Leagues are for playing in, championships are for winning

May 21st, 2013
by Weeshie Fogarty

"Leagues are for playing in, championships are for winning," was the truest line in football I have ever heard and why not, it came for one of the greatest Kerry captains ever. John Dowling led Kerry to victory over the so called unbeatable Dublin machine in 1955 and years later he expressed these words to me during one of the always fascinating discussions we would indulge in when we met at various matches many years later.  Kerry has experienced a very unsuccessful league campaign, one of its worse in many years. But all of that is now in the dim and distance past and will count for very little as the year unfolds. Or will it, only time will tell?  So what will the future hold as Tipperary sets the proverbial ball rolling next Sunday in Fitzgeralds Stadium. Will we experience some seriously overdue long hazy crazy days of summer? Will be witness Gaelic football at its very best, the beautiful game, high fielding, sweeping moves from end to end, the minimum of hand passing, classic scores from near and far, manly challenges, goalmouth thrill and spills, sensible referring with the smallest amount of those accursed yellow and red cards, and sportsmanship of the highest order, and equally fair analysis on The Sunday Game of all unsporting behavior? Will we, I may well ask in a slightly despondent voice. 

Sorry now for being the author of pessimism and negativity  but the omens from where I stand are certainly not good if what we have seen in latter years and in many, not all, recent league games and even in the current under twenty one and minor championships are a indicator. There is no doubt but the game has undergone some massive changes in recent years and the morale of the story now appears to be with most counties is, whatever way we play we must stop the opposition from playing positive open, flowing football. And how is this achieved? All the signs are that we will be subjected to a diet of this unbearable swarming, crowding thirteen and even fourteen men behind the ball and it could even be the common standard for the coming season. And we can also be full sure that the other serious blight on Gaelic football, the hand pass will dominate games as the summer unfolds. Ten, twenty, even thirty hand passes is the generally accepted method of playing the game now and to put the whole thing into contex I have observed players on inter county and club teams playing for the full duration of matches and you could count the amount of times on one hand they use the boot to kick the ball.

Nevertheless, and I am on the road long enough to realize nothing stands still and everything changes, and love it or hate it that is the game we have to watch to day. It is quite simply a case of, "if you can't beat them then join them". Tyrone and Donegal in particular have set these standards in relation to ultra defensive play and that is the way its going to be with I hope the exceptional of a few free flowing encounters.  Plenty of time in the future to look at the favourites in the race for Sam in the year ahead but its Peter Creedon of Tipperary who will send out his men against Kerry next Sunday. And I expect a real good challenge from the Tipp. men. Last year in the Munster quarter final Kerry won 0-16 to 0-10 and in the qualifiers Down beat Tipperary, 1-13 to 0-11. And in the league just finished they won four of their seven games. A county improving all the time with some excellent underage players coming through. Kerry to win.

And so to the announcement last week from the Kerry county board and senior team management that those passionate Kerry followers will in future be required to log into the Kerry Gaa web site if they want permission to attend a Kerry senior training session on a particular evening. That is of course if you are familiar with the internet and web sites, thousands are not.  Now let me state straight away that I can clearly see both sides of the argument, for and against this latest ruling.  Nonetheless the bottom line is, if it is a proven fact that Kerry training sessions are being monitored by observers from other counties with a view to secretly learning of Kerry team tactics and using this knowledge to beat The Kingdom then any argument against the ruling must be unacceptable. Has this been happening? I presume it is or this regrettable decision in my opinion would not have been taken. This is just another step in the changing face of Gaelic football, it has gone so professional now in all aspects that there is a grave danger the game from the very top down might lose the admiration and isolate its older generation of fervent followers. I like thousands of other Kerry men and women both old and young have attended Kerry training session's winter and summer since 1955.  The debates among the watchers at training whether you sit on the stand or on the hill are fascinating and one will learn here about Kerry tradition, players and mentors who have served this county down the decades than anywhere else.

Now all this has changed. But I repeat, unfortunately this is the way our games have gone, one step away from professionalism. It is a massive alteration in the tradition and culture of what Kerry followers have been free to experience but if it helps Kerry win the All Ireland title, so be it. Finally on the very same topic last Wednesday I had occasion to visit by boat the island ruined home of the legendary seven Casey brothers of Sneem in preparation for a forthcoming book and DVD (October launch) on their incredible life and times. Afterwards we also visited and interviewed a wonderful ninety year old local man Denis Cronin still fit as a fiddle. He was once the turf cutting champion of Ireland.  A GAA follower all his life his answer when I asked him about the game to day was straight and to the point. "I don't like it, it's gone too professional and it's all hand passing and very little kicking".  Food for thought from this great Kerryman

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