Danny Hughes: Plenty of positives for Down
TYRONE land another win and, in what seems like some kind of record, take their place in another Dr McKenna Cup final against Derry.
Even the most optimistic Derry fan would admit that Tyrone rarely lose these early skirmishes between the two counties. While both counties have experienced defeats, to Down and Cavan respectively, in the last few weeks, you would presume at this stage that both managers will be looking to get most of their squad playing at the pace required for upcoming National League games.
There is also reason to be cheerful in Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan and Down. Thankfully, Down have won two games, already surpassing the most miserable record we as a county can ever recall.
A few of the newcomers have also shown that they have potential. Alan Davidson, whom I previously earmarked as having strong inter-county credentials, has not disappointed and it looks like we have finally solved a serious problem with the discovery of a reliable free-taker from distance.
We just need someone of similar ilk who is left-footed. We have a fine young man as captain in Darren O’Hagan. I remember when he first came onto the county panel in 2010.
At one of his first training sessions, we were assigned to various different teams, playing small-sided games. I didn’t know Darren, but he was sure to introduce himself over the next few years at every such game. About six weeks into his arrival, I asked him why he always assigned himself to pick me up during every in-house game and drill from the very first training session when man-marking was involved. In what was probably a lie, he said that he wanted to pit himself against the best. That was Darren.
While the University of Ulster (UU) may have had quite an indifferent McKenna Cup, their sole focus will be on preparing for the Sigerson Cup.
A number of Down representatives are playing for the college and the fact that some of these same players have not been invited into the Down panel seems very strange.
Niall Madine, for example, has been playing very well for UU. Niall is a fellow Saval man and even I would argue Niall’s biggest issue to date is probably of his own making.
He might admit himself that when it comes to training he is not the most enthusiastic. However, Down don’t have the luxury to exclude players as strong or as able as Niall Madine.
I suspect that Niall’s previous apathy towards county football has stemmed from him playing numerous positions such as full-back, centre half-back and midfield over the last two years. The only true position for him is full-forward, giving him the role of an out-and-out target man.
It is a problem in modern day management when perhaps a player and manager don’t communicate, or perhaps they don’t communicate well and the player then misses out, as does the team.
When it comes to team sport, as demonstrated by the Chelsea and Diego Costa story, it is better for the team that all parties resolve any issue and move on.
Otherwise, the Down performances have been encouraging thus far and it will be important that the result against Fermanagh in the first National League Division Two game is a positive one.
Armagh, meanwhile, should be aiming to come straight back up from Division Three football without any defeats. Winning the division for them is important, but it is how you win the division which will be of equal importance.
Scrapping it out or falling over the line will not be seen as progress. And while no-one will be looking to the Down v Armagh Ulster Championship match to produce a potential All-Ireland champion, it will be important for both teams to secure positive performances on the easier side of the Championship draw.
AT A time when the pressure of inter-county football is huge, the managerial post must feel a bit like the England national soccer team’s manager position – ‘an impossible job’.
Graham Taylor, who recently passed away, was eulogised as a true gentleman of the game, a man who epitomised the quality of being a decent human being.
The British press hounded Taylor when he was England manager. And despite the carnage left behind by various managers since, it remains one of the best paid and most coveted jobs in football – a bit like that of the inter-county manager.
When you see that Kilcoo, recent beaten finalists in the Ulster club final, secured the services of the highly-rated Paddy Tally in addition to Paul and Brian McIver, a trend emerges which indicates that these ‘dream teams’ are now starting to see club football as a far more attractive and less pressurised environment than that of intercounty football.
It now strikes me as particularly relevant that coaching talent is being filtered into club football at a time when the CPA has just been formed and there is a movement away from an overemphasis on inter-county senior teams.
All this is a positive for club football and hurling. However, it is also a time of declining revenue streams in the GAA. More spectators are choosing to stay away from county matches.
Croke Park finances remain strong, however, a fall of €1m in revenue in one year is still worth addressing. A combination of GAA apathy toward the direction in which the game is heading, especially in football, the expense of admission to the games that doesn’t get any cheaper year on year, and increased TV coverage from RTE and Sky means income from attendances is likely to continue to fall.
You could argue that the increased commercialism and rights from TV coverage goes a long way to cushioning the effects of lower attendances.
As a player, though, Championship day is a day without equal. The tension in the air, smell of the Deep Heat and Tiger Balm and the roar of the crowd when you take the field is something you cannot re-create in your living room or pub.
Dropping the entry fees, taking more games away from the TV and shortening the season are just a few ways to coax the crowds back.
After all, football without supporters is what exactly?