Pat Spillane has long been an advocate of the “beautiful game” as he sees it when he hankers back to a glorious time somewhere in the past when Gaelic Football was all long kicking, high catching and matches were won by last minute points kicked from beyond the fifty yard line. Note I said yards and not metres because although Pat is only a few years older than me I cannot quite remember these halcyon days he is referring to. I think what he is saying is “Spillane Speak” about a time when Kerry won almost every All Ireland and Northern teams headed to Croke Park like sacrificial lambs to the slaughter to be well beaten in a semi final and get the patronising congratulatory slap on the back telling them to keep up the good work and perhaps one day it might all come good for some of the brethren from the north.
Listening to him lambast the “defensive” strategies of Donegal and Kildare he could barely contain his distaste for the “blanket defence” employed by both teams. Indeed he even went as far as to say both these sides have taken on the mantle of Tyrone and Armagh of a few years ago and then spent several minutes espousing the virtues of the traditional man to man approach of Cork and Mayo. Clearly Pat does not understand the intricacies of modern football and the fluidity and interchange that often takes place between backs and forwards. If he was to take a close look at his beloved Kerry he may even notice that more often than not they also employ very similar tactics and strategies to those that proved successful for Tyrone and Armagh. The phrase imitation being the greatest form of flattery comes to mind.
The Kerry man is wonderful entertainment when he gets going as his face reddens and his brain runs ahead of his tongue but, amusing as he may be, beneath it all Pat fails to appreciate the work and achievements of managers such as Kieran Mc Geeney and Jimmy Mc Guinness. Both men have taken counties with limited panels and turned them into teams that are greatly admired by many people across the country. Granted the style of football they play may not be that pleasing on the eye but they did produce fifty five minutes of the most compelling football seen so far this year in their quarter final clash. Back at the start of the decade Joe Kernan and Mickey Harte did the same as they turned previously unfashionable counties into the top teams in the land.
Football is a team game and the modern game is more about the team than ever before. Hard work is at the core of these teams and working to their strengths makes them very difficult opposition to play against. These characteristics are not uniquely northern but it would certainly cause Pat’s blood pressure to rise if Tyrone were to beat Dublin and another set of “nordies” make it through to the last four.