GAA Football

Benny Tierney: Unlevel playing field provides tough test for country club

Slaughtneil’s Pádraig Cassidy gets away from Liam O’Donoghue of St Kiernan’s during the All-Ireland Club SFC quarter-final in Greenford

SLAUGHTNEIL GAC took the plane across the channel last weekend in what was described as a potential banana skin against St Kiernan’s  and, yet, few outside the Derry club thought they would be beaten.

But it has proved, for many, to be a trip into the unknown and, with it coming so quickly after the provincial decider, it has that capability of providing a major upset.

Having played in this fixture over 20 years ago, I can fully appreciate how you really are on a hiding to nothing. Everyone, apart from the team of exiles you are playing against, expects a comfortable victory and yet history has proven that these games are anything but secure.

I have brilliant memories of our trip to London, mainly because after our victory our home flight was cancelled so we turned the Sunday into quite a substantial Christmas party for our whole team and management.

Micky Moran and his men circumvented any possibility of a surprise result very professionally - as I would have expected - and they can now look forward to a well-earned break over Christmas. However, with the thought of St Vincent’s in February, you get the feeling they won’t indulge in too much festive cheer.

This is a club semi-final that will draw intrigue and interest from all around the country and will have more appeal than a lot of county championship matches witnessed during the summer.

It would be fair to say there are very few similarities between the two sides in relation to their culture, geography and, probably more importantly, in their make-up.

A few years ago, I wrote in a column that I firmly believed country teams psychologically had an edge over city teams, and yet I don’t think this somewhat biased analogy is the advantage that will see Slaughtneil over the line on February 11.

Most, if not all, of the men to face the might of the Leinster side will be home-grown players born and reared in Derry, with inextricable links to community and parish and the maroon and white of their club which they will have worn since childhood.

The blue-and-white of the Dublin team, on the other hand, will for quite a percentage not have been the only colours they have worn in their careers as they prepare to take their place for the All-Ireland club semi-final.

Vincents’ Leinster final opponents Rhode have just lost their fourth provincial final. These defeats have been to two metropolitan Dublin clubs with a much greater population, both inside and outside their own county domain, than the 1,200 people the Offaly champions have to draw from.

I counted nearly six participants from the Vincent’s on Sunday who are not from Dublin. I can understand this dynamic due to work and living commitments but it must be said that it seems to be very advantageous for Dublin club football.

Slaughtneil, like Crossmaglen and other successful rural club teams before them, will not use this as any form of excuse and might even use it to their advantage - their bond has to be stronger given their collective unity over the years. However, they will also realise they face their biggest test yet in what has become somewhat of an unlevel playing field.

It seems disappointing that less than a hundred people turned up to witness an excellent game of football last weekend in the inter-provincials as Peter Harte led Ulster to an entertaining and high-scoring win at Parnell Park. However, over the course of the two games I don’t think we witnessed one mark, which unfortunately might give some indication to its potential impact.

Like Aaron Kernan during the week, I too was fortunate enough to play in a few Railway Cups and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. There were roughly 100 people in attendance in 1996 when I gained my one and only Railway cup medal.

So exactly 20 years on and the same phenomenon is occurring, which tells me that while players and Railway cup managers love the concept it unfortunately has no real support from the people and from some county teams, to be honest.

Kerry's Darragh Ó Sé was eager to come up against one Ulster man in particular during a Railway Cup campaign  

One of my favourite stories about the Railway cup was when a very high-profile Kerry player, who shall remain nameless (Darragh Ó Sé), was approached by the Munster manager as to his availability for inter-provincial duty.

The player offered some watery excuse as to why he couldn’t attend. Later in the conversation the player realised the side was to meet Ulster in Clones. He excitedly asked whether a player from Monaghan with whom he had recently had some dealings, both verbally and physically, would be on the pitch.

When the answer was in the affirmative he immediately reversed his earlier decision and announced his availability. So the Kerry kingpin give up his whole weekend in an effort to gain some form of retribution against a Farney player, who will obviously also remain nameless (Clerkin). By all accounts, the game and result was of minor importance to both but hugely entertaining for all in attendance.

Like many other competitions regarding county players our calendar seems to be the issue. However, whether genuine interest from supporters and county players can be harnessed again in this competition remains to be seen.

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GAA Football