From tough markers to biased pundits - is any irrelevant topic safe from the GAA annual report? 3 years ago

From tough markers to biased pundits - is any irrelevant topic safe from the GAA annual report?

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We have officially entered the GAA’s silly season. It’s the time of year when county board officials have their moment in the sun, writing ‘impartial’ annual reports for their county conventions.

First one that caught my eye yesterday was the submission of Dublin CEO, John Costello. 

"In one of our championship games this summer one of our players – (no prizes for guessing who!) – Diarmuid Connolly – was struck about six times before the ball was even thrown in to commence the game. Okay, they were not Mike Tyson haymakers he was hit with but, nevertheless, each blow was an infraction of the rules and worse still, happened right under the gaze of one of the referee’s linesmen.

“At most breaks in play, this action continued with the perpetrator turning his back to the play and repeatedly striking Diarmuid, with one intention only, i.e. provoking a reaction that may get him in card trouble."

John is obviously so consumed with doing player cam on Diarmuid and his marker he missed Philly McMahon and Jonny Cooper targeting their men at the other end.

Allianz Football League Division 1 Final, Croke Park, Dublin 24/4/2016 Dublin vs Kerry Dublin's Jonny Cooper and Darran O’Sullivan of Kerry before the start of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

I’ve watched Cooper off the ball lots of times and he never leaves his man alone. Shouldering him, checking his runs and tormenting him off the ball - basically everything a good corner-back should do. Philly plays a slightly different game; he often waits for contact or a flashpoint to target his man. That’s one of the things that makes them both great players. Philly has crossed the line on occasions but I suppose Costello has selective amnesia about that.

I remember marking Andrew McLoughlin when we played Kildare (that's us below, take my word for it) and he was one of the most annoying corner-backs I’ve come across - the one that walks on your toes, checks your runs and basically annoys the hell out of you. It was fine if I got a few balls and was playing well but if things were not going well for me I’d find myself reacting to his messing and getting frustrated. That’s what they want, they play on your frustrations in the hope you react and get the line.

National Football League 8/4/2007 Kildare vs Laois Kildare's Aindriu Mac Lochlainn tackles Colm Parkinson of Laois Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Corner-backs and other man markers have been doing that for years. It’s accepted as part of the game and players don’t complain about it. Not all man markers are comfortable with playing like that, not because there is anything wrong with it, it’s actually not easy to do. Some man markers do it naturally, others find it difficult to annoy their men and concentrate on the game at the same time.

This year it all blew up when Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin admitted publicly he was going to target Connolly. I spoke to Connolly on Monday - the interview will go out on Wednesday's GAA Hour - and it came as no surprise that he thinks all this talk of being targeted is blown out of proportion and it’s part of the game.

If I ever happen to manage a team I’ll want both of my corner-backs to behave like Cooper, McMahon and McLoughlin or they won’t be playing on my team.

Which leads me on to Mayo PRO, Paul Cunnane, obviously impartial too when writing his report. 

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final Replay, Croke Park, Dublin 1/10/2016 Dublin vs Mayo Mayo’s Lee Keegan black carded by referee Maurice Deegan Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

"There was a well-orchestrated media campaign to blacken Lee Keegan's name and I would be disappointed that many outlets chose to take the bait. Lee Keegan has just won his fourth All Star, as well as being named GAA/GPA Footballer of the Year. This recognition was due to his excellent displays throughout the National League and championship. He is one of the finest footballers the county has ever produced. To see him depicted in this way before the biggest game of his career was very unjust."

Maybe there was a campaign amongst some of the ex-Dublin pundits before the replay but Paul must have selective amnesia when he ignores the influence Mayo pundits have on the game. Mayo have one of the biggest representations in the punditry game. David Brady is an expert at flying kites to suit the Mayo team, while John Casey can be as biased as they come when he wants to be.

The best of all was Martin Carney saying Jim McGuinness was down helping out the Mayo team when he wasn’t. He said on Today FM, "I think they will try that again but they might even have a double sweeper. It is interesting; in their last weekend in Limerick they had Jim McGuinness down speaking to them. Now, Jim McGuinness isn't coming down to talk to them about forward play. It has to be to look at defence."

Like Costello, John Cunnane might have had selective amnesia about that one when writing his report.

Too much attention is given to county officials reports in the national media. They play to the local gallery and the local convention and that’s their prerogative. Most of them wouldn’t know good corner-back play if it hit them in the face.

Funnily enough, I have faced two of the most famous ‘targeting’ man markers in the game. I marked Ryan McMenamin in a league game in Omagh and Philly McMahon in club championship in Dublin. Neither laid a hand on me and played the game completely fairly.

In the back of my mind I was disappointed – they clearly did not see me as enough of a threat.

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