In case you missed it, healing the world started to end around 3.30pm yesterday. Hell opened its gates and instead of giving us the four horsemen of the apocalypse, look it released fifteen footballers from Donegal onto the hallowed turf of Croke Park to bring about the end of days. Mother nature tried to warn us with dark clouds and torrential rain just before the throw-in, sickness but it was too late. Satan, taking the form of a softly spoken Jim McGuinness, was about to have his wicked ways.
Such hyperbolic nonsense wouldn’t have seemed out of place in much of the analysis which preceded the Dublin-Donegal clash. In the RTE studio, Pat Spillane didn’t even bother wait until full-time to declare his dismay over what he was seeing. Spillane commented in an almost impressively short length of time how the first half was like looking into the apocalypse, before moving onto saying that the Donegal team bore a resemblance to the Shiite tribe in Iraq and then concluding that the Donegal management should be brought to the Hague for crimes against gaelic football. A calm, collected analysis as per usual then.
Much of the same hysteria was also present in the evening edition of The Sunday Game where Tony Davis, Ciaran Whelan and, to a much lesser extent, Jason Ryan worried about the imminent decline of gaelic football following Donegal’s display. The usual nonsense about “the spirit of the game” was discussed, clubs throughout the land were now going to adopt ultra-defensive tactics, and, of course, we had to think of the children who would no longer be interested in playing gaelic football. This morning, those of us unfortunate enough to have paid any attention to the Evening Herald would have noticed their proclamation that Dublin are responsible for saving the GAA yesterday.
The media used to like Donegal, you know. Fans tended to be good-natured and attend matches in large numbers, the football played was mostly pleasing on the eye, everything was just fine. But the fact remains that there has been very little success for the county in the 127 years of the GAA. 1992 remains the only All-Ireland title and with six Ulster titles, only Fermanagh have won the Anglo-Celt cup fewer times. For those who are of a slightly less easy-going nature, this is simply not good enough.
Thus to say that they should respect “the spirit of the game” and return to a style of football whereby the players revert to throwing caution to the wind seems ludicrous. Already this year, two trophies have come into Donegal Town following league and Ulster successes. So what if the matches have been tedious? Who cares if they now play with thirteen defenders and two forwards? Donegal are winning things and with twenty minutes remaining in an All-Ireland semi-final, looked to be booking their place in Croke Park on the third Sunday of September.
Pat Gilroy had no complaints in the post-match interviews, and indeed expressed his admiration for Donegal – “Why would you go out and leave a load of space against fellas who kicked 22 points the last day? It was just sensible what they did. You would have to admire them because it’s incredible to get a whole group of players into the sort of shape you need to be in to do what they did for so long today.” Jim McGuinness has to try and set up his team in the way that he thinks is most suitable to defeat his opponents. That’s his task. Nothing more, nothing less.
A similar media-driven “crisis” followed Tyrone’s semi-final victory over Kerry in 2003. Spillane, once again, spearheaded the outraged reaction on this occasion by coining the oft-repeated term of “puke football” following Tyrone’s exemplary display of defending against his native county. The world didn’t end then. GAA clubs around the country have since carried on carrying on. Kids are still playing gaelic football. Most importantly, Tyrone have won three All-Ireland titles since this victory. There’s a lesson to be learnt from this for Donegal.