Burning Issue: Who should neutrals support in this weekend's clash of styles; Donegal or Kerry?
With Donegal facing Kerry this weekend should you back Donegal's tactical machine or Kerry's more traditional individuals. Two JOE writers take a side each.
Mark O'Toole says... there are two reasons why neutrals should support Donegal ahead of Kerry this weekend. One is the clear emotional reason, it would mean more to Donegal and the GAA in general if we saw a resurgent Donegal beat the aristocrats of the game, rather than another Kerry march on Sam.
The second reason is that lazy punditry would have you believe that Donegal play a turgid-style of putrid, defensive football in comparison to the purist’s brand of attacking football propagated by Kerry, this is a poor, reductive argument as Donegal are proving again this season that they’re tactical innovators.
Let’s the deal with the first issue, Kerry have been labelled ‘chokers’ by some of the aforementioned pundits in the last few weeks, yet quite clearly they have been the most dominant team in Gaelic Football over the last 10 years, appearing in eight All-Ireland finals, winning four.
No other side, including Tyrone, comes close to that level.
In their last few games since losing to Cork, they have regained their mojo, belief and ruthlessness. Therefore for neutrals who wish to avoid the continued monotony of Kerry dominance, a victory for the upstarts of Donegal against a fully fit and motivated Kerry, would give hope to other sides as well as belief to this impressive Donegal team.
Not only that, but the tale of this Donegal team and their manager Jim McGuinness is one to get behind. Once in a blue-moon they emerge from the highly-competitive wilds of the Ulster Championship to compete on a national level (like when they won their one and only All-Ireland in 1992.) Last year they broke the 11-year dominance of Armagh and Tyrone in the Ulster Championship and came very close to beating eventual All-Ireland winners Dublin in that much-maligned semi-final. All this success came after a period of disappointment and upheaval prior to Jim McGuinness’ arrival as manager.
McGuinness and his side have created something very special, despite accusations of an aesthetically poor-style of football and a win against Kerry, as the underdogs, would confirm that.
To the second reason and back to those ‘lazy pundits’ again who assert that Donegal play poor football.
Implication - support Kerry? Wrong.
It’s a reductive argument that makes for entertaining TV by dumbing down the game and not giving credit to the sporting public.
Donegal have evolved from last year with their defensive, counter-attacking style that pivots a lot on captain Michael Murphy a lá a quarterback in American Football. Their game emphasises a team mentality and attack and defence operating in unison, think Johan Cryuff’s 'Total Football' in soccer. It is a triumph of tactical innovation, team spirit and will to execute this highly-demanding strategy devised by McGuinness.
Last year they were more defensive than attacking, while this year they have been given a bit more licence and appear to know their system better so it is less hard on the eye. As McGuinness has said last year in his first year as boss they were still evolving, much like Dublin in their first year under Pat Gilroy when similar accusations were landed at the Dubs who were developing a new and innovative system.
Pat Spillane and others have frequently jumped on teams who are trying to do something new, not giving them any time to develop or see what their end-game is, labelling it “puke football” and a retrograde step in the game. He would rather everyone played like his Kerry side of the 80s, who dominated football like no other playing their brand of football and didn’t that get dull?
The game moves on and this Donegal side, if they beat Kerry with their system, represent progress, something innovative that should be admired and analysed for what it is – something interesting and new in the sport.
One thing is for sure New versus Old, Underdog versus Aristocrats, Donegal versus Kerry in their first ever Championship match is a contest that should be relished as the two styles and statuses of the sides contrast each other superbly.
It’s like a new trailblazing contender facing the venerable respected champion in boxing.
Donegal are the ones that have made this interesting though, I’ll be backing them.
Sean Nolan says... who should neutrals support? Does anyone remember last year? Anyone? Do you recall the incredibly turgid game between Donegal and Kildare, saved only by a majestic final act? How about the All-Ireland semi-final between the Tir Chonaill men and Dublin? It was worse.
Ah, but this is a new look Donegal, a more pleasing on the eye Donegal, people will tell you. Well the stats prove otherwise. Thanks to @gaelicstats we know that Donegal have handpassed more and kicked less in the 2012 Championship than they did at the same stage in 2011.
Yes they are scoring more, but perhaps that reflects more on the opposition they have faced to date than any ‘opening of the taps’ by Jim McGuinness.
We should be eternally grateful that it is Kerry who will face Donegal this weekend. If it had been Kildare again we would have been in for another shocker.
Instead we get a chance to see what is undoubtedly the finest Gaelic football team of its generation try for one last Sam. While we all bleat on about parity, and new faces and boredom, there is nothing boring about sustained excellence.
It is a disease of some sports fans to turn on a team after too much success. Barcelona, Michael Schumacher, Manchester United, Kilkenny, all truly dominant forces end up being hated by some for being simply too good.
Kerry are in the same boat. But with many miles on the clock for some of this current crew, this may well be the last hurrah. One more All-Ireland tilt by the likes of Tomas O’Se and the rest is something all but the most biased of GAA supporters has to get behind.
And then there is the style. Yes, Kerry got down and dirty against Tyrone and yes, Paul Galvin got sent off, again, against Clare. Nobody said they were angels, and nobody claims they don’t play with tactics either. But in terms of entertainment, and what they call ‘the eye test’ in US sports, they are just the best to watch.
Jack O'Connor's side have the likes of Colm Cooper, Darran O’Sullivan and Declan O’Sullivan, a trio to grace any era. Michael Murphy, Colm McFadden and Patrick McBreaty are all fine footballers, but they don’t excite the crowd and the public like the Kingdom's magicians do.
And for any of you who are still not convinced to shout for Kerry this weekend just look at the schedule. The winner of Kerry/Donegal faces either Cork or Kildare. A win for Donegal means a semi-final that may well be the most defensive game ever seen in Gaelic football.
So we don’t have to witness that spectacle alone, get behind Kerry this weekend.