render this huge Fermanagh score as merely a consolation act.

A two-point lead is the most dangerous scoreline in Gaelic football.

Star performers against Tyrone, such as Rory Beggan, Jack McCarron and McManus all had off-days. The difference between champions such as Dublin and this current Monaghan side is the ability to grind out wins even when players are below par.

I would still expect Monaghan to dust themselves off and go again.

I would still expect them to make the Super 8s regardless of the team drawn to play them.

Gallagher and the Ernemen are now looking forward to the most unlikely Ulster final appearance you could have imagined at the start of the year.

Perhaps even Armagh will feel better about themselves this week having been defeated in the opening round by this

well-organised Fermanagh side.

As I see it, there will now be three strands to the Championship starting from now – one of which begins this weekend.

Firstly, you have the excitement of ‘last chance saloon’ Qualifiers and some pretty big-hitters now involved in having to negotiate this route.

Secondly, you have the provincial finals to look forward to and some intriguing fixtures.

And thirdly, later in the summer, we have the Super 8s.

The general consensus, though, is that the football Championship has made for difficult viewing.

When Maximus Decimus Meridius stood dripping in blood and sweat from his duel with men and beast in the film Gladiator and shouted aloud ‘Are you not entertained?’, the crowd chanted his name over and over in appreciation.

Hurling offers the sporting equivalent of those gladiatorial battles.

With its new format, hurling has wrested many Gaelic football lovers away from their own preferred code.

The matches we have witnessed this summer have been some of the best games of recent years.

Not only has live broadcasting of the hurling Championship dominated both Sky TV and RTE’s scheduling, but The Sunday Game highlights have also prioritised hurling over football, with football enthusiasts having to wait until well after 10.30pm to see any football coverage.

Football has also been reduced to consistent dismantling and over-analysis in the print and broadcast media in recent years.

While hurling pundits talk the sport up, football’s equivalent are adept at talking football down. We are effectively shooting ourselves in the foot.

I think most can agree that the 2017 Ulster Championship was a dour enough affair.

As a result, when programming scheduling is determined, preference will be directed towards entertaining the consumer. As a result, the Ulster Championship, and indeed football overall, has paid the heavy price as a direct consequence of the product they are offering.

Fermanagh won’t care. Neither will Rory Gallagher.

Kerry absolutely annihilated Clare and, despite its one-sided nature, you still had a Division One team playing a Division Two team which should garner some excitement.

Kerry were outstanding and their forward unit looked particularly strong. Some of the football served up was terrific, but we only got to see a small part of it in the highlights. The same too applies to Galway’s emphatic win over Sligo.

Surely with Fermanagh and Monaghan having been afforded live coverage and already analysed to death, there could have been more time dedicated to showing both the Kerry and Galway matches?

The balance between entertainment and results is a finely-tuned one.

In many recent cases, there is no balance. The game at this level is results-orientated and whether or not this is entertaining is merely a secondary concern.

From both a playing and managing perspective, the attitude is ‘who the hell cares as long as you win’.

You want medals, glory and personal recognition. You are not in the entertainment industry. It’s a selfish space, where no-one gives you anything. It’s dog eat dog. That’s the reality. It’s short-termism.

The result may be an un-sellable product, something hard to watch and even harder to buy into. While hurling thrives, football dies.

Fermanagh won’t care. They head into an Ulster final.

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