he Leitrim team who won the Connacht Senior Football Championship in 1994
Nostalgia is the stuff that drives on dreams of glory in sportspeople all around the world for where would we all be if we didn't dream of emulating or bettering the achievements of our heroes?
But when it comes to nostalgia, is it better to remember your heroes with the golden hue you gave them from your youth, to look back on those golden days through rose tinted glasses that have moulded your memories of past glories?
Oh you, with the passage of time, find yourself re-examining and reassessing what you believed to be true and accurate memories of days that have had a magical quality to them?
It is something that has really come to my mind in recent weeks with the enforced shut down of sport due to the Covid-19 crisis. No sport, no fix as we lamented on these pages last week but there has been a saviour - repeats!
Yes, old matches, old fights, old races and old heroes have been rescued from dusty shelves with their exploits and heroic deeds being brought to a new audience.
But is that a good thing I wonder? I'm all for remembering where we came from for it tells us a lot of who we are today and honouring the heroes that thrilled and inspired us in the past is no bad thing in a culture today that is so quick, so disposable and so instantly forgettable!
Look at Sky Sports or BT or eir or any of the myriad media outlets bringing us sport nowadays and everything is the best ever, a line of hyperbole and marketing that might have you wondering whether Pakie McGarty was actually a good footballer at all!
It was brought home to me when Everton gave their fans a hefty dose of nostalgia by showing, instead of the match cancelled due to the lockdown, but a full match of their all conquering side of 1986/87 thrash Norwich 4-0 in Goodison Park all those years ago.
I watched the 1994 Connacht Senior Final on my laptop on Monday, basically the first time I've seen the match since then and boy was it educational!
It is amazing what you forget from those days and what sticks. This was top of the table Everton and yet the ground was nowhere near full. Stranger still was the backpass to the goalkeepers, not outlawed at that time. The tackles were ferocious but strangely, drew little reaction from either side, let alone the referee as players simply dusted themselves off and got on it.
And for those who think soccer was invented with Sky, just look at the high tempo, high pressing game of that Everton side, similar it must be said to the Liverpool of the same era, and tell me that Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp discovered that style of football!
It was a feeling brought home to me when I watched the 1994 Connacht Senior Final on my laptop on Monday, basically the first time I've seen the match since then and boy was it educational!
Eir have regularly shown the game on their channels but with the lockdown, GAA.ie have been showing old classics from the past 30 years and believe it or not, this was the first time to relive a day that stands as one of my highlights covering sport with the Leitrim Observer!
First of all, you forget just how good this Leitrim team was and how incredibly tough they were! Of course, they were good, they lifted the Nestor Cup, it goes without saying but its only when you see them in full flight once more that you marvel again at the brilliance of some of the players who graced Dr Hyde Park just over 25 years ago.
I say tough because this was no wilting Leitrim team. Straight from the first ball, it was clear they didn't shy away from a physical challenge, if anything, there appeared to be a relish for physical contact that appeared almost reckless by today's standards as the amount of full-blooded straight on charges into opponents would probably have resulted in quite a few black and red cards today.
Of course, it was a very different game played at a much different speed and with tactics that would see you cut to pieces in today's inter-county landscape. Time-wasting was less obvious, there was a bit of play acting going on but not to the degree that there is nowadays, even down to U13 level unfortunately.
People talk of the advances in fitness and the training regimes inter-county and even club teams are subjected to today but there was no lacking in fitness or application back in 1994.
Liam Conlon has always had a bum rap as a forward better known for some high profile misses but on that day, the Ballinamore man was immense. True he had some wides that day too but Conlon ran himself into the ground and created chance after chance after chance - it is a different take to the memory I have carried from that game for so long.
You also forget too what a special talent Padraig Kenny was - the Allen Gaels player was the fulcrum of the attack, his pace, his vision and sheer bloody tenacity screamed from the laptop all these years later.
Another trick of the memory was I didn't remember Fergal Reynolds and Joe Honeyman being as good as they were that day yet I do remember just how vital the superb Martin McHugh was to victory. And while I remember Declan Darcy's incredible long range kicking, time had erased from my memory how calm he was under pressure and, in a sure sign of how good he was, how much time he appeared to have on the ball no matter the circumstance.
We have a tendency to mythologise the past and recall it with a tint of our prejudices but sometimes nostalgia blinds you to the reality of how far the game has come in those 25 years!
I'd forgotten just how many chances Mayo created that day, particularly in the first half, and the fact that four shots came back off the Leitrim posts tell you something of the thin line between success and failure. I put it to you this way, if I were a Mayo player from that team watching that game this week, I’d be wondering how we lost the game!
Yet for all that, there was no doubting that Leitrim were the better team who dominated the game once they settled down and used their heads.
The days of catch and kick remain locked deep in the psyche of football fans
Some talk of returning to those days, the days of catch and kick remain locked deep in the psyche of football fans but as I looked back on that game, I could not believe the amount of aimless long kicking, from both teams, that went straight to the opposition or simply no-one at all. It wasn't unusual to see a player make a great catch, break a tackle and then, without a glance at all, hammer the ball 50 yards down the field to an unmarked opponent!
If I do allow myself nostalgia, it is for the lost art of the man to man battle. Defensive systems, screens, zonal play and doubling up are the buzzwords of today's game but looking back on the 1994 Final, it was straight up, individual man to man combat, something long gone from the game - so much so that it is almost impossible to evaluate an individual defender nowadays as you rarely see them involved in one on one battles!
Considering there were no massed defences, the height of tactical innovation a corner-forward deployed as a third midfielder, goal chances were few and far between and most of them came when teams held onto the ball and actually thought about what they were doing rather than mindless long balls to nobody.
You wonder too would Mickey Quinn's remarkable point in the second half have stood up to scrutiny in today's game, it certainly would have got a lot of debate on social media whatever about The Sunday Game. At the time, it looked slightly dodgy and while the replay on GAA.ie sheds no definitive light on it, it was bizarre to see the umpire that gave the point on the near side actually run away from the goal, instead of standing behind the post to adjudicate the score!
So what conclusions do I draw from my reverie back to 1994 and those glorious days? First, what incredible times they were for Leitrim people all over the world and what an incredible team the county produced at that time.
And as much as I truly enjoyed reliving the game, it gave me a greater appreciation of the game as it is played nowadays. Tactics are far more pronounced, skills are higher and the execution of them paramount and it makes me realise the standards that the current generation of Leitrim stars are aspiring towards. It is not quite an easy nowadays for Leitrim to make that breakthrough because gaelic football is now big business and the big counties never allowed themselves to slip up.
I'd never, absolutely never, diminish the achievements of that Leitrim team in 1994. They beat the best Connacht had to offer and beat them in style but they were of their time and of the football that was played back then. Yet transport them to 2020 and subject them to the same training and the same rigours as team nowadays, would they have been champions? You bet your life they would!
Footnote: This is the final “The Last Point” column for a while as we go on a bit of a sabbatical. We'll be back in the future but in the meantime, take care of yourself, take care of each other and it won't be too long before we're debating and arguing about sport again.
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