Championship is different. After a League game in played, the focus quickly shifts to the next match – often because it’s on the following weekend – with the one that’s just been played disappearing in the rearview mirror rapidly. The shuddering nature of championship clashes, combined with the ludicrously long wait for the next one to come along, means that there’s more time to look back in more detail at the game that’s just happened and try to make some sense about what it might mean for the next one up ahead.
There’s a fair bit of that in the papers today. The excellent analysis on us by Jim McGuinness in today Irish Times has already been mentioned in the comments – the few columns he’s written so far this year confirm in my mind what his time in Donegal had already shown, that he’s undoubtedly the clearest thinker in GAA team management of this generation – and anyone who hasn’t yet read it should definitely take the time to do so.
What really hit home for me in this piece was where he said that putting in place a more effective defensive shield was less about what players we decide to use in doing this and more about the system we adopt. We’ve a squad of highly experienced, battle-hardened operators who proved once again on Sunday that they have what it takes to work hard and grind out a result but I agree with McGuinness that unless we stop conceding unnecessary goals at the business end of the season – two in the 2013 All-Ireland final, two again in last year’s quarter-final, that late one against Kerry in the semi-final and three more (two admittedly from penalties that should never have been) in the replay – we’re going to find it very hard to reach the Holy Grail.
Central to our hopes of finally clinching the deal will, of course, be Aidan O’Shea. Both the Irish Examiner (here) and the Irish Independent (here) have pieces today, which compare the importance of Aidan to us to the similar dependence that Donegal have on Michael Murphy. As the two articles note, they’re very different players who bring totally different things to their respective teams but what they have in common is how vital they are to their respective counties.
It was no surprise, then, that it was the two big lads who polled strongest in this week’s GAA Footballer of the Week vote. Michael Murphy was ahead in the early tallies yesterday but it was our man who prevailed when the counting was completed. Aidan claimed the weekly award with 45% of the vote, from Murphy on 42%, with Kildare’s Mick O’Grady a distant third on 13%. Full details here.
Back to today’s papers for a few other articles of interest, both in the Irish Examiner. This piece by Sylvester Hennessy runs some stats on our match from Sunday, pointing to our accuracy in front of the posts – we converted 16 out of 21 scoring chances – as a key reason for our win. As the piece notes, though, a good number of these were in fact tap-over frees but the reason they were was because Galway kept fouling our lads in good scoring positions.
The other article in the same paper that’s worth a read has nothing at all to do with our game but is an opinion piece by former GAA President Sean Kelly advocating structural change to the football championship. Kelly was the man who drove both the introduction of the highly successful tiered championship set-up in hurling and also the junior and intermediate club All-Ireland championships so he’s a man with a good track record at promoting structural innovations that works. I think what he says – which he himself notes is similar to the plan put forward last week by Jim McGuinness – makes a lot of sense.
Finally, back to our game again, this time the local angle. I’ve just had a quick perusal of the digital edition of the Mayo News and it’s full to the brim with coverage of Sunday’s match. There’s good analysis from Billy Joe Padden, Edwin McGreal (whose tale about his dash from Spain to Salthill form the game is worth reading too) and Sean Rice, while Mike Finnerty has an injury update on Andy Moran, Alan Dillon and Aidan O’Shea which sounds positive. There are benefits, I suppose, from all these long breaks between games at this time of year.