GAA Football

Danny Hughes: Paddy Cunningham proves that life can begin at 30

Paddy Cunningham is rolling back the years with Antrim Picture by Hugh Russell.

I THINK Antrim have momentum and given the nature of ‘how’ in last week’s win against Sligo, I fancy them to come out of Division Four.

Paddy Cunningham rolled back the years with a fantastic angled point after some very patient and quick build up play from his team-mates.

When Paddy decided to come back into the squad having retired it was assumed, some people may have questioned the wisdom of his thinking and perhaps managements also.

However I have also maintained that such experience, skill and mentality can easily make up for any perceived loss of zip in the legs as a result of age.

It still amazes me when intercounty set-ups dismiss the over 30’s club and almost look for a reason to retire them, opting for more youth instead.

Should Antrim finish the job over the next few weeks, Enda McGinley will have met his main objective, being to win promotion to the third division.

His players and Enda will be under no pressure going into a first round championship tie with Armagh, one Antrim is expected to lose and Armagh convincingly win.

I do not believe the Orchard County will have it easy in any match against the saffrons and I honestly think Armagh will be on their guard.

Armagh are building a real team and their match against Tyrone, in my opinion, was a competitive and very evenly matched contest.

Across all games last week and thus far in the league we have been treated to some brilliant football and exquisite scoring.

Goals and points galore - this bodes well for the summer ahead.

I have noticed a few things across all games that possibly may explain such high scoring across many games.

This game of ours has almost become a non-contact sport and the art of individual defending is now replaced by collective defending.

As a result, shots can be taken much easier.

Additionally, any slight indiscretion on the part of a defender will result in referees blowing for a free in favour of the attacker.

Then we have the forward ‘mark’ that is farcical and, quick frankly, insulting to anyone who has played or is currently playing the game.

Statistics is playing its part.

Forensically coached players are now opting to take the ‘percentages’ shot so again this is reflective of the time and effort put in by the backroom stats team to ensure that every attack counts.

When we watch a game like last weekend’s thriller in Thurles between Dublin and Kerry, it again gives us a sense of satisfaction that points towards an age when our players generally are of the highest skill level in many cases.

Dublin’s four goal, two of which were worked by hand and palmed into the net takes hours and hours of on-field coaching.

It also takes exceptionally selfless people and indeed strong and willing runners who will be prepared to run off the ball without any promises of being on the end of the score.

It is footballing telepathy.

It is the reason why a decade ago, Dublin went from an individual set of super-stars who were inherently selfish to a team of super-stars inherently humble and ruthless.

Dublin could have scored more goals as we all witnessed and given the time of the year, this may be down to a bit of rustiness on their behalf.

Unfortunately, they will probably will inflict a devastating performance against an opponent in a few weeks in a Leinster Championship game.

Kerry performed well to battle back from a deficit few have managed to overcome against Dublin but managed just the solitary goal.

In one way, Kerry remain the great white hope insofar as the neutral is concerned as Dublin have become almost unbeatable in the All-Ireland series at this stage and after six years of dominance, should this continue, the whole thing will become stale.

Yes, the Kingdom are vulnerable at the back but they won’t be meeting Dublin every week and it’s about lifting their game and managing it better tactically.

Derry seem to be managing their tactics extremely well and have blended a solid defensive formation and structure to a potent attack and at this point look in a great position heading into the final remaining games.

Derry is a proud footballing county and remain one of the giants of Ulster football.

I think the Oak Leaf men will secure promotion to the second division and dare I say it, will be much better equipped than my own county to stay there.

Down, well, are heading down.

Relegation is on the cards, while the reduced structure, and format to the league this year done us no favours, the truth is that we have not been good enough.

I know for a fact that the players themselves have been and continue to be fiercely committed, as dedicated as any team Dublin line out, Kerry or Tyrone.

However, we currently do not have the strength and depth at present to compete with these teams, nor those counties playing within in the second tier either.

Fermanagh, with a more reduced playing footballing population have far greater problems across the board but seem to really compete and make the best of themselves.

More often than not, their best players do commit to intercounty football.

Even any county epitomises maximising their ‘lot’ it’s Monaghan.

Their performance against Donegal was worthy of a victory and with Conor McCarthy showing the kind of form we have witnessed in fleeting moments in the past, perhaps the unfair label of being reliant on Conor McManus has spurred others to up their game.

Monaghan will be disappointed in leaving those critical points behind them while Donegal will look to a vulnerability defensively we assumed was a ‘one-off’ in last year’s Ulster final.

Michael Murphy’s injury does not just rob them of a one in a generation type player, but as a captain and leader, few equals exist in the game currently.

While one assumes this is good news for Down, as both counties meet in the first round of the championship, I have always loved watching Murphy play so I do hope he makes it back for that game.

It will matter not anyway and Donegal may well not need Murphy in Newry anyway, given the way Down are currently playing, half the Donegal players could get lost and they will still probably beat us.

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