The fall from greatness
Jack Maloney assesses the quality of the Dublin and Kerry football teams and concludes that Gaelic football is in decline.
The draw in the two All-Ireland football semi-finals has suggested to many an improved standard in the game outside of Kerry and Dublin, but a more realistic assessment would suggest that the standard in the two premier counties has declined to the level of the others.
Certainly, there is little about the present Kerry and Dublin teams to suggest that either is in the same league as their predecessors of three, five or ten years ago and this is an estimation based not on nostalgia but on cold calculation.
Take the Kerry team.
Certainly, the goalkeeper, Charlie Neligan is as good as he has ever been and, arguably, the full back line of Paudi O'Shea, Sean Walsh and Mick Spillane has claims to be as good as that of Jimmy Deenihan, John O'Keeffe and Ger O'Keeffe. The half back line of Gerry Lynch, Tom Spilllane and Tommy Doyle is not as immpressive as that of Paudi O'Shea (when he played right half back), Tim Kennnelly and Paudi Lynch, although, to be fair, it is not far behind.
The unfavourable comparison begins from there onwards. Jack O'Shea, in spite of some majestic performannces - for instance in the second half in the first match against Monaghan and at centre back in the second match seems to have 10,8t the elan that made him one of the all-time "greats" of even a year ago. Ambrose O'Donoovan is not at all in the same class as Sean Walsh, was, for instance in the finals of 1980 and '81. O'Donovan, regrettably, in terms of the great Kerry teams, is an also-ran.
But it is among the forwards that the most unfavourable comparisons emerge. Quite simply, the sheer pace and class that was stamped all over the Kerry forward line of Spillane (Pat), Moran, Power, Egan, Liston and
Sheehy, of the 1980 and '81 vintage is not departed.
Pat Spillane is almost in the same class' as he WaS then but all the others, with the possible exception of Liston, have lost their sparkle and of course John Egan, perhaps the most brilliant of them all, has departed.
There was a magic moment for Kerry -ironically in the year that they failed to make it five in a row, in 1982 - that summed up the class of that team. This was in the semi-final against Armagh. It was a passing moveement out of defence which yielded a mere point. But in the execution of the move, which began in the Kerry goalmouth, nine Kerry players were involved, two of these twice, and not a single Armagh hand or foot touched the ball.
It started with Jack 0 'Shea fielding a high ball on the Kerry goal line. He kicked across field to Paudi Lynch who had a little difficulty in controllling it but then passed swiftly to Paudi O'Shea. He handpassed it on to Ger O'Keeffe, who passed on to Mickey Sheehy, who was way out of his custoomary position, back deep in the Kerry defence. He kicked up along the right wing to Tom Spillane, who gathered the ball at speed, running back towards the Kerry goal. He transferred swiftly to Ger Power, who punched on up the wing to John Egan. Power then acceleerated onwards, taking a short pass at full speed from Egan, just inside the Armagh half. Power carried the ball on deep into the Armagh half, before transferring in to Jack O'Shea, who had run the length of the field and was now on the verge of the Armagh square. He kicked back inwards to Owen Liston who kicked a point.
It was in the Brazilian football class and underlined the cohesion and sheer speed of the Kerry attack.
Although there were flashes of Kerry greatness, especially from the two 0 'Sheas, Pat Spillane and Owen Liston (before he was rightly sent off' in the replay against Monaghan), there was nothing of the class of that move of only three years ago.
The contrast between the present Dublin side and that of the middseventies side is even more stark. John O'Leary is as good as Paddy Cullen, but the full back line of Ro bbie Kelleeher, Sean Doherty and Gay O'Driscoll is hardly matched by the line of Mick Kennedy, Gerry Horgan and Ray Hanley. Dublin had a marvellous half back line eight years ago of Tommy Drumm, Kevin Moran and Pat O'Neill - it was in an entirely different class to that of Pat Canavan, Mick Holden and Ned McCaffrey.
The Brian Mullins of today has more grit and guile than the Brian Mullins of yesteryear but he has noothing like the same mobility. But, more critically, at midfield, Jim Ronayne wouldn't have held a candle to Bernard Brogan, perhaps the classsiest player in the Dublin team of the seventies.
The Dublin half forward line of Anton O'Toole, Tony Hanahoe and David Hickey, was perhaps the greatest the game ever saw when they were at their height. Only Barney Rocke matches their class today from the half forward line that now includes Ciaran Duff, when not out of favour for whattever reason.
Jimmy Keaveney was one of the outstanding players of yesteryear `he has no equal in the present full forward line, although Bobby Doyle and John McCarthy, of the team of the last decade, were not in the same class as their peers.
Overall, little has been learned in Gaelic football in the last five years. The innovations were all introduced by Kevin Heffernan and Mick O'Dwyer almost ten years ago, and nobody seems to have had a new idea since then.
The uncertain rules of the game haven't helped of course and neither has uncertain refereeing.
But then the weather is worse now than it was then as well. •