O'Rourke steps up to Sunday Game plate and calls it right
SOMETIMES you have to give credit where credit is due. Pre-game, the pundits analysing the Donegal and Tyrone Ulster Championship opener could see nothing other than victory for the reigning Ulster champions and so it proved.
On RTÉ, the ever-genial Michael Lyster presented Colm O’Rourke with “the first opportunity to get it wrong of the season” as he asked him for his prediction. The way O’Rourke saw it, Tyrone, with their “lightweight” forward division would struggle to reach the required 1-12 or 1-14 to progress and Donegal had a “hardened look” about them.
Pat Spillane was then offered a penalty kick opportunity to put the boot into Tyrone when Lyster suggested that, if they lost the game, their Championship “could be short and they know it”. Pat, however, played it safe and proffered the optimistic view that Tyrone are “not as bad as their League form suggests”. He still went for Donegal though.
Joe Brolly was much more forthright and pointed out that Tyrone have “no target men,” “no inside threat” and that the only teams to have scored less in the league were London and Carlow.
Over on BBC, there was a divergence of opinion on how bad the weather was. From the comfort of his high stool in the studio, Mark Sidebottom, in the company of Oisín McConville and Martin McHugh peered out the window, to tell us it was “a dirty wet miserable day and a gale blowing diagonally across the pitch”. However, pitchside, Thomas Kane claimed “the conditions have been very difficult right up until throw in – right now there’s a little bit of drizzle but there’s virtually no wind". Nothing beats being there.
Half-time offered the assembled experts the absolutely classic talking point of a mass pulling and hauling match. Or as ‘TK’ had it, “there seems to be scenes”.
The trouble flared at the mouth of the exit tunnel at MacCumhaill Park, a departure point, it must be said, that looks like it was purpose built for confrontation such are its narrow dimensions. A frustrated Colm O’Rourke bemoaned the lack of actual violence. Only in the GAA lads. Only in the GAA.
“I thought it was a very entertaining first half... considering the conditions that we have, which are quite dreadful and, of course, it has the statutory sort of Ulster Championship dust up at half-time but unfortunately nobody hits anybody anymore, so it’s all pushing and shoving,” said the disappointed Meath man.
Spillane was then at it again with his upbeat analysis of the action. In the manner of a slightly desperate, slightly alarming door-to-door salesman, he told Lyster: “1-8 to 1-6. We had 16 scores, 14 from play in difficult conditions. It’s been an excellent game of football. You can nit pick and say – too much hand-passing. You can nit pick and say it’s very defensive, but to be here looking at the game – is it enthralling? – yes. Is it intriguing? – yes. Would you take your eyes off it for one moment? No. Is it enjoyable? Very much so.” Easy Pat.
When the game reached its almost inevitable conclusion, Brolly, as only he can, called the result “a typical Donegal three-point thrashing”.
Rory Gallagher, meanwhile, in conversation with Joanne Cantwell, simply could not hide his satisfaction. The former Donegal number two, continuing to move stealthily out of the considerable shadow of Jim McGuinness, described the game as “a great game of football...really exciting. Not good for the nerves but it was good to win.”
He even had time to suppress a grin as, responding to Cantwell’s, “what happened at half-time?” he almost quipped: “Jeez, I just think it was two teams heading in, you know, there was very little in it now.”
A canny operator indeed is Mr Gallagher.