Rejection of new rules is a dagger in heart of our games
Published 20/04/2009 | 00:00
Team managers in Gaelic football have the game by the throat to use and abuse as they wish, consistently flaunting the wishes of the vast majority of GAA followers.
And along with the managers, the inter-county players, or at least those of them affiliated to the GPA, are willing collaborators in retaining the nastier components of the sport. This is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the vote at Congress on Saturday, when almost 64pc of delegates wanted the experimental rules to be accepted or adapted but had their wishes scorned by a minority.
It was the campaign launched in the media by well-known team managers and the majority of inter-county footballers that prevented the small number of destructive aspects of football from being removed.
It is not very difficult to understand why the managers want the present discipline system to remain -- it suits most of them to be able to break the rules as part of their so-called tactical plans.
They want the facility for forwards on teams holding on to a lead to deliberately pull down defenders in order to stop the play and allow their colleagues to regroup. They want to have players in their team with reputations for being 'hard men': ie players who specialise in doing mean, nasty, sometimes vicious things in a pathetic attempt to boost their own image and frighten opponents.
They want to have players on their team who will use foul language to upset opponents and shove their big mouths into referees' faces to try to intimidate them.
Sadly all these things do work and that is why the managers want no change from the present system. Sadly also, many GPA players want to partake in the same sort of activities if their poll last week is to be believed. Forget all the fancy talk from managers and players in recent weeks about emasculating the game, doing away with manliness and making it a game for namby-pambies.
As Laois delegate, Anthony Delaney, stated on Saturday, what will parents now tell their teenage children in the light of this decision masterminded by the inter-county managers?
Will the kids be told that when you pass a ball and run on for a return pass, it is OK if your opponent attempts to behead you off the ball? Or if a 14-year-old boy falls to the ground and an opponent sneakily knees him into the ground as if it were an accident, is that fine? And what will teenage players now think when they hear the usual 'words of encouragement' from team managers on the sideline? Things like: 'Take him out of it now', 'Foul him before he can score', or 'referee you are a bloody disgrace'.
The aim of the proposed rule changes was to eliminate blatant, cynical and deliberate fouling. It was not to punish a player being shouldered over the sideline, tackled rigorously at close quarters fairly or fouling a player accidentally in the course of play. There would have been plenty of scope to inflict physical damage to an opponent as has always been the case in Gaelic football, but the critical thing was that all this would be within the rules.
And they can all be done that way if managers are prepared to coach their players in that manner instead of taking the slovenly option of players 'clocking' an opponent off the ball or feigning injury in an attempt to have an opponent sent off.
I was particularly enraged by some recent comments from managers that the proposed rule changes would eliminate manliness in Gaelic football. This is exactly the opposite to what would have happened. I have a clear understanding of what 'manliness' means in the GAA world because the vast majority of great players that I have encountered had that quality. It means those players who are brave, honest, as hard as is necessary but always their actions are carried out with openness and a sense of honesty.
Manliness does not include sneaky fouling, third-man tackles, kneeing an opponent into the ground, attacking an opponents' testicles, spitting at an opponent, insulting a referee or giving two fingers to spectators.
In the past five years, I have seen several instances of all these unmanly incidents at the highest level of inter-county football, with some of the culprits winning All Star awards. Personally I believed that the proposed changes would not have been necessary if referees were forced to implement the rules already there.
But that is not happening, so it was decided to make it easier for referees and unsporting players to cohabit by using the proposed changes. But even that did not satisfy the managers who will not accept even minimal levels of discipline against unmanly players.
When the Football Development Committee (FDC) report to completely revamp the All-Ireland football championship was rejected by more than half the delegates some years ago, then-President Sean McCague realised that there was a large body of GAA people who wanted change.
From that, another small committee, under the chairmanship of Paraic Duffy, was set up and that led to the formation of the All-Ireland qualifiers. That was real democracy in action. If the incoming president is as bright as I think he is, he will follow the same route about Saturday's decision.
In the meantime, we will watch with bated breath at the upcoming championship games in all provinces. We will take note of the 'manly' gestures by players and we will closely watch referees to see if they really do have the courage to issue yellow and red cards when they should. We will watch how many players get a yellow card in the first half but don't get a second in the final quarter, even if they have committed the same level of offence.
But, above all, thousands and thousands of young footballers and their parents will wonder: Why did a great organisation like the GAA allow this motion to fail?