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'Modern football would put you to sleep'


The 2008 All-Ireland semi-final between Cork and Kerry failed to attract the crowds. Photo: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile

The 2008 All-Ireland semi-final between Cork and Kerry failed to attract the crowds. Photo: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile

The 2008 All-Ireland semi-final between Cork and Kerry failed to attract the crowds. Photo: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile

Larry Tompkins -- one of Gaelic football's best-ever exponents - has issued a stark warning that the game is facing a public backlash unless the rules are changed to make it more attractive.

Tompkins, who played at senior level for Kildare and Cork between 1979 and 1998, has described much of the modern game as "brutal to watch" and warned that unless corrective measures are taken, attendances will drop.

"We're living through tough economic times and when people fork out money to travel to games and pay at the turnstiles, they expect value," he said.

"The GAA can't turn every game into a classic but they can tweak the rules back in favour of increasing entertainment. Some of the rubbish we're getting nowadays would put you to sleep."


While pointing to last Sunday's Donegal-Antrim game as the latest example of how negative tactics have corrupted football, Tompkins said the problem extended beyond an Ulster first-round clash between two teams who are not considered genuine All-Ireland contenders.

"It goes a lot higher than that," he said. "In fact, it goes all the way to the top. What we're getting now is 15-a-side games played with 7-a-side tactics.

"How long more will spectators put up with that? Not long, I believe, because some of the stuff that passes as inter-county football now is pure rubbish."

Countering the argument that each generation tends to believe theirs was the most productive, Tompkins pointed to several areas where traditional core principles have been eroded and replaced by less entertaining systems.

"Managers might say that it's all about winning which, of course, it is but games can be won playing good football if the rules are right," he said. "If we continue with the game in its current format there will be a lot of winning and losing done in sparsely attended grounds."

Tompkins is particularly frustrated by the prevalence of handpassing, especially when it involves moving the ball backwards, often reaching the goalkeeper.

"It gets crazy altogether late in a game when a team is defending a lead," he said. "You can have corner-forwards, who are bottled up, opting to pass back to half-forwards and so on as the pressure increases until suddenly the ball is on its way back to the goalkeeper.

"That's not providing any sort of entertainment. All the focus on handpassing and retaining possession has led to a serious decline in the standard of kicking.

"That has been evident in the recent International Rules games where Australian players, who weren't even used to kicking a round ball, were far more accurate than ours. Surely that tells us something. If we're losing a core skill like kicking, the rules have to be adjusted and that includes restricting the handpass."

He also believes the physical element of the game has been eroded and that the new version encourages forwards to take the ball deliberately into contact with a defender, knowing that there's a good chance that the carrier will earn a free-kick.

"People like a good old-fashioned physical battle, provided it's within the rules. I would much prefer to take a good, hard shoulder than have my jersey pulled while I'm 50 yards from the ball," said Tompkins.

"Gaelic football has a number of key principles, which should remain central to the game. Things like kicking, fetching, soloing and tackling. I'm afraid some of them are being taken out of the modern game, which is a great pity."

Tompkins is especially scathing of the rule which allows scoreable frees to be kicked from the hand.

"It has taken away a great skill which people enjoyed watching. There are only a few players kicking from the ground now and the game is all the poorer for that. To cap it all, most frees which are kicked from the hand are taken from the wrong spot."

He also believes that kick-outs should have to travel a certain distance, thus ruling out the short delivery to a colleague who begins the handpassing routine.

"We've got to get back to what made Gaelic football attractive in the first place. Sports like rugby are always trying to make their game more appealing to the paying public but we seem to have lost sight of that when it comes to Gaelic football," he said.

"We can fool ourselves all we like and talk of how players are fitter and better prepared than ever before -- which may well be the case -- but if something as basic as kicking the ball is a dying skill then the rules have to be re-visited."

His views on entertainment levels will resonate with many people but it's his predictions of lower attendances which will be of most interest to the GAA authorities.

"You'll always get big crowds at the major championship games but we need to make the game so attractive that people will continue to turn out in large numbers for all competitions just for the enjoyment of watching a sport well played.

"As things stand, the rules of football are not encouraging that."

Irish Independent