The Death Of Gaelic Football: Is there anyway to save the game?

All-Ireland Football Final, 2011 - Photo Credit Brendan Rankin
All-Ireland Football Final, 2011 - Photo Credit Brendan Rankin

The  dire Division 1 National Football League clash between Dublin and Derry prompted former Armagh captain and chairman of the GAA’s Standing Rules Committee Jarlath Burns to tweet:

In fact the former Armagh great was so disgruntled with what he say on display on that Saturday night in Croke Park that he got up in the middle of the night to watch the game again. “I felt very strongly about it. Believe it or not, I got up on Sunday morning and watched it again just to see if I had been in a bad mood, as I had just come back from Armagh and I had seen a very dull game there as well. I counted hand passes and I looked at the game and replayed it. One of the things that we have to try to preserve is the skills of Gaelic football, a high catch, a brilliant score, a block. People are saying we are trying to get rid of the art of defending but we’re not.” Burns is chairman of the GAA’s Standing Rules Committee a body specifically assigned the task of coming up with ideas to improve Gaelic Football.

Jarlath Burns Speaking on NEWSTALK’s Off The Ball.

“We need to change something about the game to get it back to the way it used to be and there were plenty of bad games before these tactics came into play. I think the difference is now that teams are an awful lot fitter and an awful lot more tactically aware. Individual players are much more skillful but are not given an opportunity to showcase that. But I would always say, as an association it’s our duty to have a game where the most skillful team is going to be a better team to watch and possibly win the match.”

Sympathy for Derry Manager Brian McIvor’s Plight

“You can’t condemn Brian McIver at all. Managers are there to win games. He’s looking at his team and he realises the next match that he is going to have is the 7th of June in the Championship at home to Down. His team is slightly demoralised and he didn’t want to go to Croke Park and get another hammering like they did last year.But it’s not up to the managers, it’s up to ourselves and it’s up to the Association to try to protect the skills of the game and the integrity of the game and that’s what our Standing Committee on playing Rules is going to be doing.”

The Brolly Rant

Joe Brolly - Photo Credit
Joe Brolly – Photo Credit Image: YouTube/RTE

In the light of Jarlath Burn’s comments  on twitter, Joe Brolly All-Ireland medal winner with Derry and current Gaelic Games pundit on RTE  speaking on went on to further condemn teams for employing negative defensive tactics with Brolly venting his anger and frustration particularly at Tyrone and their manager Mickey Harte.

“Everybody started booing after about 15 minutes. We’ve been here. I call it footballing myxomatosis. Jim McGuinness introduced it in 2011 and we saw it in the Dublin-Donegal semi-final that yearCroke Park was booing then but that was because both teams decided to play the blanket defence that day. Pat Gilroy decided to match Donegal’s tactics. For a while Donegal could say it was still quite a good spectacle because they were coming up against teams that were playing man-to-man football and the games were quite exciting. Last year the Dubs just pushed everybody forward. But what’s happening now increasingly is that the myxomatosis is spreading throughout the land. In Connacht there’s only one team, Mayo, who are still trying to play football as we understand it. In Ulster there are no teams. In Leinster there are very few and in Munster all of them are now playing the blanket defence, including Kerry. It culminated in last year’s All-Ireland final and the reality is that people are becoming increasingly disconsolate about the game.It’s a race to the bottom, it’s dispiriting to the individual and it’s destroying the ethos of the game. Mickey Harte has said ‘we’re not in the business of entertainment’,” he added. “Well then f*** off and play behind closed doors if you’re not in the business of entertainment. Have you ever heard such a perverse thing? Really the thing has become abysmal now. It’s a race to the bottom and there’s no end in sight.”

What measures can be taken to improve the game and reduce defensive tactics?

Padarig Duffy GAA Director General
Pauric Duffy GAA Director General with First Minister Martin McGuiness and Derry GAA Chairman John Keenan-Photo Credit Northern Ireland Executive

1. All kick-outs/Restarts must go beyond the 45 metre line: 

Director General Pauric Duffy highlighted this as a potential rule change which he felt worked very effectively in the 2014 compromise rules series between Ireland and Australia. Duffy feels this would eliminate a lot of the hand-passing out of defence, speed up the pace of the game, encourage more high-fielding and counter-act the situation where the opposition funnels 4 or more of their forwards back into the defence to stop the other team attacking when the opposition is on the attack. If for example the goalkeeper slips while taking the kick-out but still manages to find his team-mate inside the 45 metre line then the referees can use their discretion as to whether or not this was an illegal restart.

2. Limit the number of continuous had-passes to 3 after which the ball must be kick passed.

Many GAA pundits like Pat Spillane argue that the art of foot-passing is dying in the game and it is blighted by endless hand-passing. This rule would force players to kick pass after 3 consecutive hand-passes. The argument here is that it would stop a lot of the lateral hand-passing that is taking place and encourage teams to kick-pass more which would make the game a much exciting spectacle to watch.

The major problem with introducing  this rule is that it might be virtually impossible for the referees to police. Most referees are already swamped with decisions to make and situations to monitor during games without being swamped with further complicated rule changes like this.

3. Award 2 points for a score outside the 45 metre line

If the game is being blighted by mass defences, then, the most successful teams are those who are most adept at kicking long-range points. This would create a major incentive for teams to  try and score from distance, and its also the most effective way of counter-acting the blanket defence system that most teams are now employing in Gaelic Football.


 4. Have 2 Referees instead of one for the All-Ireland Championship Series

Two Referees on the field of play - Photo Credit Terry Hasson
Two Referees on the field of play – Photo Credit Terry Hasson

With the speed of modern day Gaelic Football it is becoming increasingly difficult for referees to  keep up with the play given the speed at which the ball transfers from one end of the field to the other. Two referees would mean that each referee is solely responsible for controlling one-half of the pitch. Using this approach, then, referees should be able to spot more off-the-ball incidents and with only one half of the pitch to referee then in theory make more accurate decisions.

5. Introduce the sin-bin rule when a player receives a Black Card

Currently, the rule  states that if a player receives a black card he must leave the field of play but a substitute can be sent on in the place of that player. The GAA could borrow the example in rugby where the player is sent to the sin-bin for 10 minutes which gives the opposition the advantage of having an extra player on the field for the duration of the sin-bining. This would be a more effective punishment against teams who persistently foul as well as giving a numeric advantage to the opposition.

6. Introduce the hooter system and stop clock as is currently used in Ladies GAA

In Ladies GAA, the Stop-Clock system is employed which means that every-time there is a break in play such as in injury to a player or a substitution then the clock is stopped. The major advantage of this system is that it takes the time-keeping responsibilities out of the hands of the referee completely meaning referees have one less concern to attend to during games. The other major advantage is that both teams no exactly how long is left in the game. The only caveat for the GAA is that it might be expensive for every club in the country to introduce this time-keeping system but it certainly should be used in the big championship games.








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