KEVIN McSTAY COLUMN
December 21, 2005
A great year by any standards
Any review of the 2005 GAA season must conclude that it will stand out as one of the best on record. The standard set in the football championship will be difficult to match and as we examine the draw for 2006 the best we can hope for is that it might match the fare of the past twelve months.
And it was a historical season in many ways also. Tyrone won the All-Ireland after a record number of games proving in the process they are the finest team in the country. Yet, even at this junction it appears to me they will find it extremely difficult to repeat this feat, thus continuing a run which shows no back to back winners since he Cork team of 1989-'90.
Throw in the abolition of Rule 42 and one gets a sense of an association finally coming to grips with the broad wishes of the membership. It was a personal milestone for the president, Sean Kelly, and he is to be applauded for guiding through the motion that finally brought us kicking and screaming into the modern age. Simply, this rule had embarrassed the majority of members for long enough and its time had passed.
But back to events on the field of play. The early season opened in controversy with the experimental rules getting a pasting from all corners. Ulster set out their stall by deciding to do a solo run and their McKenna Cup tournament did not use the option of introducing the rules at an early stage to their footballers. By the time the league came along many more counties and managers associated themselves with the general negativity and the rules died a death.
The pity of it all was the abandonment of some good experiments and when the dust had settled only the introduction of the goalkeeper's tee had survived. This was disappointing for there was merit in the manner indiscipline was being examined. While the single yellow card (resulting in removal to the sidelines) was correctly judged to be harsh, there existed a possibility that it could be explored and teased out to give us a better version of what we settled for-the status quo.
So, an opportunity was certainly missed and now we ended the season with more questions than answers about the rules that govern our game. Areas such as the amount of hand passing in any one game will need urgent attention as the game quickly loses the one skill that gives it its name-FOOTball. This aspect was cruelly exposed when the International Rules team toured Down Under.
The accumulation of yellow cards went another season without being addressed. And this is really unacceptable when we consider the instances of foul play. If the junior soccer teams of the country can put in place a system that notes the number of cards given to players and thus an appropriate suspension, surely the biggest association on the island can solve this particular problem?
But, despite these small but important matters, the games themselves over shadowed all else. They were terrific and when you can recall six or seven spectacles in an instant, you know it has been a good one. The majority of these thrillers came at the business end when attendances and viewing figures were at their peak-underlining the quality of the teams and players involved. When the stakes were highest the teams began to perform at their maximum levels.
Tyrone and Armagh seemed to play a championship all to themselves and their three game sagas was just that. Each game captured the imagination for different reasons but each was, by itself, enthralling. The sheer intensity of each contest stood out and the desire to win the day was evident from first ball to last. Many felt the exertions of those games would extract a costly toll but Tyrone proved otherwise.
And during this particular sequence we had the point of the season coming from the boot of the recently retired Peter Canavan. Yes, we witnessed more skilful points from play over the course of the season but I argue we did not see a more pressure laden shot for glory.
Picture the scene: he was not taking the frees at the time; he took the ball from Eoin Mulligan and quickly computed the context of his award. Execute and Armagh would exit (not only this season but perhaps for the next few to come also?), Tyrone would grow immeasurably and put the team in the perfect state of mind to win their second All Ireland.
It was not a particularly difficult position from which to win the game - the distance was not a problem; the angle suited his right to left around the corner kicking style. But many other aspects added to the pressure. And Peter once again proved what an outstanding player he has been by coolly slotting it over the bar. The point of the season in my opinion.
The final itself was fantastic. Kerry entered as slight favourites and rightly so. They felt this game would resolve the North-South football debate for all time and no stone would remain unturned in their efforts to win a vital championship for the Kingdom. Kerry started brilliantly and looked the most likely early doors. Tyrone replied and that man again Mr Canavan slotted a brilliant goal just before half time. It changed the course of the game and by three quarter stage the underdogs looked the winners.
But true to their tradition Kerry hit back and the O'Se goal put the result back into the melting pot. Time for cool heads now and at the risk of boring you, guess who stepped up to the plate again? A couple of neat points and Tyrone became the newest champions. And one had to wonder could it have marked the three in a row if 2004 was not so tragically derailed?
And the mention of PC throughout the critical moments of the Tyrone season underlines my earlier paragraph when I question their ability or otherwise at retention in 2006. He has left the stage and if he had not appeared, no matter how intermittingly this season, can you really argue Tyrone would have won? He surely was that beneficial to the winners.
Other games stood out also. What about the Dublin versus Tyrone double header. The drawn encounter was serious football too. Mulligan's goal of the season that changed both his and his team's season. Dublin fighting to the last breath trying to achieve the draw. The crowd, the colour, the noise and the atmosphere was not repeated, even for the All-Ireland final.
Leinster final day was superb too. The Dubs do bring something special to HQ - a certain style though sometimes brittle, is nonetheless very exciting and at their best can match all comers. Monaghan slipped on to the national scene too playing an expansive brand of football and we will hear a little more from these men in a few months time.
And for this columnist, the season cannot end without reference to my own county of Mayo. In a twelve-month period of Sept 2004 to Sept 2005 my county contested all four of the major football championships - senior, under 21 minor and club. Did any other county do likewise in recent times? There's a nice question to get you studying over the Christmas! Okay we lost both the senior and minor heavily, but we were narrowly beaten by a fine Armagh team at under 21 and my own home club, Ballina Stephenites won on St. Patrick's day and thus made up for a sad loss at the turn of the century.
So, hope for everybody as we put 2005 to bed. Spring will arrive and each team will set out with hope and goals to achieve - no matter the level those targets are set at. We will examine the draw in depth in the next column and then it's time to set sail for another year on the High Seas. But it will be difficult to repeat the heights reached in the year to our rear!
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