Saturday 16 December 2017

Football retains old charms

Eamonn Sweeney

Nobody ever describes Gaelic football as The Beautiful Game.

And every few years there's a general moral panic about the sport needing to be completely overhauled because it's supposedly become a bit of an eyesore. It's always getting compared unfavourably to hurling (faster), soccer (more glamorous) and rugby (morally superior). Yet it remains perhaps the country's most popular game in terms of spectator numbers.

And, (checks over shoulder for hurling snobs drawn to holiday in West Cork by the good weather), it's actually a terrific game when it's played properly.

This day last week was one of the days which showed what Gaelic football can be at its best. The Cork-Dublin Division 1 league final was a stone classic and the Donegal-Laois Division 2 decider was a fantastic match as well.

You had 65 scores in 140 minutes of football, a stirring comeback by Cork which succeeded and one by Laois which almost did, an amount of tremendous points and, best of all, superb individual performances by the likes of Ciarán Sheehan, Paddy Kelly, Bernard Brogan, Colm McFadden and Donie Kingston, players who possess skill sets which are unique to the game they play.

Managers who respond to every disciplinary clampdown by complaining the 'manliness' is being taken out of the game are doing a disservice to spectators. Because 'manliness' had become a code word for the kind of negativity which prevented teams from playing the kind of football we saw on Sunday.

And it's not long since the game seemed headed down a dead end of attrition where direly boring matches were lauded for their 'intensity' and praised as 'grimly compelling'. In reality, they were more depressing than a Beckett box set.

These days the pendulum seems to have swung back in the direction of attacking football and the league finals provided the kind of amuse bouche which set your mouth watering for the championship main course.

It also showed that it's time to stop claiming that football's problems stem from the absence of some type of clearly defined Aussie Rules style tackle. Because who would have wanted to see Sheehan or Kelly or Brogan being thrown to the ground by defenders when they were doing their thing last Sunday? It's more latitude for attackers the game needs, not less.

Perhaps it's time for us to let poor old Gaelic football know how much we appreciate her. We can tell her that while she might not be the most beautiful game in town she does have a great personality, she makes us smile, we appreciate her intelligence and she's always been there for us when we needed her. We're lucky to have her.

Tommy Conlon's The Couch returns next week

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