GAA Football

John McEntee: Dublin still have work to do in battle for hearts and minds

Kerry minor star David Clifford comes across as engaging, witty and likeable in his dealings with the media. Could the Dublin players learn a thing or two from him?

IT'S down to the last two: Kerry versus Derry at minor grade and Mayo take on the mighty Dublin in the senior final.

The football played by all four so far has been enthralling.

This Kerry minor team are led by the towering David Clifford, who by the way is aiming to achieve three All-Ireland minor medals in-a-row – a feat last attempted by Brian ‘Beano’ McDonald for Laois in 1998.

On that fateful day it was Tyrone who spoilt the party, but with a team comprising the likes of Cormac McAnallen, Brian McGuigan, Enda McGinley, Owen Mulligan, Stephen O’Neill and co, the odds of achieving a three-in-a-row made for a very bad bet anyway.

Derry minors are no shrinking violets either. They have their own stars in the form of Oisin McWilliams and Padraig McGrogan and are ably guided by their manager Damian McErlain. Damian and I were educated at Ulster University towards the end of the 1990s.

He was bright and articulate like all the Derry lads but what set him apart, even then, was his astuteness.

It is no surprise that he has glued together 30 kids from clubs the length and breadth of a fractious Derry and is getting the best out of them for the third year in a row.

The senior matches were incredible spectacles for a variety of reasons. I admire the resilience of Mayo, their togetherness in adversity and their desire to win.

Similarly, I have high regard for the skill, power, discipline and efficiency of Dublin.

This Dublin team are role models to young kids across Ireland.

They share that lofty position with the Munster rugby team and the two Irish soccer teams.

Young kids want to train like them, to mirror their hairstyles, to follow their career paths.

They are truly inspiring. But – there’s always a but – has anyone listened to their post-match interview without yawning and then throwing your arms up to the heavens in desperation?

After the win over Tyrone, Cian O’Sullivan trotted out: “That game was very intense…. The scoreline mightn’t have done it justice…it was a really tight affair for us. We are very happy how we played but our shooting was a little off.”

Really? Is this the same match we were all watching? The same match which prompted Joe Brolly to say on live broadcast: “This could have been Armageddon for Tyrone. Lucky for them, it was only annihilation.”

Four wides in 75 minutes against a team of Tyrone’s defensive qualities is a feat worthy of mention.

In truth it was a 12-point hammering. Couldn’t Cian just admit it and bask in the glory? Jack McCaffrey was interviewed and said: “There is a lot of things we can go away and work on, for me personally, I kicked a couple wides so I need to improve on that.”

This is the rhetoric coming from a former Footballer of the Year and a contender for the 2017 award. I do not believe for one second that Jack is a complete perfectionist, that a player rating of 9/10 disappoints him.

Internally, he must be delighted with himself and with the team. I would be.

There is a complete absence of emotion, of excitement of the potential to achieve three in-a-row during both interviews which I’m certain is not replicated when they return to play with their clubs Kilmacud Crokes and Clontarf.

Contrast these interviews with that given by Kerry minor star David Clifford.

Yes, there is an innocence in being 18 years of age but he was engaging, he was witty, and he was likeable.

That brief 40-second interview helped form a relationship of sorts between the viewer and the player.

David has appeal as a footballer and has appeal beyond the field.

On the January 1, 2010 it became compulsory when playing hurling at all levels to wear a helmet.

I remember debates at the time when some folk were saying this would be bad for player profile as the public could not see their faces and therefore would not recognise the hurlers without their jerseys on.

Today, hurlers in the less well-known counties are barely known even within their own counties. You see, these folk don’t get interviewed – they depend on publicity gained from their picture being posted in a local paper or on a social media site.

As it transpired, these fears were misguided in part for hurlers from the successful counties such as Kilkenny or Tipperary who are well-known and adored.

The reason for this is that they give honest, unedited, unscripted interviews, pre- and post-match.

When I pay into a GAA match I want to witness displays of skill, athleticism, manliness.

I want to see flair, individual brilliance and competition.

Most of all, I want to get to know the manager and the players who play our game.

I crave that connection which is so sorely missing from this clinical Dublin team.

If Dublin want to live up to being the greatest football team of all time, they need to win the games and win the hearts of the people. That’s what made the great Kerry team stand out. It’s not a lot to ask really.

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