Sunday 26 March 2017

Martin Breheny: Five ways to tackle boring football

Dublin-Derry wasn’t a defining occasion, the game has been crying out for help for years

Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly fires a hand pass during Saturday’s game, a skill that the game has become overly reliant on
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly fires a hand pass during Saturday’s game, a skill that the game has become overly reliant on
Unlike some managers, who behave as if the gallows awaits whether their teams win or lose, Kernan has always gone about his business with a smile on his face and a quick line of wit
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Judging by the reaction to the Dublin-Derry game last Saturday night, you might think that a malicious virus, not previously experienced in Gaelic football, had swooped down on Croke Park and totally disabled the players' creative instincts.

The death of football. An abomination. An insult to the paying public - give them a refund. Take you choice of descriptive horrors.

Admittedly, a game that produced a total score of 0-12 can't expect to be much-loved but why bestow such importance on a routine league tie, played on a miserable night in March?

The reason, of course, has little to do with the actual game but rather with the contention that it took negativity to new levels. Not true.

There have been dozens of games over the years - many of them much more important than last Saturday's - that were as tactically stultifying. However, they offered more entertainment because players did better on the basics.

Last Saturday produced the perfect recipe for excruciating boredom. Derry came to Croke Park looking for a 0-0 result and Dublin played poorly as they attempted to work around it. Derry sand-bagged the channels, but were unimpressive on the other essentials.

So when it all came together - Derry's nihilism, Dublin's inefficiency and nasty weather - conditions were right for the destruction of entertainment.

That's as far as last Saturday's game goes. It wasn't a defining occasion but rather another piece of evidence in a much broader case.

Gaelic football has been taken down a dark alley and mugged by defensive heavies. From time to time, some durable types escape and attempt to relaunch a more enterprising approach, but it doesn't last long. The negative mob will always get you in the end.

What have the authorities done by way of corrective measures? Damn all, because obviously they don't really care.

If they did, action would have been taken a long time ago to rebalance the game in favour of creativity.It's actually not that difficult because the origin of the problem is pretty obvious. The unregulated use of the hand pass is the biggest curse of all, tying up the game in a straitjacket, which has squeezed it to the point of suffocation.

There are other areas of potential improvement too but none which would have the same dramatic impact. So if you don't want football to continue on its negative patch, try the following five corrective measures - or any combination of them.

1 Restrict the hand pass to three, after which the ball must be played away with the boot. Yes, it would result in possession being lost more often than is currently the case, but would that be such a bad thing?

Apart from making it more difficult for teams to retain possession with interminable crabbing movements across the pitch, it would require improved kicking skills, surely a welcome addition at a time when most outfield players aren't even trusted to take a long range free off the ground.

2 If the number of hand passes is not to be restricted, insist that only forward passes are allowed.

Also, ban all back passes to the goalkeeper. And clamp down on illegal hand passes. Paddy Collins, arguably the best football referee in GAA history, is adamant that anything up to 50pc of them are throws.

There's strong evidence to support him. How can Croke Park continue to ignore that?

3 All kick-outs must pass the '45' metre-line. That was experimented with some years ago and worked extremely well, only to be rejected by Congress 2010. The Football Review Committee (FRC) also proposed it in 2012, but it was shot down at Congress 2013.

4 Increase the value of a goal to four points. Linked to a restriction on the hand pass, it would (or at least it should) encourage coaches to work on strategies to create goals, rather than hoping they will arise.

Rugby increased the value of the try from three to four to five points over the years in order to make it worth planning for.

The goal was worth five points in the early days of the GAA, yet has been at three points since 1896. Surely, it's time for a review.

5 Allow the direct lift off the ground in order to give a player a split second longer to play the ball away.

This was also proposed by the FRC, only to be shot down for no good reason. After all, the current lift is scarcely a great art.

No hunger for the league? Get real Galway

What's to be made of the enduring conundrum that is Galway hurling?

Comments by team manager Anthony Cunningham after the recent defeats by Waterford and Dublin hinted that the players may not be all that interested in the Allianz League.

"For whatever reason, we weren't up for the battle there today and whether we've one eye on other things down the line, maybe players have," he said after the eight-point defeat by Waterford on Sunday.

"They (Dublin) were that bit fresher and wanted it," he said after the six-point defeat a week earlier.

So why are the opposition fresher than Galway? And why do they have greater desire? Have Galway won so much they can be dismissive of the League? Hardly.

There's plenty for everyone in the camp to reflect on before the Leinster SHC clash with Dublin on May 31, all underpinned by stark facts that highlight just how inconsistent Galway have become.

They haven't won two successive leagues games in 26 outings over four seasons, during which only three 'away' wins were recorded; they won only five of 13 League games in 2014-15; they have won only two (both against Laois) of nine championship games since reaching the 2012 All-Ireland final.

Truly, a bewildering sequence.

Any wonder supporters are wondering what happened since a very ambitious looking squad that demolished Kilkenny in the 2012 Leinster final, beat Cork smoothly in the All-Ireland semi-final and led Kilkenny by seven points after 28 minutes in the final?

Whatever about being hunted down by Kilkenny for the remainder of that game and the replay, Galway's failure to build on the 2012 progress remains a mystery

And if they aren't hungry for league success after all that, it's time players were force-fed or forced out.

Cunningham has the call on both.

Big Joe the perfect fit for 'Rules' job

Joe Kernan played for Crossmaglen Rangers, Armagh and Ulster with great distinction and later managed all three with huge success but, unfortunately, the International Rules series came too late (1984) for him to win an Irish jersey.

His son, Aaron did enjoy the honour and now the family will complete the entire set in November when Joe manages the Irish team in the one-off Test against Australia.

It's an appropriate honour for one of the GAA's best-known families. Joe's appointment makes sense on all fronts as he has always been a great planner so he will bring real innovation to the new challenge.

Unlike some managers, who behave as if the gallows awaits whether their teams win or lose, Kernan has always gone about his business with a smile on his face and a quick line of wit, which no doubt, he will also bring to the international scene.

With Galway's Padraic Joyce, Darragh O Se of Kerry and Kildare's Dermot Earley - who between them played for Ireland 23 times - as his assistants, it looks a very progressive set-up.

It will need to be as Australia's fresh approach to the international game was underlined last November when they fielded their strongest side and beat Ireland by 10 points in Perth.

Irish Independent

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