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31 January 2008 Edition

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Matt Treacy

Unseasonable excitement at Dr Cullen Park

When the Carlow corner back Evan Doyle fell to the ground clutching his face – having received a slight, and perhaps even an affectionate, tap to the back of his head from Denis Bastick – there were infuriated cries from the Dublin supporters in Doctor Cullen Park. “Get up. The nominations for the Oscars are closed.”
In fairness to Evan he may have been tired and he was probably Carlow’s best player over the mini marathon that became the O’Byrne Cup semi final. I had jestingly referred to the possibility of a shock last week and so it almost transpired.
“Swirling in the mud like Turkish dervishes”, as the late Philip Green once described players in the gluepot of Richmond Park, Dublin and Carlow overcame difficult underfoot conditions to serve up what was probably the most exciting, if not technically accomplished, inter county match of the year so far.
Dublin had started well, seemed to be cruising but missed a huge amount of chances and allowed Paul Bealin’s side to claw their way back into it and force matters to extra time and a replay.
There were great expectations of a possible upset on the part of the ‘Traffic Lights’ when the replay was announced for Cullen Park. The two rarely meet although on the last occasion in the O’Byrne Cup, Carlow had had one of their even rarer victories.
Their chances appeared to be greatly enhanced with the knowledge that Dublin would be fielding an ostensibly even weaker team for the rematch – with just three first choice regulars down to start. Some spineless individuals were even tempted, so I am informed, by offers of 5/1 and 11/2 from the Turf Accountants. Oh ye of little faith. By your deeds ye shall be known!
The unseasonable excitement and the spring like weather enticed a large Dublin crowd who outnumbered the locals by at least 3:1. It would appear that optimism is not a fruit that grows freely in the land of the sugar beet. (I really should be writing screen plays for the siblings of leading politicians.)
Their lack of optimism was well founded as Dublin blitzed them in the first quarter playing into the wind. It took half an hour for Carlow to register their first score and by that stage the game was more or less beyond their reach. Particularly impressive for Dublin up front was John O’Brien of Round Towers who ended the match with eight points, six of them for play.
The good showing of new players over the series will intensify competition for places and that has been something noticeably lacking in Dublin in recent years. That brings its own headaches when it comes to deciding on who to select and when to make changes but one thing is certain is that teams that do not have a strong bench do not win All Irelands.
If Dublin are faced with the problem of team selection, a far more serious crisis confronts Cork who it appears may not be fielding teams in the first round of the hurling and football leagues due to the demand by their inter county players that football manager Teddy Holland resign.
Cork were given a deadline of Wednesday at 11am to inform Croke Park whether they would be able to fulfil their football league fixture against Meath in Navan but there were already indications prior to that that the game would be postponed for a week to allow Cork more time to sort themselves out should a resolution emerge from the negotiations presided over by Kieran Mulvey of the Labour Relations Committee.
Given the positions adopted by both sides, and the huge level of hostility between the players and the County Board it seemed unlikely on Tuesday that agreement would be reached. But perhaps sense may have prevailed.
Among GAA people the mood that I could sense was overwhelmingly against the players. Coming as it does after the decision on the grants, which is running up against sustained opposition and will be debated at Congress, there seems to be a growing unease at what might be the implications of separating senior county players from the rest of the playing membership.
Behind the negative reaction and the understandable unease about players threatening not to play for their county there is, however, a genuine issue at stake. That has to do with the changes in the football selection process approved by the Cork County Board.
It seems unwieldy and the players, and many other people, are convinced that it would scupper any chances Cork have of mounting a credible challenge for honours this year. They do have a point and they also have the historical precedent, and support, of the current Cork hurling panel, who similarly kicked over the traces a few years ago.
There were many who regarded that as sounding the death knell for Cork hurling for a generation and yet under John Allen they went on to win two All Irelands. So it is not all as simple as it seems.
For most of us however, who could never aspire to wearing the county jersey, the idea that a player would refuse to play seems unthinkable. It goes against everything that people believe about sport and in particular about the fierce pride that is attached to ‘The Jersey.’
Inter county players are an elite but they are Primus Inter Pares, first among equals, the best of their peer group, which is comprised of other club players. And the potential rewards are great. Even in the weaker counties it is still an honour to be called to the colours. And for those with the big teams there is the recognition, even adulation, and the opportunity to win great prizes.
There is nothing wrong with elites or elitism. There are the best in every sphere of life and the whole basis of sport is to find the best through competition. What people do, however, expect of elites is a certain degree of modesty. And deference towards tradition. It is the perception, real or imagined, that that is not the case which lies behind some of the hostility evidenced against the Cork players.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

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