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Breaking Ball: Another year, another day to be ‘Mayoed'

 After playing so poorly for the majority of the year, Mayo produced two performances from nowhere to take Dublin to a replay but ultimately Mayo did a Mayo and seemed to let it slip away. Picture by Seamus Loughran

From Trump to Tipperary, you wouldn’t find a more interesting time to be an American or a footballer from Tipp than 2016.

While the ultimate failure of Tipperary to beat a poor Mayo performance wasn’t quite glorious in defeat, it did go some way to putting to bed the idea there is an appetite for a second tier competition to mirror the race for Sam Maguire. 

When Tipperary marched towards an All-Ireland final, they were not only carrying the hopes and dreams of their supporters, but those of other third and fourth division teams who find themselves languishing in the lower tiers. 

After playing so poorly for the majority of the year, Mayo produced two performances from nowhere to take Dublin to a replay but ultimately Mayo did a Mayo and seemed to let it slip away. 

Mayo remind me of the movie Kingpin.

Roy Munson, a young, up-and-coming 10 pin bowler beats established player Ernie McCracken. McCracken later double crosses Munson and, as a result, Munson loses his right hand and his career.

It became known as being ‘Munsoned’ – to have the world in your hands before messing it up. 

Mayo seem to have this knack of having the All-Ireland in their hands and inexplicably being unable finish the opposition off.

Dublin are worthy champions but the tiny chink in their armour in the replay perhaps gives hope to many of the top teams looking to knock them off their perch. 

I say chink, as any team can be caught off-guard once. 

But what the replay proved beyond doubt was that Dublin are beatable and you just need to ensure the defence does its job, your forwards deliver and your manager doesn’t decide to drop your Allstar ’keeper for the replay. 

In Ulster, Donegal looked good all year and very nearly beat Tyrone in the Ulster final. 

People talk about the game as if the margin was anything but close, but you tend to forget that there was only two point in it at the end. 

However, Donegal looked a bit punch drunk by the time the Dubs came along in the All-Ireland quarter-final. 

Paddy McBrearty and Ryan McHugh continued to deliver huge performances and with them on board Donegal still look like real contenders for an Ulster title for years to come. 

However, they are beginning to lose real leaders like Colm McFadden and Neil McGee and, although Karl Lacey still has a lot to offer, he knows himself that being the all-action hero for so long has taken its toll on his ability to deliver Allstar performances. 

 Irish News Sport's review of 2016

Michael Murphy needs a break. 

Donegal need him more than any other player, but if they continue to, for want of a better term, flog him, he will be as effective as Wayne Rooney is for Manchester United today. They need to protect him for the Championship.

Put simply, Tyrone need forwards.

Perhaps put another way, they need to play their forwards as forwards and stop trying to make them provide defensive cover.

Niall Sludden is a natural back and playing him centre-half forward only cements the view that Tyrone are overly-reliant on Peter Harte arriving late in support and the brilliance of Mattie Donnelly’s score-taking and running power. 

This is not to forget the influence of Sean Cavanagh (right), who has rightly decided to continue in his role with Tyrone for another season.

He still has a lot to offer and his scores in the Ulster final proved this.

For the remaining teams of Ulster, the only light I can see is in Fermanagh. 

They continue to punch above their weight and the players now believe, in no small part due to Pete McGrath, they can now compete with the very best. 

An Ulster title push would be a major achievement but with Donegal and Tyrone continuing to put a huge emphasis on the provincial prize, it will be very difficult for anyone else to take the Anglo-Celt. 

Monaghan reached their peak a couple of seasons ago and Malachy O’Rourke will be viewing this season as a make or break one.

He has done brilliantly with them. 

With Conor McManus and Darren Hughes, they have some real class, but they just do not have enough players at the peak of their game. 

It seems that the chance of an All-Ireland fades with every year.

Dick Clerkin has hung up his spurs and if you had told me that Dick would have been playing longer at county level than yours truly, I would have had you locked up.

He has been a great servant to Monaghan and helped them to many great days, days he can be proud of.

Cavan and Derry met in the Qualifiers and there was nothing between them on the day. 

Had Fergal Flanagan not been sent off for Cavan, I feel they would have easily won the game, but Derry showed greater hunger and a couple of newly emerging talents really stood up for Derry on that occasion. 

Tipperary would eventually knock Derry out but Damian Barton he can be satisfied with his first season.

TOP TIPP: Tipperary’s unlikely run to the All-Ireland semi-final was a shot in the arm for underdogs everywhere

It appears, however, that the Derry wheels are becoming increasingly shaky with players not committing and opting out of inter-county football in 2017.

It is a situation being mirrored in a significant number of counties sitting within that middle-tier of teams.

Some players see huge levels of commitment for not a lot of enjoyment and very little prospect of silverware.

The draw of America, Australia and elsewhere is making inter-county commitment an increasingly difficult proposition to sell.

Cavan will see a bounce with Mattie McGleenan taking over the reins. 

If you are going to do anything with a team, it’s important you do it in the first year.

A new voice, an outside man and a pedigree for winning will make it an interesting year for Cavan. 

