Former Offaly great Bryan slams modern game
HE'S a former Footballer of the Year, All-Ireland-winning captain and dual All Star, but is so disillusioned with aspects of the modern game that he didn't even watch the second half of the Dublin-Donegal All-Ireland semi-final.
Willie Bryan, who captained Offaly to their first All-Ireland title in 1971, said he could see little in the first half that was related to what he regarded as genuine Gaelic football and had no interest in watching more of the same after half-time.
"I enjoyed the Dublin-Galway minor game before it, but then there's nothing wrong with the game at that level. It's after that all the other stuff comes in. If football continues on the route it's on, it will drive people away. Supporters will pay to be entertained but not to watch the ball being handpassed around all day," he said.
Bryan, generally regarded as one of the best fielders in history, is disappointed to see an art he executed stylishly in the Offaly midfield for so long largely gone from the game, but is also concerned by other aspects.
He has put forward a number of suggestions, designed to improve the game for both players and spectators alike. "People might say that this is a past player longing for the good old days, but that's not what I'm about at all. Everyone knows the fitness levels present-day players have, so what I'm suggesting is that we combine that with the skills of the game."
He wants high fielding from kick-outs rewarded with a 'mark' which would only apply if the ball crosses the 45-metre line. "Fielding a high ball is a great art and has always gone down well with the public, but how much of it do we see nowadays? If the 'mark' was there, there would be an incentive to fetch the high ball because you know that when you come down, you can play the ball away rather than being swamped by opponents," he said.
He also wants a restriction of the handpass so that the ball must be played with the foot after two hand-passes. "That would stop endless hand-passing over and back across the field and also improve footpassing," he said.
He would incentivise kicking frees off the ground by insisting that if a team wanted its recognised free-taker to shoot for goal, he would not be allowed to kick from the hand. His proposal would allow the fouled player to take it out of the hand, but if somebody else is called upon, he would have to kick off the ground.
"That way, a team would have to decide between the fouled player, who may not be good on frees, kicking from the hand or the specialist kicker taking it from the ground," said Bryan.
He would also like to see frees scored (off the ground) from beyond the 45-metre line increased in value to two points. A similar reward would apply for line-balls.
"Look at Stephen Cluxton. He's only stroking the ball and yet he gets huge distances into his kicks," he said. "A skill like that should be rewarded. Increasing the value of long-rage frees to two points would encourage players to work on their ground-kicking."