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Comment & Analysis | Sport

‘Gaelic football has a lot in common with rugby league’

Dublin and Tyrone played out an enthralling contest

WHERE do you stand on rugby league? I never got into it myself. I can’t really offer any good reasons why. I’ve watched a few games over the years and they were grand: it is a tough and skillful sport. 

Nevertheless, I’m certain I’ll live out my days without worrying about how St Helens or the South Sydney Rabbitohs are going. It just didn’t grab me. It just didn’t grab most people on the planet; it is a minority sport in the global scheme of things.

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What are the rugby league authorities doing about this? Should they agonise about drastic rule changes, maybe alter the tackle or how many players each team can field?

Well, of course not. In northern England and eastern Australia there are people whose lives would be a lot poorer without rugby league.

They probably get emotional when they’re talking in pubs late at night to fellow devotees about the great players they’ve seen. They probably get nostalgic when they pull a box of rugby league programmes and memorabilia down from their attic.

They probably look at rugby league stats on the sly in the office when they should be working. They probably feel the hairs rise on their neck when Rugby League Team A and Rugby League Team B are locked in an exciting end to an epic and important game whose outcome is uncertain.

Good luck to them. They almost certainly don’t worry too much about what people like me think about their game. They absolutely, positively, wouldn’t entertain me if I tried to tell them they should tear up the rulebook and start again.

I was thinking about all this on Sunday night, after I had realised I was in unusually good form for that time of week, and reflected it was because I’d been on the precipice of my bar stool that afternoon, as enthralled as the 20 or so other people in the pub, with Dublin and Tyrone doing their thing in such compelling fashion.

Gaelic football has a lot in common with rugby league. In the big picture, it is an irrelevance. No-one in China or Colombia probably gave much thought last week to how Gearoid McKiernan’s cruciate injury will affect the Cavan-Armagh game, or what a pity it is that we’re unlikely to see Leighton Glynn tearing about trying to single-handedly save Wicklow this summer.

No, like rugby league, Gaelic football is a game that inspires fierce passion in its strongholds and almost nowhere else, save for pockets of émigrés around the world.

Even within its country of origin, there are people who don’t get football. I’ve made my peace with that: you can’t make people like what you like, and nor should you try.

Unfortunately, the sport has an affliction rugby league does not; people who don’t like it but still feel it necessary to criticise it endlessly.

Some Irish newspapers still dispatch reporters who clearly don’t like football to games, with hurling snobs the most annoying strain.

Some Irish TV shows still employ pundits that look like they’d rather be at a special Sunday visit to the dentist than offering their views on blanket defences.

It’s a shame, because I find the sport as engrossing now as I ever have. What a game Dublin and Tyrone was — as fine a 70 minutes as you’ll find this side of June.

It was laced with superb scores and fascinating sub-plots, all winding towards a finish that retained its drama to the last whistle.

Remember, we had people in 2011 coming up with proposals such as introducing an Aussie Rules tackle and mark, making the game 13-a-side and — Jesus wept — limiting the amount of players you could station in your own half.

Both teams will be happy: Dublin still have a few prominent generals to return to the battlefield and yet they were still victorious in the face of a Tyrone rearguard that hunted with a ferocity that reminded you of 2003.

The Red Hands had many individual performances to savour, Niall Morgan and Cathal McCarron and the brilliant Mark Donnelly chief among them.

Perhaps more importantly, their manager reminded us he still has the tactical acumen that helped swing the championship clash of these two teams in 2005; witness the way substitute Aidan Cassidy limited the influence of Michael Darragh Macauley.

Dublin deserved to win the league because they were clearly the best team this spring. Tyrone were the only team to live with them in Croke Park; Donegal the only team to do so when the Dubs hit the road.

Now we get the pleasure of an Ulster quarter-final between those two teams. It will be the prelude to a hell of a summer’s football.

If that doesn’t grab you, fair enough: just stop watching, enjoy your life and whatever sport you find enriches it, and keep your opinions on how football might be made more attractive to yourself.

It might be a minority sport worldwide, but for people from many parts of Ireland, it’s the only game that matters, and that silent majority likes it just the way it is.

Follow Eamonn on Twitter: @EamonnOMolloy

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Eamonn O Molloy
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Eamonn O'Molloy is Gaelic Football columnist withThe Irish Post. Follow him on Twitter @EamonnOMolloy

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