Down, Armagh and Antrim continue to be in the doldrums. 

Armagh continue to surprise me most.

They have a very good manager in Kieran McGeeney. He is a player’s man and has the hunger and ambition to want more. 

I think that the players are perhaps taking on too much pressure on themselves individually and if they throw the shackles off, get the Crossmaglen men back in and forget about the recent past Armagh glories they make an Ulster breakthrough.

They have some quality young talent coming through, none more so than Garth O’Neills two sons Oisin and Rian. Watch this space.

Antrim continue to make little progress. 

Managers Gearoid Adams and Frank Fitzsimons have brought in a more flexible approach to player involvement, which I think would work in 99 per cent of county teams, but not Antrim. 

They have introduced more professionalism and players seem to buy into what they are trying to do but unfortunately other teams are just too far ahead at the minute. 

It is hard to see past it being much of the same for Antrim in 2017.

Last but not least, my beloved Down. 

No wins in the League or Championship in 2016 made it one for forget.

In his recently published autobiography, Kieran Donaghy described the Down team he played against in the League this year as the worst Ulster side he has ever faced.

Do I believe that the current Down team’s efforts is reflective of the talent in the county?

No. I believe that Down have more in them. 

If rumours are to be believed over 70 players were invited to trials for the 2017 and of all respondents, you couldn’t get enough to play an in-house game.

A sorry state indeed, if that is reality in Down at the minute.

The consensus is that you cannot blame Eamonn Burns, as he is simply playing the cards he has been dealt.

There is a school of thought that too many average players have been given an opportunity year-in, year-out on the squad without playing well at club level while others have been overlooked. 

Down have good players in the county and, as Kilcoo proved, can compete more than adequately at provincial level.

Some emerging players such as Alan Davidson have finally received a call and I am looking forward to seeing him play in 2017 alongside a few talented players who have now had a season of inter-county football under their belts.

There is no doubting that the players who are committing to Down at the minute are giving everything. 

Down just need more of them and, until this happens it will be hard to deliver silverware.

Armagh in Newry is a huge fixture, an incentive for the players to finally deliver and if you can’t get up for that match, there is no hope for you at inter-county level. 

Progress for Down would be staying in the Division Two and beating Armagh in Newry.

It also means that no-one can write in their autobiography on how poor they are. Intensity at this level is considered an absolute minimum.

THE WINNERS
DUBLIN

 Dublin keeper Stephen Cluxton lifts Sam

BACK-TO-BACK All-Irelands ensures they will be talked about for many years as truly one of the greatest teams of our generation or of any other one. Three-in-a-row would surely be too difficult but if any team can, Dublin can. They are the envy of every other county – well organised, well funded with a top manager and plenty of quality players to pick from.

TIPPERARY
THEY had everyone talking about them. Their style was great, they were willing to have a go and they have some cracking footballers. I was delighted to see some of their men get nominations for Allstars and win them into the bargain.

TYRONE
SUCH was Donegal and Monaghan’s dominance of the Ulster title in recent years, a provincial crown was going to be huge for Tyrone. The scenes after beating Donegal proved this. The saying you have got to walk before you can run seems apt. In the Noughties an Ulster title wasn’t all that important, not as long as they captured Sam. However, Tyrone’s powerbase is now gone. Dublin is the new centre of the football universe. Tyrone have their Ulster title now; an All-Ireland would be considered the new focus. Their aim will be to go forward and win it. They will need to change how they play. The real question is: will Mickey Harte do this?

THE LOSERS
MAYO
NEVER before have I witnessed them in such a good position to win an All-Ireland and blow it. Dublin had a real off day in the drawn All-Ireland final. Mayo played brilliantly at the back and did enough to win. They couldn’t do it. Their key players did not show up on either occasion and, while Cillian O’Connor kicked an equalising score, he struggled to find any worthwhile space. For a so-called top player, Aidan O’Shea has yet to deliver on the big occasion. Great players step up on those days. Until some of these Mayo players do that, they will be resigned to same fate as all the other losing Mayo players over the generations.

STEPHEN ROCHFORD
DROPPING the Allstar goalkeeper for the All-Ireland final replay may not have been the smartest move this year. However, dropping him for a man who had not played since the early rounds some four months previously was even more bizarre. Into the bargain, David Clarke did not play that badly to be dropped for Robbie Hennelly. He pulled off some brilliant point-blank saves in the drawn game and, although he kicked a few away, Dublin pushed high up and disrupted the kick-outs. To be fair to Rochford, though, he carried himself well all year, was humble in victory and equally in defeat and he brought in Tony McEntee to help him. I believe this was giving him access to one of the best footballing brains around. Unfortunately, this one decision on team selection will probably haunt Rochford.

BLACK CARD
PLEASE, please, do something about this. Why must we be subjected to this failing system any longer? Now the mark is in. We will watch this fail as well. The sooner we realise that it is the interpretation of the rules by inconsistent refereeing that is the problem the better. Clear rules on yellow and red cards would rectify the problems. How about on a clean catch from a kick-out, only one man can tackle the man in possession? Common sense you would think but, then again, when did common sense ever prevail?

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