Eugene McGee

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Weaker counties miss plot in rule changes

Eugene McGee

Published 06/10/2008 | 00:00

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'There is an in-built injustice against weaker counties - such as Clare against Kerry in this year's Championship - by this new form of enforcing justice'

I have never ceased to be amazed that some so-called weaker counties in football pay so little attention to improving themselves, and yesterday's Special Congress reinforces this.

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About half the 32 counties can be described as weak in football terms in that they hardly ever win a title of any significance except for the odd sortie through the qualifiers if the draw suits them.

Yesterday motions were passed to eliminate offences in football which are described in the new sanitised language of the GAA as 'highly disruptive'. To most GAA fans they are simply dirty and/or dangerous.

These football delicacies include late tackling, tripping, pulling down opponents, trying to behead a player with an arm-lock, wrestling an opponent to the ground or talking aggressively to a match official.

Undoubtedly all these fouls and many others like them are destroying the free-flowing nature of football and help to undermine all the great work achieved in coaching in recent years.

Penalise

However, the latest proposal to deal with these unseemly actions has more far-reaching impact than might be seen at first glance. The intention is to penalise the individual player with a yellow card followed by the player being banned for the remainder of the game but replaced by a sub.

Which is where the weak counties come into play -- or at least it should if those counties had real interest in their own progress. If, for example, four players are sent off in this way and replaced, this immediately punishes a weak county more than a stronger one simply because the quality of subs on the bench for a weak county is much poorer than for the stronger one.

Just imagine Kerry playing Clare as happened this year. If Clare were forced to lose four players to new-fangled yellow cards their team would be seriously damaged as the subs are unlikely to match their first 15. But if Kerry lost four then the subs would be almost as good as, or better than, some of those who had been banished by the referee. Therefore there is an in-built injustice against weaker counties by this form of enforcing justice.

A similar situation occurred some years ago when it was decided to increase the number of substitutions from three to five. Again the Clares of this world would not have anything like as strong a reserve panel as Kerry and therefore the stronger counties can reap a far greater reward from their substitutions.

There have been numerous examples of this in recent years but strangely, as far as I can gather, hardly any of the weaker counties used that argument to oppose the addition of the five subs when it went to Congress.

Three is an element running through some weaker counties, or at least county board officials in these counties, which says that you must never admit you are actually weaker than anybody. You must perpetuate the myth that on any given day your county is capable of beating the biggest team in the land. It is an admirable notion of course but no more than that and one has only to examine the heavy beatings many weak counties have received over the years to remember that.

The best example of how weaker counties live in a dream world came with the arrival of the Tommy Murphy Cup. This was a serious attempt to provide a meaningful competition for the teams in the bottom half of the 32 counties, and London.

It was meant to start off with half that number graded by the national league tables but had it developed well it could have formed the basis of a second-tier, 16-team All-Ireland championship with the final played in conjunction with the All-Ireland final.

Straight away, and despite the success of the first year's competition, a series of counties set about demolishing it.

All sorts of insults were hurled at the competition and after a few years it died a miserable death despite providing some wonderful finals, such as the Wicklow-Antrim game in 2007.

It became clear that many weaker counties regarded it as a stigma to be placed in what was the secondary championship.

They all wanted to live the myth of being capable of winning the Sam Maguire Cup if things went right for them -- or perhaps if a series of miracles landed at their door.

The reality is that over the past 50 years 21 counties have failed to win the Sam Maguire Cup; 10 of these have not even won a provincial senior title.

Between them these 21 have won a meagre dozen or so provincial championship titles, which is about a 1.1pc success rate.

Despite that, officials in those weak counties made no attempt to use the Tommy Murphy Cup as a the foundation for a high profile second-tier All-Ireland championship in which the majority of the participants would have a reasonable change of success, as opposed to the present system where they have hardly any.

In most cases officials have little or no desire to have a meaningful subsidiary championship, as happens in most sports around the world. Instead, county boards prefer to concentrate on their own club competitions and the same applies with county players in some weaker counties. The manner in which the increase of five subs from three was rubber-stamped by weak counties was a typical example of how little they are not really interested in fighting their corner against the strong counties instead of being mere canon-fodder.

There was a mistaken belief that the arrival of the All-Ireland qualifiers would help the weaker counties but that was never the case. Instead the strong counties became stronger, happy in the knowledge they would get a second chance at the All-Ireland. All the weaker counties got in most cases was a second chance to get another hammering.

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