Friday, April 20, 2007

NFL Finalists Aim to Chop the Long Grass

Here's a little game for you. Over the next few months, as the GAA championships get under way, count the number of times you hear or read the expression 'waiting in the long grass'. As in, "it was great to beat Kerry today but we know Waterford are waiting in the long grass," or, "despite their good league campaign, Monaghan came up against a Cavan team who had been waiting in the long grass."

I'm not sure exactly where it derives from; is it an agricultural thing, or something to do with shooting ducks? Or does it go back to the War of Independence, when our bould Volunteers picked off Black and Tans under the concealment of rushy knolls?

Wherever it comes from, it underlines the importance of the element of surprise in the GAA championships. In contrast to the long, expositional league system by which most professional sports identify their champions, the Championships are decided on a handful of tumultuous, telling occasions, few enough that guile and subterfuge are often strategically deployed.

Mayo and Donegal will be well aware of the phenomenon this weekend.

The National League finals, positioned as they are on the cusp of The Serious Business, are a peculiar affair. GAA director-general Liam Mulvihill pointed out at the beginning of this league campaign the curiousness of the fact that "most competitions start with a whimper and go out with a bang but it's very often the opposite in the National Leagues."

The principal reason for this is that, after stellar league campaigns, the two combatants in Sunday's final find themselves in a place where no county wishes to be: standing buck naked in the middle of the road, without a blade of grass to protect their modesty.

Not that they baulk at the promise of silverware (a win on Sunday would be Donegal's first trophy of any sort since the All-Ireland in 1992, and Mayo can never be so sated as to pass up national honours) and, one presumes, neither side will skimp on effort.

But there they will be, two Championship contenders, parading around in the open, while their rivals are regrouping for the big push in the secrecy of their barracks. Donegal, perhaps slightly more so than Mayo, have reason to blush at their exposure; widely regarded as the most impressive team in the National League, lifting the trophy on Sunday would see the conferred with that most worthless of honours: the best team in the land in April.

For all that recent seasons have promoted the idea that National League success is the father of All-Ireland glory (three of the last four years have have seen League/Championship doubles in football, the exception - 2005 - witnessing NFL winners Armagh fail narrowly in epic struggle with eventual All-Ireland champions Tyrone) a side like Donegal does not yet have the sturdy legs to survive the pace of being front-runner.

But what's an oft-derided, psychologically suspect team to do? All both Sunday's combatants can address years of underachievement with is the repeated winning of matches. If the summer storms blow their respective houses down every year, what can Mayo or Donegal do but build them back up again, stronger and stronger again until, one calm September morning, they might wake up with their roofs still intact?

And anyway, this whole idea of 'the long grass' is not without its flaws. While some teams practice guerilla warfare expertly, very often the hidden enemy attacks with pea-shooters. It's a twist on the old notion that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt. And the status of league champions will confer fear of no-one on Mayo or Donegal come the summer.

Still. Did you see something moving there? Where? Over there, in the long grass.....

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Blogger Colm said...


2:01 p.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

Just one of many things Armagh have been called in recent years...

3:17 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kildare is known as the Short Grass county.

No surprise then that they don't do so well in the championship.

8:16 p.m.  
Blogger Willie Joe said...

Mayo need to prepare for a Summer with various bogeymen waiting in the Long Grass! First up are our old friends Galway and, if we beat them, our ex old friend John Maughan and his Rossies are likely to be lying in the sward in the Connacht final. Then, there's a possibility that Sunday's NFL final could be played out again at the All-Ireland semi-final stage so, if we win on Sunday (and I think we will), there's another bunch of likely lads potentially waiting to exact revenge down the road. And, of course, if we do get all the way to the final (a big'if'), the Long Grass candidates are likely to be Dublin (who now have a major score to settle with us)or Kerry . . . say no more!

9:45 p.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

Willie Joe - meeting Galway last week was an odd one: do they take confidence from the win, or have they provided Peter Forde's teamtalk for May 20th by beating Galway?

I reckon the Dubs could be there for the taking in Leinster, and Kildare should fancy themselves as much as anybody, even if they're only springing from behind short grass!

8:19 a.m.  

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