Off The Fence: Down football still the issue for readers - and Kevin Madden's Diarmuid Connolly assessment
HAVING not won a League or Championship in 14 attempts, you would imagine that the vast majority of readers would have concurred with Cahair O’Kane’s critique of Down football in last week’s ‘Kicking Out’ column.
Cahair delved deep into the Mourne County’s colleges, minor and U21 performances and reached the conclusion that there must have been a period of neglect for the Down seniors to find themselves mulling over the very real prospect of playing Division Three football next season.
BUT not everybody agreed with Cahair’s rational assessment. ‘Benny’ emailed to bemoan the modern game and to wax lyrical about Down’s rich footballing tradition.
“I read Cahair O’Kane’s article on the state of Down football. I am not a Down man but I think Cahair was comparing chalk to cheese,” writes ‘Benny’.
“To say that Down is behind others in modern coaching would be a compliment to them in my book.
“Down made their name and dominated when Gaelic football was a game where players had flair, football brains, expressed themselves in their play and drew crowds to watch them play.
“Who could blame them for being slow to adapt to what they now call Gaelic football?
“All you need to practice is handpassing, tackling in numbers and running like the frightened sheep from one end of the field to another.”
‘Benny’ continues: “Can you imagine Paddy Doherty playing the modern game, back covering the goal-line or looking for the short kick-out or Mickey Linden with six men around him and the ref cannot decide which of them is fouling him?
“I can just imagine some of the Down greats heading out to coach a present day squad of young players. Their stomachs would turn. Look at what’s happening in other once great footballing counties as well, like Meath, Galway, Offaly, Cork and Derry.
“This new game is not what we used to have and needs none of the principles or skills which set Gaelic football apart down the years. Hang in there Down and the wheel will turn to you again.”
RESPONSE: To highlight Down’s slowness to react to the modern game and hold it up as some kind of virtue is quite a unique way of looking at the county’s woes. You’re making the same mistake that Down officialdom have made: living in the past doesn’t get you anywhere fast.
‘MOURNE Resident’ takes a more pragamatic approach to the issues in Down and backs manager Eamonn Burns despite back-to-back Division Two defeats to Fermanagh and Clare.
“I think Down need to be realistic of their chances this year,” says ‘MR’.
“We are starting off from a very low base. I know Westmeath sunk from the Division One to Division Four in consecutive years and we could do the same.
“It’s not Eamonn Burns’ fault; how could it be. The county board need to get to the root of the problems and do something about it.
“Eamonn Burns done them a huge favour taking on the job when he was about fifth choice; no-one seemed to want to take it on. He should be in charge for as long as he wants to be, he’s doing all the right things a manager should do.”
RESPONSE: The Down County Board must take its fair share of responsibility for the county teams’ slide. But it does not absolve Eamonn Burns from blame either as some of his team selections have been mystifying this year.
TO end this week’s debate on the woes of the Mourne County, get a load of this from ‘Disgusted Down man’. He believes that Pete McGrath should have been appointed as senior boss in 2010 instead of James McCartan.
“The current demise of Down football did not commence with the Eamonn Burns era but rather is rooted in the James McCartan period,” states ‘Disgusted Down man’.
“James McCartan was shoehorned into the manager’s role at the expense of a vastly superior Pete McGrath…
“Down people often lament the lack of development structures etc., but when McCartan became manager of Down in 2010 he inherited the back-to-back U21 champions of 2008/09.
“What could be more perfect for the creation of a successful senior team?
“The current Mayo senior team is backboned by players from successful ’07/08 U21 team. And don’t forget Down beat Mayo U21s.”
‘DDM’ adds: “There is little doubt that the Down County Board continue to pay the very hefty price for the shoddy manner in which they dealt with Pete McGrath seven years ago.
“In the meantime, McGrath continues to perform miracles with Fermanagh – a county with less than half the resources of Down.”
RESPONSE: Are you for real? James McCartan’s performance in the role was excellent. He reached an All-Ireland final and returned Down to Croke Park on several occasions.
Is that an axe grinding in the background? As you rightly point out, no-one is disputing Pete McGrath’s managerial credentials, but you cannot argue that under McCartan, the Mournemen didn't reach their potential.
UP next in the firing line is regular columnist Kevin Madden. ‘Mary from Magherafelt’ acknowledges that she “enjoys greatly” his weekly musings but was mystified at the former Antrim player’s assessment of Dublin star Diarmuid Connolly.
“I’m just after reading Kevin Madden’s column (February 16), who I enjoy greatly but just can’t agree with his synopsis on how Diarmuid Connolly plays.
“How Connolly, "has a major weakness" in his game, as he "isn’t that fond of tracking back - even when he plays for Dublin".
“Complete nonsense. If ever there was a forward (or indeed a forward line) that works at tracking back and putting opposition defenders under severe pressure, it’s the likes of Connolly and his fellow Dublin forwards.
“Kevin’s mentioning of one isolated incident (Lee Keegan’s All-Ireland final goal), does not strengthen his argument.
“The funny thing is, if Connolly had actually cheated a couple of times last Saturday instead of hare-ing after Chrissy McKaigue, he and St Vincent’s might have been better off.”
RESPONSE: I remember watching Kevin play for Antrim and he loved tracking back. That was just the kind of fella he was. Ahem, on a more serious note, I was at Newry for the Slaughtneil v St Vincent’s semi-final and my issue wasn’t that Connolly didn’t track back with McKaigue.
He did, but Connolly’s tackling wasn’t what it needed to be when he got into defensive positions against McKaigue. I remember the ‘Gooch’ wasn’t great at tracking back on Philly McMahon either during the 2015 All-Ireland final.
ONE texter praised Cahair O’Kane’s revealing feature on Trevor Ringland, writing: “Great article on Trevor Ringland. If you had Trevor as First Minister this place wouldn't be in such a mess.”
AFTER making the arduous journey to Carlow to watch the Antrim hurlers take a point in their Division 2A game last weekend, ‘Clonard caller’ was full of beans.
“I would like to congratulate the Antrim travelling supporters down in Carlow last Sunday,” he said.
“We out-shouted, out-cheered, and out-numbered the Carlow supporters – and the travelling support deserves a pat on the back for making almost a 400-mile round trip. Antrim got a well deserved point.”
AND finally, ‘Martin from Tyrone’ rang to pay tribute to Paddy Tally after guiding St Mary’s to Sigerson glory.
“Well done to Paddy Tally of St Mary’s for winning against the odds against [team froms] Galway, Cork and the two Dublin universities. UCD hammered Jordanstown by 13 points, a team with county players on the bench. But St Mary’s had Paddy Tally – and that’s the difference.”