Philly happy to ride to Roscommon’s rescue

Roscommon’s Ben O’Carroll in action against Daire Newcombe of Dublin during the recent All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Round 1 match between Dublin and Roscommon in Croke Park. Pic: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

“I hear you’re a racist now, Father” is one of many lines from the acclaimed sitcom ‘Fr Ted’ that’s much loved by fans.

Such was the outcry over a certain six-minute possession play recently, one is almost tempted to paraphrase – and coin the phrase – ‘I hear Roscommon are killing Gaelic football now’.

Of course it’s nonsense. Many of those who lost the plot over Roscommon’s frustration of Dublin leading up to half-time in their recent All-Ireland SFC group game seem to have forgotten that some Ulster teams, and the Dubs themselves, have often employed such tactics. Anyone for Reeling In The Years, A Donegal Special?

A few points about Six-minutegate: firstly, its timing. Roscommon were leading, against the breeze, and half-time was imminent. Teams who play in a cavalier style against Dublin at Croke Park usually go home with bruised egos and broken dreams, an embarrassing score margin to haunt them for weeks to come. Or longer. Quite often, Dublin do the damage in the space of a couple of minutes. It was eminently sensible, when leading against the breeze – with half-time looming – for Roscommon to slow the game, retain possession, seek to frustrate their illustrious opponents.

Also, Dublin stood off Davy Burke’s team, effectively inviting Six-minutegate on themselves. A few more thoughts: Roscommon executed the 77-pass phase brilliantly. Best of all, they brought the possession marathon to an end with a superb point, breaking at speed when the opportunity arose, before Ciaráin Murtagh calmly sidestepped his marker and pointed.

The criticism which followed a superb Roscommon performance felt wrong. Roscommon are essentially playing the same style of football as all the top teams are. They happen to be excelling at executing whatever game plan Davy Burke and his management team put in place. They’re not afraid to attack either. It’s pragmatic football, brilliantly executed.

The criticism is also hard to take. On 2FM, Peter Canavan said the emphasis on keeping possession just for the sake of it is ruining Gaelic football. He said this has been a trend in our games “these past couple of years” – that ‘couple of years’ reference a bit rich from the Tyrone great.

“I get it, it’s part and parcel of the game. It’s a tactic that managers are using, but it’s terrible to watch and spoiling our game as a spectacle” Canavan added, as if butter wouldn’t melt in the Tyrone man’s mouth.

Thank God for Philly McMahon! Having already tweeted his admiration for Roscommon’s display in Croker, the former Dublin star elaborated in a recent Irish Independent column.

He wrote: “What Roscommon did… was hugely impressive. Seventy-seven passes. Three times they went up to the half-forward line, but without the easy ball they were looking for, went back into their half.

“They’re low risk passes because they’re mostly at close range, but the concentration and preparation that goes into that is colossal”.

That’s coming from a guy who knows what he’s talking about.

We’d all love to see fast-flowing Gaelic football – end to end stuff in a fantasy world – but that’s naïve. It’s not today’s game. This may change in the future, but it’s not today’s game. The visionary Jim McGuinness saw to that!

Final word to Roscommon manager Davy Burke, speaking to reporter Frank Roche in the Irish Independent for the Saturday May 27 edition. In a neatly understated yet softly ruthless comment, Davy said: “They (Roscommon) want to be going as far as they can go. And balance was one of the main things holding them back. The set-up and balance…

“I don’t really care what you did last year. All I know is when you were five points up with 69 minutes on the clock in Croke Park (against Clare), you didn’t see it out. So, whatever you did couldn’t have been that good!”

When we were five points up against Clare in Croke Park last year – on 69 minutes – the ball retention astuteness displayed against Dublin recently would have comfortably secured the win. We’d have gone back into the dressing rooms as winners, looking forward to an All-Ireland quarter-final. Dreams intact.

I’m sure Jim McGuinness, Jim Gavin and Philly McMahon would agree.