Ronan's Rant

Ronan McSherry

Don’t spoil club football as well

Peter Harte and the Tyrone players will don their club jerseys at the weekend.

I can see it now, SKY TV launches its ‘Super 8’ weekend of Gaelic Football amidst a cacophony of exciting images brilliantly choreographed by the producers.  
Mugsy’s goal will be there, Maurice Fitzgerald kicking a point from the sideline in Thurles and supporters swarming across the Croke Park soil, the electricity surging through their veins, as their county wins the Sam Maguire Cup. Alas! the viewer is being sold a pup as such moments will barely feature in the summer’s fare.
Nowadays Mulligan would be suffocated by half a dozen defenders and be forced to handpass the ball backwards, few players are being coached to express themselves like Maurice Fitz while patrons must stay off the field. Everything has changed utterly. 
“We’re not in the entertainment business,” is the mantra. In other words, “Who cares if it’s sh*te as long as we’re winning?” However, when you’re not winning, what your left with is sh*te. 
I blame Jimmy McGuinness. The man should be rounded up and charged with crimes against Gaelic football.
I had the misfortune of being in the Hogan Stand in 2011 when Jimmy put the whole of Donegal, including Daniel O’Donnell, Margo and Bernard McHugh and the team bus, in their own half for the entire 70 minutes of an All Ireland semi-final. It was horrific. Even with minutes to go and Dublin reduced to 14 men, they continued to defend a two point deficit.
A year later, the same team opened their shoulders and played gung-ho football with Murphy on the edge of the square and Lacey and McGlynn bombing up from the back line to cut swathes through opposing defences. It was exhilarating.
Managers tried to ape McGuinness’ tactics but got stuck in 2011 and what we’re left with is teams that are obsessed with not losing rather than winning. Save for late points from Sean Cavanagh and Petie Harte, last year’s Ulster final was an endurance test. Tyrone supporters celebrated with abandon but county players are not being encouraged to play with abandon.
“The game is evolving,” we are told. Evolving into what? Rugby League? 
Championship attendances have been falling drastically in recent years. Little wonder. Believe it or not, patrons as they are patronisingly called, want to be entertained. There-in lies the conundrum. As the managers won’t change tact, it is incumbent on the GAA to address the practice of ten yard kick-outs with entire teams jogging back into their half when the other team gets possession. It’s tedious and sleep inducing.
I bet many of the players detest being stifled that way. Last year I asked a county player why they didn’t play a long ball into the forward line. “When we get possession there are no forwards to kick it to,” was his curt reply. Right enough, duh! If you can’t defend your goals with 11 players, forget about it already. It is time to look at enforcing rules that ensure at least four players are in the opposing half at any time. 
As for the black card… the road to hell is paved with good intentions, goes the adage. It was brought in to stop cynical pulling and tripping that was blighting the game. However many referees don’t know how to apply it properly. Ten minutes in the dunce’s corner works very well in Rugby Union and Ladies football. In early 2005 the sinbin was trialled in the GAA but the authorities capitulated when some of the managers threw a hissy-fit. Had the GAA held the line we might not be in this black card mess. 
I recall a time when all free-kicks and sideline balls were kicked off the ground and the ball could be handpassed into the net. There was huge resistance to change; there always is. Now we could not imagine placing every dead ball and throwing the ball past the keeper. Football supporters cry that hurling doesn’t go through such constant rule changes. It doesn’t need to! It’s our salvation! 
On Sunday the club season commences. It has been an oasis from county football in recent years. Howev er in an era of paid managers adding to the pressure to win, coaches are copying what the county teams are doing. It is demoralising to see a club team set up like that.
If the cynical fouling and back peddling that littered the recent All Ireland final between Dr Crokes and Slaughtneil is an indicator, club football could head down the same sorry route as the counties. That would be a shame.   

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