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Pat Spillane: Ulster clubs show us how Gaelic football should be played

The best club game I have seen for a long time was Glen v Errigal Ciaran

Glen players Michael Warnock, left, and Conor Glass contest a high ball against Errigal Ciaran players Odhran Robinson, hidden, and Joe Oguz, 15. Photo: Ben McShane/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

David Clifford gave another masterclass for Fossa. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Michael Quinlivan and Clonmel Commercials plan a lovely brand of football. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

13 November 2022; Glen players Michael Warnock, left, and Conor Glass contest a high ball against Errigal Ciaran players Odhran Robinson, hidden, and Joe Oguz, 15, during the AIB Ulster GAA Football Senior Club Championship Quarter-Final match between Glen and Errigal Ciaran at Celtic Park in Derry. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Pat SpillaneSunday World

A CORK man living in Kenmare made a beeline toward me last Friday.

The only time he ever wants to talk is after Cork has beaten Kerry. So, I haven’t had too many conversations with him recently.

Anyway, this time he wanted to brag about Cork GAA hosting the Munster rugby match in Páirc Uí Chaoimh the previous night.

The problem was he was talking to the converted, so I didn’t rise to the bait.

I thought the Cork GAA Board were 100 per cent right; everything about the occasion, including the result of the match against the South Africans, was brilliant.

I have repeatedly made the point that in a small country like Ireland we should have municipal stadia, used for a variety of sports.

Connacht Rugby should be sharing Pearse Stadium with the GAA; Shelbourne and Bohemians should be developing one, not two, stadia on the northside of Dublin city, and the IRFU should be using Croke Park for their big rugby internationals.

The IRFU would get 30,000 more at their big games – and, financially, it would be a win-win situation for rugby and the GAA.

One of the worst decisions made at Congress – and there have been many of them – was when a motion to open up Croke Park to all sports was defeated by the narrowest of margins during the presidency of Sean McCague.

The rule has been changed since. But now the horse has bolted, because Lansdowne Road has been redeveloped.

I still believe the IRFU and the FAI should utilise Croke Park when the game is big enough, as the FAI are planning to for the 2028 Euro bid.

Unfortunately, we don’t have much joined-up thinking when it comes to the development of sporting infrastructure in Ireland.

The government are as culpable as the sporting organisations when it comes to financing white elephants.

The redeveloped Curragh racecourse is a classic example. The venue lost €4m last year – bringing its accumulated losses since it reopened to €44m.

The redevelopment project was priced at €65m, but ended up costing €81m. Guess what, the taxpayer chipped it with a €35m grant for the project.

Fair play to the horse racing industry. For reasons that I’m at a loss to explain, it convinces successive governments to donate extraordinary handouts every year.

This year their annual grant – which, of course, is funded by the taxpayers – increased by €2.4m, bringing it to a whopping €73m.

Then there is my old friend – the greyhound industry.

They had a turnover of €19.2m last year, which sounds healthy until you read the small print – 91pc of it came from taxpayers, in the form of a subvention.

Methinks it is time to pull the plug on that dying industry.

But inequality extends right across the board when it comes to handouts.

Here’s a classic: in 2020 Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and one of the Arab world’s richest royals, received over a quarter of million euro in what are known as single farm payments from the EU. He is the owner of a number of stud farms in Ireland.

No wonder struggling small farmers are in despair.

Anyway, back to matters on the field. Last weekend was a great one for club football action.

The best club game I have seen for a long time was the Glen v Errigal Ciaran Ulster quarter-final.

This was a lovely game of traditional, open football. The two sides set up offensively and attempted to win by playing positive, attacking football.

The back-to-back Derry champions are a serious outfit. I expect them to test the defending All-Ireland champions Kilcoo in the provincial semi-final.

In All-Star Conor Glass and Emmet Bradley they have the best centrefield pairing in club football.

Errigal did brilliantly to stay in the game for so long because, at best, they had about 30 per cent possession.

They played second fiddle in the physical stakes, and only managed to win eight of their 17 kick-outs.

The individual excellence of the Canavan brothers, Darragh and Ruairí, essentially kept them in the contest – seeing the latter’s dummy solo and point was one of the highlights of the weekend.

Other highlights of the game were the fielding by Glass and the goals scored by Tommy Canavan (Errigal) and Ethan Doherty (Glen).

