Photo: Irish Examiner
It wasn’t planned that way, of course, but the team’s media event on Sunday evening was perfectly timed for a few juicy quotes from our camp, in light of our drawing Donegal the previous evening and Jimmy McGuinness’s ludicrous outburst following his team’s qualifier win over Laois a few hours before then. Our man didn’t disappoint, either, as today’s coverage amply demonstrates.
Colm Gannon in the Mayo Advertiser was the first to get a report out on the Breffy press night but it’s the coverage in all three main national papers today that will grab the attention. What James had to say is covered in the Irish Examiner (in a piece by Daniel Carey of the Mayo News), the Irish Independent and the Irish Times.
The press hounds obviously put McGuinness’s comments to James and the boss wasn’t slow in providing his response. But, James being James, he did so in a nice nuanced way, playing warm tribute to Donegal’s achievements, while leaving no-one in any doubt about his opinion on the methods they’ve used to garner them. Leading with the point that Donegal and its back-room team will try anything that’ll give them an advantage, James quickly pin-pointed their overtly physical approach as key to their success in 2012 (this is from the Irish Examiner):
Last year they mastered many new skills and brought football to a different level on many fronts, particularly in the area around physicality. They really ratcheted that up last year and put a lot of teams to the sword based on their strength, power and tackling. I don’t know if any of ye have been at the end of a Michael Murphy tackle recently, but there’s serious, serious physicality in that team. They’ve been leaders on that front.
Nicely chosen words there and I particularly like the reference he made to Michael Murphy. I know I caught some flak the other day for mentioning the Glenswilly man in dispatches about Donegal’s dirtier players but the way he uses all that muscle in the tackle, in particular how he repeatedly leads with the closed fist in a low and sneaky manner, deserves to be highlighted and it’s good to see James doing so.
James was asked about how he thought Donegal measure up this year compared to last. In responding he made the valid point that many counties are seeking to match them in the physical stakes this year and he also made reference to their injury list, though he did so in a deliciously back-handed way:
I know they’re suffering from a number of key injuries, but I’ve yet to see a top-level inter-county team that hasn’t suffered from injuries. If you look at us, over the course of this year, it’s been phenomenal. We lost eight players off our match-day 26 in the first round of the club championship, and a number of key players have been out for a number of months.
That is so true – we’ve taken several heavy blows on the injury front this year (and this following the heaviest one of all when we lost Andy at such a crucial stage last year) but we’ve kept going without breaking stride. Donegal, in contrast, appear to be coming apart at the seams with McGuinness willing to risk a patently unfit Karl Lacey – “duty of care”, huh? – rather than rely on others in the squad to step up to the plate.
James also had some really interesting stuff to say about tackling and how it’s reffed (this is from the Irish Times). He praised coach Donie Buckley for the work he’s done with the players on improving their tackling skills and he was at pains to emphasise that the tackling you’ll see from us on Sunday will be within the rules:
This year since Donie Buckley’s been involved, we’ve looked at the whole area of skills, and to us, tackling is a skill area – there’s no doubt about it. So we’ve put a huge amount of time, effort and focus into getting all our basic skills right, including the tackle, and hopefully ye’ll see that on Sunday. Left hand, both hands, both feet, pick-ups, turning both ways, the fundamentals, we’ve put a lot of work into, and the tackle . . . we’ve looked at what the tackle is, and we’ve tried to perfect that as well as we can understand it. We’ve put huge work in there, so we’re comfortable we tackle to the letter of the law.
I think that’s a really important point and if you look at how we’ve improved our tackling this year and then compared it with the thuggery that Donegal (and, it must be said, the likes of Tyrone too) get up to in contact, you’re looking at a night and day situation. If a player comes into contact with us, he quickly finds himself bottled up with no escape route out and is forced to foul the ball or have it knocked legitimately from his grasp. Any player foolish enough to go into contact with Donegal (or Tyrone) will certainly get pulled back, will certainly get held and will certainly get slapped or maybe punched as well, i.e. fouled at least two or three times, with one of those fouls at least a yellow card offence.
What amazes me is how and why refs let teams like Donegal and Tyrone away with this kind of stuff. The key thing about how Sunday’s match is reffed is whether or not Joe McQuillan is capable of seeing the difference between the two approaches and blowing accordingly. James – who made his comments on this before the ref for Sunday was appointed – made this very point in a delicate and diplomatic way, paying tribute to ref boss Pat McEneaney when doing so:
Look, we’ve just got to trust the refs that are there, that there’s consistency. I saw Pat McEneaney on Saturday up in Croke Park – I know he’s doing a lot of good work to try and bring some consistency there. Look, we’ll go out and play it that way.
That’s it – consistency is everything and it’s all we ever want to see from a ref. If we get that from Joe McQuillan on Sunday we’ll be grand.
On a side note, it’s pretty clear that the palpable sense of build-up ahead of what’s likely to be a shuddering clash on Sunday makes our quarter-final the undisputed tie of the round. It’s all the more curious, then, that RTÉ – who had first dibs on what matches to broadcast this weekend – incredibly opted to cover the Saturday matches, leaving TV3 with the weekend’s main event the following afternoon.
No doubt RTÉ took this decision based on projected viewing figures but it’s yet more evidence of how little those who run the sports department in the so-called national broadcaster actually know or understand about the beating heart of the GAA. This is the same organisation that has allowed The Sunday Game to sink to the irrelevant depths it has reached in recent years and which sees fit to appoint a national eejit like Marty Morrissey as its GAA correspondent. At least this stupid move gives TV3, with its fresh approach and its welcome lack of egotistical pundits, the chance to take centre-stage for what is certain to be the biggest clash so far in this year’s football championship. Good luck to them with it.