Danny Hughes: Ousting replays will help costs and calendar

 Monaghan's Conor McManus slotted an injury time free to force a replay against Donegal in the Ulster SFC last week
Picture by Philip Walsh

At this stage I am sure that most readers are fed up hearing about the recent Brexit outcome and the implications that this is likely to have on our daily and weekly lives.

I am not sure how much positivity there can be when assessing this impact from a GAA perspective.

Returning border controls wold have a huge effect on GAA games. We have now become accustomed to driving across borders unhindered within Ulster and from Northern Ireland to all parts of Ireland, whether this be for an inter-county Qualifier game or a provincial club game.

I suppose I am fortunate enough to be too young to remember how GAA stalwarts fought adversity and the many challenges associated with supporting and facilitating our games, in the face of the constant tensions and threat of the Troubles.

I do remember going to Dublin, though, in the early ’90s and watching Down games in Croke Park. 

The border checkpoints and level of security and general mayhem was both intimidating and frightening to say the least.

Although any future border or custom control would hardly carry the same levels of intimidation or threat, it would still present a huge inconvenience for the GAA going forward.

Additionally, in the case of games  requiring a replay, the knock-on financial effect on the GAA would be considerable also.

For the record, I was never in favour of replays. When I was a young lad playing in the yard at home, the game had to be played until there was a winner. On many occasions it was well after dark, ‘next goal the winner’ often being yelled despite 10 such goals being ruled illegitimate beforehand.

When Congress decided not to bring the All-Ireland football and hurling finals forward by two weeks and similarly rejected further consolidation of the fixture calendar which would have come from scrapping replays, it gave an insight into the type of mentality in place at Congress. 

It is a mentality that got the GAA into this whole calendar mess in the first place.

While no right-thinking supporter of the respective counties wanted to see either Donegal, Monaghan, Cavan or Tyrone leave the field as losers in their games recently, the fact is that playing the game until a winner emerges is the only way to try and mitigate the potential effects of Brexit and also improve the fixture calendar.

Monaghan have improved since the last day out against Down, while I just feel that there is something missing from Donegal. 

It is just hard to put your finger on it – call it ‘zip’, call it ‘freshness’, call it ‘surprise’ perhaps.

You associate Donegal in recent times with those games against Dublin (2014) and Mayo (2012) – that intensity, element of surprise and general ruthless streak in front of goal.

Whether you admit it or not, those years of training, slogging, weightlifting and general commitment take their toll.

Mental fatigue can set in and this can have a greater impact on a person’s body than physical tiredness.

The difference between club and county football is the focus required at county level. Every training session and match is virtually a ‘life or death’ situation.

When you have been on both the losing and winning sides in the spectrum and experienced the respective emotions, each occasion leaves its mark.

In my case, more often than not, the pain of losing and this sense of pure frustration resulted in me saying ‘to hell with it’ – the spirit and flesh unwilling to take me where I physically and mentally needed to be.

I suspect that some of the Donegal and Monaghan players are close to this. Karl Lacey, one of the best defenders of the last 15 years, still has that guile, but just lacks the speed in the legs now to do what always came so naturally to him.

Four Allstars later, I think he can be happy with what he has achieved, even if Donegal manage go no further.

On the other hand, a youthful mix of experience, class and, more importantly, hunger has the potential to make Tyrone serious contenders to Dublin. 

First though, they have to navigate their way around a Cavan team who had their chances the first day, but missed the boat.

I cannot see Tyrone making the same mistake twice when they go at it again this weekend.

It is not in their DNA, especially for a team which still contains the Cavanagh brothers, Mattie Donnelly and Ronan O’Neill.

Cavan’s credentials would catapult exponentially should they pull off a win this weekend.

Either way, even if Cavan were to enter the Qualifiers, they could still find themselves in an All-Ireland quarter-final if they happen to get the right draw.

Generally, the Qualifiers have been poor to date. From the RTE highlights, the Antrim v Limerick game was as poor a contest as you could possibly imagine.

Played in Corrigan Park, Belfast, it played out like an intermediate/ junior club game. No atmosphere, no future, no Casement Park really sums up the state of Antrim football and it is hard to know where they are going from here. 

If only Limerick had played a seventh sub – Antrim’s best chance of progressing into the next round evaporated when this failed to occur...

I met a couple of Armagh supporters in Camlough last weekend, one very wisely saying that all Armagh needed was six more matches like the last one against Laois and they would be in an All-Ireland final.

That whole fiasco was a complete joke and the fact that both teams have to go through the embarrassment of a replay delays the inevitable for all concerned, as neither will progress much further than a third or fourth round.

Mercifully, Down’s season is over and Longford deservedly progress. Having not won a League or Championship match in 14 month puts Down into the doldrums despite having played top tier football this year.

While you can only feel sorry for Eamon Burns, he would be doing himself a favour by stepping down from the post.

It is clear that there is a general lack of enthusiasm for county football in Down and an external appointment of, say, Seamus McEnaney or someone of similar ilk may have a galvanising effect on a county currently bereft of hope. Given that Pat Spillane has put his name forward for any job going, perhaps Down could provide him with his first inter-county managerial appointment?

Even Pat, though, would probably think twice before taking that particular challenge on.


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