The state of football in Connacht has been the topic of critical comment by many in the media this summer. Ontheroad returns to the guest slot to give his thoughts on the issue.
If you say it often enough then you start to believe it. “Connacht football is shit” we hear. “Connacht football is junk bond status” we are told. Bear in mind four years of nihilism in Mayo and a nonchalant indifference from Galway, culminating with a Longford/Wexford double uppercut last summer, even those of us from that proud province started to nod our heads in agreement.
Then Mayo went and tore a hole in the SS Cork and sunk it without trace and suddenly we were all forced to revisit the scorched earth tundra-ridden province. “Connacht football is crap” we hear. In relation to whom I ask. Munster, with its twin standard bearers that are Kerry and Cork. Ulster, where if it wasn’t Armagh it then became Tyrone, with a few shapes thrown by turgid mogadon-inducing outfits like Monaghan.
Let’s look at Leinster where all the great media minds dwell. And let’s set a test. Before we condemn or reprieve anybody, let’s set the rules. To conduct this experiment we will focus on the last ten seasonss, i.e. from 2001 to the present. We start 2001 with a Connacht double. Galway win the All-Ireland, Mayo win the League.
Since then Mayo played two All-Ireland finals. They also played in two League finals. Galway have won two U21 titles, Mayo added one. The Mayo minors played in three finals, Galway and Roscommon won a minor title each. Crossmolina, Ballina and Knocknacarra-Salthill won All-Ireland club titles. Yet Connacht football is shite!
Dublin has played in zero All Ireland finals since then. Ditto the great white hopes of Kildare. In fact Kildare has bottom fed around Division Two for many years. They have been sucker punched by giants like Wicklow and Louth in the last few years. They have not beaten a single team of note outside Leinster yet the press see them as a top six side.
Whence Mayo with three league finals, two All-Ireland finals and assorted across the board finals? “Junk bond status” we are told. Kildare have not won a Leinster title since McGeeney took over but the illusion of northern stoicism allied to media lick-arsing has seen Kildare treated like the Kerry team of 1997-2009.
Connacht football is no more in trouble than Kildare, Offaly, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Westmeath, Louth or Meath are. If Leinster is now perceived as Dublin or Kildare then God help us and welcome to lazy punditry. Wexford have as good a record at getting to semi finals as the Dublin/Kildare axis has but without half the hype.
If Munster is Cork and Kerry fair enough but it also contains Tipperary, Clare, Waterford and Limerick. I cannot imagine losing too much sleep if any Connacht team drew them. If Ulster is defined by Tyrone and Armagh and Crossmaglen …fair enough. The fact that it then becomes a modern day version of rollerball as the bucks from Monaghan, Fermanagh, Antrim, Derry, Donegal vie in duel of who’s the hardest wee men in Ulster. I spared mentioning the once blue bloods of Ulster football. Cavan are worthy of a thesis in their own right.
That Mayo beat Cork in a single game does not mean all is fine in the province. However general lazy bias and stereotyping should not bestow on Connacht the gratuitous crap that’s rained down on it with monotonous regularity. In 2008 Tyrone scraped a lucky one-point win over Mayo. In the next round quarter-final they wiped the floor with Dublin. Guess who got All-Stars that year and who played in a crap province?
“To hell or to Connacht “spoke Cromwell. Many went there and were glad to. Welcomed by its proud people who shared the little they possessed. Time has forgotten that saying. I haven’t. Passing close to Batterstown, County Meath, in 1996 I espied a sign with the following daubed on it. “Ye took our land but ye won’t take our cup”. Ignorant, insulting and racist but we swallowed and accepted that type of thing.
The land “we took” was land “taken” by landlords years and years ago. The state redistributed it amongst all the Irish people. Those from the western seaboard, Kerry and Donega,l benefitted from it. Just as those from Leinster and Ulster were given succour when driven “To Hell or Connacht” a few hundred years earlier.
Time we stood by the old province and stood up for it. When it was needed it did its bit. I for one am proud of Connacht, its people and its footballers. The main beneficiaries of the great Western exodus funnily enough were the counties of Meath, Kildare and Dublin. Time to find a new doll to stick pins in, lads.