Grainne McElwain: football hopefuls must Play It positively for Sam chance

Donegal’s Caolan McColgan and Armagh’s Conor Turbit during todays Allianz GAA Football league Div 2 final at Croke Park, Dublin.  Picture: Mark Marlow
Donegal and Armagh met in the Division Two and Ulster Finals - and are now aiming to clash again in the All-Ireland decider. Picture: Mark Marlow

Who are you and what do you stand for? They are two simple questions. The first one is easy to answer but the second one is much harder.

In the film Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart plays the character Rick Blaine, an American expatriate who in 1941 owns a nightclub and gambling den. World War Two is in full flow and Rick’s café attracts interesting clientele with both Vichy French and Nazi German officials frequenting his place as well as refugees desperate to leave Casablanca and make their way to the United States.

Rick survives because as he says himself he is neutral. He does not get involved. He doesn’t take any sides but as the film goes on, we know that is not the case.

It is a terrific film and one that if you haven’t seen, do make the time to watch. I won’t spoil it for you but one of the scenes really resonated with me. Victor Laszlo, a fugitive resistance leader, is wanted by Nazi Germany. He is in Casablanca looking to escape and the Germans are there to prevent him.

Rick’s Café is full of German soldiers who start to sing “Die Wacht am Rhein”. Laszlo, hating that their French identity and what they stand for is being undermined, tells the house band to start playing the French National Anthem “La Marseillaise”.

He leads the crowd who fervently sing their national anthem and the passion and pride of what it means to them resonates to all in the room. At that moment, they know who they are and what they stand for. There is no doubt.

We live in interesting times and what France stands for in a political sense is very much the debate and topic at the moment. Football and sport, though, in the words of former Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp is “the most important of the least important things”.

We saw at the weekend what Cork and Clare stood for in the hurling championship. Too long have Clare been the team that wilted on the biggest stage. This was their third semi-final meeting with Kilkenny and the alternative to losing to them again was unthinkable.

It looked very likely that this was the case at half time as they were very poor in the first half. However, they found a way. They drove through the doubt.

Cork's Brian Hayes and Limerick's Dan Morrissey in action during the GAA All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final between Cork and Galway on 07-07-2024 at Croke Park Dublin. Pic Philip Walsh
Cork's Brian Hayes and Limerick's Dan Morrissey in action during the GAA All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final between Cork and Galway on 07-07-2024 at Croke Park Dublin. Pic Philip Walsh

Cork hurlers the same. They were brilliant but it was thought by many that they could not or would not beat the previous four time All-Ireland winners Limerick for a second time in the same championship year. They did and despite seeing Limerick eat into the Rebels’ seven-point lead on them, Cork did not run or back down. They believed and pushed on. It was a tremendous performance.

This weekend we will see what Armagh, Kerry, Donegal and Galway stand for. The football championship has been a poor spectacle but will the All-Ireland semi-finals finally see the championship ignite?

We expect a lot from our games. We want our team to win but we want it to be exciting as well. For this to happen though, there has to be jeopardy and teams need to actually lose the ball.

As we all know, possession is king so nobody wants to be the cause of this loss of possession and as a result the 50/50 contest is rare. From team and management perspectives, they want to win and are not concerned if that involves an exciting spectacle or not.

For spectators, at this stage in the championship, we want to see our team win. It is hard to watch though, when we see the ball going backwards instead of forward and there is only so much recycling of the ball a fan can take.

Galway’s second half display against Dublin saved the All-Ireland quarter-final weekend. They were four points behind at half-time and had no option but to live dangerously, push up and go for it. Instead of being in ‘no man’s land’ for the Dublin kick-outs, they attacked them and asked questions of the All-Ireland champions.

They rose to the challenge and their leaders led by example. Cillian McDaid was immense as was the bench. They attacked as they knew there was no plan B.

This weekend will be tinged with sadness for the Tribesmen as John O’Mahony, the brilliant Mayo man who led his neighbours to two All-Ireland titles in 1998 and 2001, passed away last weekend.

“Take the opportunity of a lifetime, in the lifetime of the opportunity” was his mantra during the victorious 1998 campaign and one of his generals that day was the current Galway manager Pádraic Joyce. Those words will be echoing in his head and for his team on Sunday.

Donegal though have no doubt about what they stand for and have a very clear understanding on how they play and the principles and philosophy they embody.

Everything Jim McGuinness has told the players that was going to happen has happened. Promotion and silverware from Division 2 of the National League, the Anglo-Celt Cup and now what is left is Sam Maguire.

The players will 100% believe that they can win this. On paper, Galway have the better forwards but how fit are Shane Walsh, Damien Comer, and Rob Finnerty? Seán Kelly limped off against Dublin. Will he be available and able to perform at a high level? It is not the first time that Pádraic Joyce has had to deal with injury worries but he needs those players fit and on the pitch to make that final date on the July 28.

Armagh have shown tremendous resilience to get to this point as they looked broken after losing to penalties to Donegal in the Ulster Final. Conor Turbitt has been a revelation for them this year and they meet Kerry who have not been impressive so far in the championship.

The game against Derry will have brought Kerry on and, with Dublin gone, the Kingdom will be eyeing up another All-Ireland title.

For all teams this weekend, they have a strong belief of who they are and what they stand for. In the final quarter though, when they are asked the hard, hard questions, what team will hold steadfast and will doubt creep in?

A place in the All-Ireland final is the ultimate prize, all teams hope that they have enough to get there. There is no room for doubt.