Much has been made of Donegal’s view that defense was the only form of attack in Sunday’s All-Ireland football semifinal against Dublin at Croke Park, an unsuccessful stance as it happened.
RTE pundit Pat Spillane, a man with an opinion to match every outfit, decreed the northerner’s brand of football once again. Puke football he calls it.
All-Ireland winner Paul Curran, whose father Noel once played for the great Dunshaughlin and Meath, offered his view of the game in his weekly, and entertaining, Evening Herald column.
The headline on Paul’s piece said it: “Great To See End of Pathetic Donegal” it read.
Almost to a man, everyone outside the Donegal camp had a bone to pick with the manner in which manager Jimmy McGuinness approached the game tactically.
When you consider that McGuinness’ star forward and team captain Michael Murphy managed only six points from play all summer, they might have a point.
But the critics, with the exception of the former Horslips drummer Eamonn Carr who called it as it is in his own Herald column, made two fundamental errors in their assessment of this Donegal team and their latest performance.
For a start, those cribbing about a lack of entertainment value at Croke Park last Sunday failed to accept one basic fact of GAA life -- the Donegal players are all amateurs.
They are not paid to entertain the full house at Croke Park last Sunday, and most of them had to forget their disappointment quickly enough to go to work on Monday morning.
So there was no onus whatsoever on Donegal to play an open and exciting and expansive brand of football against a Dublin team that can do real damage if they get enough of the ball.
Secondly, and more to the point, people have forgotten very quickly just how far Jimmy McGuinness has taken this Tir Chonaill side in less than a year.
Any manager’s brief, in any sport, is to improve the team he is handed control of, and McGuinness has achieved that in spades with this Donegal side.
A year ago they were out of the championship before the sun had appeared for the summer. This year they got to an All-Ireland semifinal and they won a first Ulster title since 1992. That’s progress in any language.
Dublin fans won’t care how their team got there when they flood into Croke Park three Sundays from now for an All-Ireland decider against their great rivals Kerry.
If Donegal had won last Sunday their fans wouldn’t have cared either. The pundits should remember that the next time they want to deride amateur sportsmen and their mentors.
ATHLETICS: A wonderful story came out of the world athletics championships in Korea this week when the South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius made it to the semifinals of the 400 meters. Pistorius made history as the first amputee athlete to race in the competition when finished third in his heat in 45.39 seconds. He finished last in the semis but that didn’t matter. The Blade Runner, so named because of the prosthetics he uses, was a real hero in Daegu and his achievement should never be forgotten.
SOCCER: The Irish team will train on a plastic pitch in Dublin on Saturday and Sunday in an effort to get them used to such conditions ahead of Tuesday’s crunch match on a similar pitch in Moscow. John O’Shea won’t have any problems with the Russia pitch as he won the Champions League on the same ground when Manchester United beat Chelsea there on penalties in 2008.
SOCCER: Bad news if you’re an Irish soccer fan and you’ve booked a trip to Barcelona for the October European qualifier against Andorra -- the game is now back in Andorra. Slovakia and Russia protested at Andorra’s plans to bring the Republic to Espanyol’s ground in a cash making venture so the game is back in Andorra -- after thousands of Irish fans booked to fly to Barcelona.
SOCCER: Shock news from Manchester, where United reject Owen Hargreaves is close to signing for City on a free transfer. The former England midfielder is close to a pay-as-you play deal with the Blues which may not cost them too much judging by his lack of first team football at Old Trafford last season thanks to a succession of injuries.
RUGBY: A little omen if you fancy a quirky bet or two. When England last won at Lansdowne Road in 2003 they went on to win the Rugby World Cup in Australia. They won at the Aviva on Saturday in their final game before the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Might be worth a flutter.
SOCCER: Scottish side Kilmarnock are close to signing Belgian international Mark de Man. And guess what – Mark de Man is a defender. As his name suggests!
HEROES OF THE WEEK
THOSE of us who still believe in domestic Irish football can only take pleasure from the Europa League heroics of Shamrock Rovers, now through to the group stages of the competition after their brilliant win away to Partizan Belgrade on Thursday night of last week. Rovers didn’t just qualify to play the likes of Spurs in the group stages with that sensational win, they also gave Irish football a real lift. Let’s hope Trap’s boys can follow suit in the coming week.
IDIOT OF THE WEEK
THE former Irish striker Tony Cascarino landed himself in hot water on Sunday when he told Sky Sports News that the Arsenal defender Traore was having a “holocaust” in the 8-2 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford. It was a slip of the tongue on the part of the TV pundit, but a stupid one.