03 Oct 2022

McShea's Say - Weekly Column

Knock-out looms - and Jacks are not back!

McShea's Say - Weekly Column

I originally felt that there should or would be no inter-county football or hurling this year because of the impact of coronavirus and the potential impact of a relaxation in the common sense restrictions so excellently monitored by the government.

However, there is much to be proud of in the way our country dealt with the threat, but even at this stage there is a real sense that many younger people have become laid back in their approach to dealing with the discipline required and everybody hopes that this will not have a negative impact in the months ahead.

Every sports person is delighted with the prospect of seeing the return of club football, followed by the inter county game and yet again the people in Croke Park are to be commended for their professional and common sense approach to getting the show back on the road. It will be unique if the fixtures work out according to plan and allow the Football final take place on December 19.

It will be surreal to be heading to Dublin on the cusp of Christmas Day, but knowing the Donegal supporters and their great commitment to supporting the team, no one in the county will have any problem hitting the tar for “Croker “if their side make it to the final.

To even think of a football final two days before the shortest day of the year is hard to imagine.
The other real imponderable this time around is what type of numbers will be lucky enough to get a ticket for this final whether one's county is playing or not.

The capacity of Croke Park is 82,000 in normal circumstances, but no matter how well the virus is contained over the next few months, I will be very surprised if the attendance this year for both hurling and football is not capped at a figure of around 30,000.

A few people have asked me about how the Open Draw might suit Donegal and it is a difficult question to answer. No doubt Declan Bonner has one of the best panels of players in the country at his disposal, and for that reason they would be difficult to deal with if the qualifiers were still an option.

However, in knock out, whatever the sport, the weaker sides always have a chance in a two horse race, and winning a third Ulster on the trot is a real incentive, but a difficult proposition. Already the speculation has started about Tyrone’s visit to Ballybofey for Donegal’s opening defence of their Ulster title. But will the game take place in MacCumhaill Park?

No more than the All-Ireland, the restricted attendance at all championship games will be a real issue here, and some are already talking about this match going to Dublin.

One thing is for sure, no matter where this game takes place it will be a real battle. Donegal - Tyrone matches, particularly in championship football, take on a life of their own, and as the two dominant teams in the province for quite a while now, it is expected that this game will attract a very large attendance.

Another factor which may be relevant is this, if Tyrone were to lose to Donegal it could well be Mickey Harte’s last game in charge of his beloved county.
Mickey, who has the unique distinction of leading his county up the steps of the Hogan stand on three different occasions, may well believe that he has given his all to Tyrone, so that will be a huge factor in the minds of the Tyrone team as they approach this crunch and possibly defining game in this years bid for the Anglo Celt Cup.

Donegal are also not short of incentive this year as they strive for a third consecutive crown in succession, something that no side from the county has ever achieved.

One thing for sure is that this encounter has the potential to be the game of the championship, and there will be more than a little speculation in the build up to a match between two of the greatest rivals in modern football.

I remember in the seventies, 1974 in fact, when Dublin came from nowhere to win that year’s football final the war cry from the Hill was “The Jacks Are Back”.

Jack McCaffrey’s decision to take a year out, or maybe more, from playing is a serious blow to new Dublin manager Dessie Farrell and his team as they bid to win the elusive six-in-a-row this year.
For a 27 year old Mc Caffrey’s brilliance has seen him win a player of the year award, win the man of the match award in two All- Ireland finals, and four All- Star awards.
Jack was quite simply a wonderful footballer, and even when he was driving a dagger into your team's heart by flying up the pitch to take or make a crucial score he was a joy to watch. Even for a team with the talent that Dublin have Mc Caffrey’s loss to Dublin will be immense and every football fan in the country will be sorry to see him go.

This championship will be a poorer place without such a wonderful and unique talent. While uncertainty exists about Diarmuid Connolly’s position with Dublin at this time, if he is not involved it means that Dublin’s attempt to hold on to their title will be much more difficult than was envisaged before Jack Mc Caffrey’s decision to concentrate on his medical career this year.

While Dublin still have a solid nucleus of remarkably gifted players, it will be most interesting to see if they are still hungry for success, and even if they are, the loss of Jack Mc Caffrey will be hard to quantify.

For Farrell his biggest challenge in taking over from Jim Gavin was to convince his players, who had already pocketed five All-Ireland medals, that there were more to be picked up.

In creating history by winning the five-in- a- row they have seen and done it all, and it would be very easy for them to settle into a comfort zone.

Their wonderful record has ensured them of a permanent place in Dublin folklore. So Farrell in his first year at the helm in Dublin will I believe head into this championship with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

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