Wednesday 20 September 2017

Should counties be punished for naming 'dummy teams'?

Wexford hurling manager Liam Dunne has come under fire earlier this season for making several changes to a side he had named to face Dublin
Wexford hurling manager Liam Dunne has come under fire earlier this season for making several changes to a side he had named to face Dublin

Martin Breheny and Liam Kelly

Is the trend of inter-county managers naming 'dummy teams' an interesting ploy or an annoying occurence? Should they be punished for naming a starting XV they have no intention of starting? Martin Breheny says 'yes', Liam Kelly says 'no'

Martin Breheny says YES

There are almost 40 match-day regulations which, if broken, attract fines ranging from €200 to €700. They cover a wide range of areas, all the way down to trivial 'offences' such as teams not parading in numerical order, players having a half-time knockabout and wearing opposition jerseys during the presentation ceremonies.

The GAA insist that the catalogue of regulations were required in order to avoid sloppy production values. Fair enough. However, none of the regulations have a direct impact on the public, and yet one which has become an increasing irritant for spectators carries no sanction.

Like goalkeepers taking frees, issuing dummy teams has become the latest fashion accessory in the GAA. You are now off-trend if you don't (a) delay the team announcement until as late as possible (b) deliberately issue a wrong selection and (c) attempt to justify the lie by insisting it's all part of a sophisticated tactical approach.

As Muhammed Ali might say: "Is that all you've got, George?" We're led to believe that team preparation has never been more detailed or sophisticated, in which case, the opposition are going to have examined every possible permutation, so why the nonsense with dummy teams?

Do managers seriously believe their opposite numbers haven't planned for all eventualities? Besides, just because a few wander down the dummy road, the rest don't have to follow like sheep.

Of course that's the ultimate contradiction. At the very time when managements are supposed to be inventive and original, they are actually taking on the herd mentality in a futile attempt to con each other.

CONNED

Ultimately, of course, it's the public who are conned. The spectators who pay in to watch games and top up on cost by buying programmes learn they have been fed dummies. The media are also used in the subterfuge, having been issued with teams which were never going to play as selected.

Croke Park have promised to act on the dummy team issue next year but have hinted that fines on county boards will not be the sanction. No, the plan is to devise some punishment for the team management on the basis that it is responsible for the deception.

That's a cop-out. Ultimately, county boards are responsible for their teams and managers. That's certainly the impression contained in the manager's charter. In any event, surely a county chairman should be strong enough to tell his team manager that misleading the public won't be accepted. Then again, perhaps county chairmen approve of the practice.

The GAA claim that proving a team manager deliberately announced a dummy team is difficult since there are times when the published selection has to be changed before the game.

Just because it's difficult doesn't mean it should not be taken on. And if a county has a series of dummy announcements then it should be easy to act in order to stop an irritating nonsense which merely serves to make the public sceptical of teams.

Also, how long more will the media allow themselves to be used to mislead the public? And if the media stop carrying teams, it means less coverage for the GAA. That's hardly good for business in such a competitive arena.

Liam Kelly says NO

LET'S cut managers a bit of slack here. A manager should be allowed to decide what players to field in the positions he chooses in order to maximise the chances of winning a vital match.

And if that means the exact team published in the programme not actually taking the field, then so be it.

Perhaps a little finger-wagging is in order to put counties on notice that GAA officialdom wants as little discrepancy as possible between the team named in the programme and the team which goes on the pitch.

But fines? Suspensions? No. That's all too heavy handed for my liking.

It smacks of remote-control bureaucracy, and would be restrictive and arguably counter-productive.

County boards have enough financial problems without having the prospect of fines for what is a trivial issue being levied on them.

The workload on managers is huge anyway, and it wouldn't help if a manager was burdened by feeling responsible for punishments that fall on the county due to his actions.

The whole notion that managers and county boards would have to worry about GAA punishments over the naming of 15 players for a big game adds a layer of stress to a situation that is already stressful enough for county officials, managers, and players.

Let's remind ourselves that the managers and players are amateurs. They give up huge chunks of recreation time, family time and even work advancement to dedicate themselves to their team in particular Gaelic games in general.

EXPENSES

Yes, they get expenses, and for a small elite, there is now a chance to earn a few extra euro for promotional activity on behalf of the GAA and sponsors. Good luck to them, but they won't earn a living from it.

But after that, it's a labour of love for officials, team managers, selectors, coaches and players, and to me it's truly a wonder how much they give to the games.

The GAA is an amazing organisation in many ways, but at top level it thrives on the inter-county fare and within that structure, 129 years of tradition has built up.

At its core it's parish against parish, club against club, county against county, and it is all about winning the battles.

In war, as in sport, all protagonists want an 'edge' to unsettle the opposition and leave it as long as possible to display their strategy and formations.

Within reason, anything goes, so midweek team announcements can be used to try and throw the opposition off track, however slightly.

Let's not forget, that despite the recent fuss over the Wexford 'dummy team', by and large, managers keep changes from the published team to a minimum.

In the case of Wexford, as Liam Dunne wryly observed, there were no strangers on the pitch. The players all had a number on their backs and were known to Wexford fans, and indeed to the Dublin camp.

At the end of a dramatic game, all that mattered was the performance of the two teams and the result, and that's as it should be. Leave well enough alone, I say.

Irish Independent

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