Yellow peril could ruin game, warns Gallagher
Donegal's assistant manager Rory Gallagher believes Gaelic football could become even more defensive if some of the proposed rule changes get the green light over the next 16 months.
The first part of the Football Review Committee's (FRC) findings on the game were published last week to mixed reaction, and Gallagher, whose role in a coaching capacity beside Jim McGuinness was widely acknowledged for its influence, believes some of the proposals could set the game back from what the committee were trying to achieve in the first place.
Gallagher's main focus of discontent is on the imposition of a forced substitution of any player who picks up a yellow card.
This was in place for the 2009 league and experimented well, but the concern expressed by Gallagher is that it hasn't been road tested in the championship, where the intensity is far greater and the consequences of missing game time hits harder.
This time, the FRC have proposed that after three yellow cards, no more substitutions will be allowed, so a yellow card effectively becomes a red card in that instance.
However, former Fermanagh player Gallagher feels that this will lead to an even greater concentration of numbers behind the ball as a means to defence, because teams won't want to risk one-to-one tackling.
"The appetite for contact just won't be there. Players won't want to risk one-to-one tackling in those situations because they'll be risking yellow cards. And they want to stay on the field. So the option to defend in greater numbers will be there and exercised by more coaches," suggested Gallagher.
Donegal built solid defensive foundations by committing more bodies than perhaps any other team on a consistent basis to defending behind their 45 metre line but, like Pat Gilroy's Dublin, they also put a high value on getting their forwards tackling further outfield as a first line of defence.
Gallagher shares the view that a two-match ban for accumulating three yellow cards is imbalanced due to the nature of the provincial system.
"With due respect to the counties involved, you're not going to be picking up the same number of yellow cards in the early rounds of a Connacht championship as you are in the early rounds of an Ulster championship," he said.
"We've been in the preliminary round of the Ulster championship for the last two years so we would have had the yellow cards accumulating quicker than counties in some of the other provinces.
"Maybe if the slate was wiped clean after the provincial championships, it might be fairer but, as it stands, it is weighted against the teams that have the harder provincial championship."
If the FRC proposal on yellow cards had applied last summer then Laois, for example, could have been without four players at different stages of their qualifier run which got them to the All-Ireland quarter-finals as John O'Loughlin and Kevin Meaney picked up four yellows prior to the Dublin match while Pauric Clancy and Brendan Quigley accumulated three each.
Gallagher feels that the mark, if it is introduced, will also lead to a far greater swell of defensive numbers, particularly at underage level.
"I don't see how it will improve the game or why one skill is being promoted over every other skill in the game," he said. "If this rule is passed and applied at club and underage level as proposed, it will be particularly relevant at underage level.
"The bigger midfielder will stand out. He'll be able to catch above everyone else and then he has the freedom to stand and pick his spot.
"Of course, coaches are going to direct their players back to defend in numbers. If they can't catch it with him and then stop him at source, what other option is left to them but to defend by numbers?"
Gallagher does, however, welcome the proposal for an advantage rule and the option to move up a ball 30 metres from the current 13 metres limit for any act of disruption or dissent that's at the referee's discretion.
"These measures will help to improve the game but I never felt it needed a great overhaul anyway," he said.
Gallagher says that the restriction of sideline numbers from 12 won't unduly affect Donegal because their management team is so small.
Donegal take off on a team holiday after Christmas but the All-Ireland champions, Gallagher believes, are already looking forward to returning to the fray.
"I think the modern inter-county players likes the routine of training," he said. "They'll be glad to be back into that."