Elsewhere, the team performances fashioned by Moycullen in Connacht, Kilcoo in Ulster and Clonmel Commercials in Munster caught the eye – as did the individual scoring exploits of Moycullen’s Dessie Conneely and Jason Lonergan for Clonmel.

And, though it didn’t impact on the final result, the goal scored by Westport’s Brian McDermott was a beauty.

Clonmel were a revelation against Munster club specialists Nemo Rangers in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. They look on course to win their second Munster title.

Michael Quinlivan and Clonmel Commercials plan a lovely brand of football. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

The Tipperary champions have a winning blend of physicality and athleticism, and combine a short passing game with judicious use of kicking the ball.

The home side were surprisingly poor, though I wasn’t surprised. I watched a lot of Cork Championship games this year and I thought the standard was the lowest I had seen in years.

The issues facing Cork football are summed up in the performances of their three marquee forwards – Luke Connolly (Nemo Rangers), Stephen Sherlock (St Finbarrs) and Brian Hurley (Castlehaven). The trio were the best forwards in the county championship as well.

On any given day they can all shoot out the lights. But they share the one weakness – they are neither consistent nor team players.

I wasn’t surprised either that Westport got overrun by Galway champions Moycullen.

As in Cork, I thought the standard of football in the club championship in Mayo fell well below the standard of previous seasons.

Having said that, Westport’s performance was particularly flat.

Defensively, they were all over the shop – with Lee Keegan failing to make his expected impact.

Credit to Moycullen, who now look certainties to win Connacht.

They have a great running game with the three Kelly brothers excelling, while Dessie Conneely was unstoppable. And they won in a canter, even though Peter Cooke was missing.

One thing which did disappoint me was the size of the crowd on Saturday night in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Nemo are a big city club, who were playing on their doorstep.

Commercials are from Clonmel – the biggest town in Tipperary.

However, their fans opted for the comfort of their armchairs.

There was actually a bigger crowd at the Kerry Premier Junior Final earlier that day.

By the way, well done to Páirc Uí Chaoimh on being named the GAA Pitch of the Year.

But, pray tell me, how come a GAA ground which wasn’t available for their football team’s biggest game of the year can get Pitch of the Year?

David Clifford gave another masterclass for Fossa. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

I’ve kept the best wine until last. We witnessed another David Clifford (below) special, when he inspired Fossa to an unlikely win in the Kerry Premier Junior final in Killarney.

Thankfully, the game was recorded for posterity – it cost €10 to watch the live stream, and it was the best deal of the weekend.

As I wrote a few weeks ago I have run out of superlatives to describe Clifford’s performances.

I will confine my analysis to his last-minute goal in extra time, which sealed the win.

A normal player would simply have laid off the ball to a colleague in an attempt to run down the clock, while a slightly more adventurous player might have gone for a point.

Clifford had other ideas, even though there were three defenders standing between him and goal.

He just put his head down and went for the jugular – and the ball ended up in the Listry net. He makes the extraordinary look ordinary.

Mind you, the split season hasn’t done Clifford any favours.

It was foisted on us because it was deemed a success during Covid.

Yet those were extraordinary times. Before the split season was adopted for use in ‘normal times’ all aspects of its likely impact should have been scrutinised.

Instead, it was voted through on a nod.

Now the unintended consequences are coming home to roost.

Star inter-county players are being flogged under the new system.

Clifford is a classic example. He has now played 30 matches this season and could feature in another four if Fossa reach the All-Ireland Junior final.

Officially inter-county training resumes this week – but, with the exception of Kerry, I imagine every county squad has been in the gym for at least six weeks.

The new inter-county season starts in early January with the McGrath Cup. And if a team reaches the All-Ireland final the players will not get a break again until August.

Even if Clifford is rested for the McGrath Cup, he faces at least 16 games if Kerry are to reach the All-Ireland final again.

So, no real break for Ireland’s best-known player.

And that’s not the only problem with the split season. Last weekend’s St Mullins and St Aidan’s of Ferns met in the Leinster club hurling quarter-final.

It was the Carlow champions’ first game in 14 weeks and St Aidan’s first outing in 13 weeks.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, Naomh Conaill (Donegal) and Gowna (Cavan) both exited the Ulster Club Football Championship on penalties, because the Ulster Council apparently couldn’t find a date in its calendar for a replay.

And though there were plenty of excellent matches, guess what made the headlines on the RTE TV news last Sunday night.

Another fracas – this time in Parnell Park in Dublin.

I rest my case about the split season.This decision must be revisited at this point.

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