Tuesday 19 September 2017

Nothing to fear in McGee's review

John Greene

John Greene

It is almost comical that the identity of a chairperson of a GAA committee could provoke the kind of reaction that new president Liam O'Neill's decision to make Eugene McGee head of his football review committee did last week.

Some pundits welcomed it as a sound judgement call by the new president, a timely move to have a proper study of an ailing game; others castigated the decision.

Here's a flavour from the Examiner last Tuesday: "McGee will go down as one of the greatest coaches, managers and commentators in the history of Gaelic football. But it's 30 years now since he won his All-Ireland and 20 years since he coached or managed at a high level. It has to be asked: why should someone who is so removed from, and has such sceptical regard for, the current game and its managers with all their 'army of specialists and safety-first tactics' be entrusted as the man to review and reform it?"

The writer, perhaps not overly familiar with the cliché about turkeys voting for Christmas, then put forward some alternative candidates, men still involved in the game and apparently more in touch than McGee.

Ouch. I wonder did McGee regret saying yes to O'Neill when the call came after reading this, and other pieces lamenting the decision to put him in charge of this committee?

Of course those involved in the game at the highest level now will say there is nothing wrong with Gaelic football, and maybe they are right. Maybe the game is just going through a particularly pronounced evolutionary phase, a growth spurt. All sports evolve and adapt, and at different times there might be a noticeable shift, an acceleration if you like, and perhaps that's what's happening now.

I was at last year's extraordinary All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Donegal and was fascinated with the game as it unfolded, feeling all the way through that Dublin would win, but wondering right up to the last 10 minutes how exactly they would accomplish it. It was Gaelic football as we had never seen before. Even the very idea that a sending-off could have absolutely no bearing on a game -- in actual fact that it could help it -- was alien territory for everyone.

Managers -- or their support crew -- will shout loudest at times like this. They will feel threatened and some may even lash out. It's part of the human condition to protect your patch, and even the best of intentions can become lost in the heat of the moment. Just look at how so many trade unions lost their way in the last decade as they became more and more entranced by the Celtic Tiger, and lost sight of their supposed underlying principles of equality and protection for the most vulnerable.

But when you put all the self-serving piety and protectionism to one side, what has Liam O'Neill done here?

He has taken a man who has had an almost zealot-like commitment to studying Gaelic football since his time in UCD in the late 1060s and put him in charge of a group of people -- remember, critics, it's a committee -- whose job it is to take a detailed look at Gaelic football as it is now and come back with their thoughts. It is safe to assume the committee will not be made up of like-minded people because committees, especially GAA ones, rarely are. So there will be plenty of debate.

They may say all is well, they may suggest some tweaks or they may propose a radical overhaul of the game. No matter what they suggest, however, it still must get through the most unwieldy of democratic systems to become rule. So, why all the alarm? Sometimes those who shout loudest have the most to lose. You just have to look at Brian Cody's comments last week in the build-up to today's league final to see that. Why should the manager of the greatest hurling team ever seen make a point of calling on the GAA to stop putting pressure on referees unless he had something to lose?

So those objecting to McGee and the task he has been handed have been extremely previous in their complaints. Like a good GAA row, they have got their retaliation in first. As the corner-back said to the referee after a melee was finally broken up, "there wouldn't have been any trouble ref if he hadn't hit me back."

Elsewhere in this section, we have put forward some suggestions that might improve Gaelic football, and enhance it as a spectacle. Most are obvious, and not overly contentious, some more so. But what is the harm in looking at ways that the game can be improved? If it is your firm view that there is nothing wrong with Gaelic football, then you have nothing to fear.

The truth is that managers have become far too powerful. But the greater good matters more. So, let the wheels turn and see where the journey takes us.

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