SO TYRONE and Fermanagh both came unstuck last weekend in what was a difficult weekend for Ulster football at Headquarters.
It’s frustrating for Tyrone in particular to have topped the table, beat every team comfortably along the way, yet have no silverware to show for it.
The big buzz words going into any final are things like will to win, pride in the jersey, leadership and desire. The biggest one going into Sunday though for me was hunger. Kildare simply had more of it.
I don’t think that Kildare have got the credit they deserve for their consistency over recent seasons. At last, they now have something tangible to show for it in the form of the Division Two trophy, as well as the huge psychological boost of taking a scalp like that of Tyrone.
There’s never a good time to lose, but when the dust settles Mickey Harte will realise that this was just the reality check his side needed. They’ll go back to training now knowing that they’re off the pace, and that will add to the motivation on the training field ahead of championship and the boys will hit it even harder now than if they had won last weekend.
Things which happened which simply wouldn’t happen in championship for Tyrone. Owen Mulligan was playing quite well, his blonde hair floating in the Croke Park breeze, but he put in a token tackle at one stage which led directly to a Kildare score.
Moments later Ronan McNabb and Mark Donnelly, who I thought was Tyrone’s best player on the day, did the same, with all three leading to crucial Kildare points when the game was in the melting pot. There was no intensity or ferocity in the tackle, which is what marked Tyrone out above the rest for years. Harte will expect a lot more come championship time.
Although you can’t read too much into one result, the ability of Kildare to negate Peter Harte at centre-back, and their ability to defensively strangle Tyrone all over the field, will have warmed the soul of Jim McGuinness who was watching on from the stand.
Sean Cavanagh, Stevie O’Neill and a few of Tyrone’s other key men this season, the likes of Cathal McCarron and the midfield of Aidan Cassidy and Colm Cavanagh, all struggled to impose themselves on the game.
There were times over the course of the league campaign where Tyrone looked capable of really opening up Donegal, but there were few signs of that last Sunday and their potential semi-final clash could end up being another defensive masterclass from Donegal.
They will have to rediscover that spark again, and quickly, if they are to get things right and follow through with the expectations of lifting the Anglo-Celt Cup once again.
It seems that the Tyrone rebuilding project might not be just as near completion as Tyrone followers would have liked, but time is on their side and an awful lot can be achieved in the coming weeks.
Championship 2012 gets underway this weekend with Sligo travelling to take on New York in their Connacht opener. A while back, I watched an interesting documentary by Setanta which followed the New York team in their build-up to last year’s championship opener against Roscommon.
As we all know, New York got well beaten, and the programme showed their manager Seamus Sweeney in a huddle afterwards telling the camera “After all the work we put in with these c**ts, they go out and do that.” It really was a sketch, but in truth it was no laughing matter.
This year it’s another Donegal man, Connie Molloy, brother of Anthony, who is at the helm. Interestingly his son CJ, a born and bred American, plays in the New York attack, and is one of four first generation Irish players in the squad.
I remember being over there and playing for the Donegal New York club side, and they had a native American, if that’s the correct turn of phrase, playing full-back for them. I often meant to have a chat with him and find out a bit more about his background, but we were always a bit too busy on the beer and he didn’t seem to be as keen. But I’m sure there was a very interesting story as to how he ended up playing the game.
New York can be seen as an inconvenience. It can also be seen as a junket for the officials who see it as necessary to go over there for the match and make a long weekend out of it, with all expenses paid.
The fact that four Irish-Americans are now part of the New York team is great to see, and I think it shows that New York in the championship is worth persevering with. It keeps the ties alive, but they also have to be competitive, starting this weekend.
The Ulster Championship road show rolled into Titanic Belfast earlier this week as the Ulster Council pushed the boat out, pardon the dodgy pun, for their championship launch.
It may be early days, but there has been a clear effort by the GAA at all levels to ramp up their marketing efforts as they contest for their audience share in this summer of sport.
Their tag line of ‘Nothing Beats Being There’ they hope will encourage fans to get their backsides off their sofas on Sunday afternoons and through the turnstiles, but I think that the falling attendances in recent seasons are more to do with the economic climate and people tightening the purse strings rather than people staying away because they want to.
In the past the GAA ran games in direct competition to major soccer fixtures, which was always a foolish move. There is so much sport out there, so many options on TV on any day of the week, and the GAA has to find its place. GAA followers are a loyal bunch, and I hope that not too much emphasis or money is going to be placed on trying to glamorise our championships this summer.
The last soccer World Cup for example was one of the most shockingly bad tournaments in living memory, and international soccer has got so stale and boring that nobody in their right mind would want to watch it instead of a pulsating championship clash in Clones or Casement.
But then again, Gaelic football at inter-county level has gone so negative and cynical that if we don’t do something to reverse the rot soon, we’ll find ourselves thinking that Trappatoni’s tactics are being put to use on the GAA field as well.