'They've turned football into a game for wimps'
Cork legend Tompkins slams modern-day rules
LARRY Tompkins has launched an all-out attack on the direction in which Gaelic football has been steered in recent years, branding it "a game designed for wimps" which is frustrating the players and turning off the public.
He identifies continuous meddling with the rules as the source of the problem and warns that unless steps are taken to reintroduce acceptable levels of physical contact attendance figures will drop.
"People will pay good money to go to Killarney next Sunday for a game between probably the two best teams in the country and they want to see a real contest, full of intensity, honest hits and real manliness. They want to see Kieran Donaghy catch the ball and Graham Canty or some other Cork man hit him with a good shoulder when he gets back down," he says.
"They want lads to take on each other fairly and physically without being afraid of being booked or sent off for Mickey Mouse fouls. What they don't want is a game where players are being penalised for so-called illegal handpasses and yellow cards being waved for the most trivial things. But the way the game has gone -- and it's no fault of the players -- that's what they're going to get."
Tompkins, who played senior inter-county football with Kildare and Cork between the ages of 16 and 35, and who also managed Cork, said he has sensed growing dissatisfaction among the public over what they regard as the undermining of the game.
"The number of people I meet who say, 'what's happened to football?' has grown hugely over recent years. It's not the players' fault. The trouble is that we have had too much interference with some rules while ignoring others which need to be changed. I remember chatting to the late Jack Lynch (former Taoiseach and Cork dual star) back in the late 1980s and asking him what he thought was the biggest difference between football then and in his time. He said there had been too many rule changes in between.
"If he were around now, what would he make of it, because it has been changed again and again since then? There's more tackling allowed in ladies' football now than in the men's game. It's ridiculous. I was involved in a lot of great battles with the likes of Meath and Kerry in the late '80s to early '90s but using today's rules, we would have ended up with five-a-side games."
Tompkins contends that while the physical dimension, which is supposed to be an integral part of Gaelic football, has been diluted it has been replaced by unattractive elements which appear to have become acceptable even if they are damaging the game as a spectacle.
"A player can pick up a yellow card for next to nothing nowadays. That leaves managers wondering whether to take him off in case he gets a second yellow, followed by a red. At some stage next Sunday, you'll probably have a situation where Conor Counihan or Jack O'Connor will be wondering what to do after one of their players has been booked on a triviality instead of trying to figure out some tactical matter. That's not the way it should be.
"At the same time, you have the ludicrous situation where players are being pulled for dodgy handpasses, yet when was the last time you saw a referee penalise a player for taking a scoreable free from the wrong place? It's happening all the time because free-takers are good at edging that bit closer to goal. Kicking frees for goal off the ground was a real skill but was replaced with the option of kicking from the hand, which is now being abused in every game, yet it goes unpunished. I'd ban allowing scoreable frees to be kicked off the hand if I had my way."
Tompkins believes that the fisted pass should have been retained as the only means of transferring the ball by hand and would outlaw the pass back to the goalkeeper, which is becoming an increasingly frequent ploy for defenders.
"Soccer made it less attractive to pass back to the goalkeeper by forcing him to kick off the ground but we're doing nothing about it in Gaelic football. People talk about speeding up the game but the opposite happens when defenders handpass the ball across the pitch to each other and, if they're under pressure, pass back to the goalkeeper. The possession game is all very fine but it shouldn't be encouraged by allowing players to pass back to the goalkeeper, which only slows things down."
He is also scathing of what he regards as an increasing in cheating.
"Some players will dive in the hope of winning a free or a penalty. They may even be encouraged to do it. If you did that in the past you'd be laughed at and ignored," he says.
"We've got to be conscious of what the public like to see and they certainly don't want a situation where it pays to cheat. Nor do they want to see a decent shoulder challenge being penalised, as happens so often.
"Worst of all, they don't want to be confused when a referee blows his whistle and they have to wait to see which way the free is going. It should be obvious but it's not anymore."
He says he is not advocating a game which tolerated violent conduct but rather a return to the days when a hard hit wasn't regarded as a foul.
"It's very easy to judge what's fair and what's illegal but, in the modern game, we're leaning towards taking all the physicality out it and replacing it with rules which annoy players and spectators alike," Tompkins adds. "I'd have to say that I'm delighted to have been playing football when I was because the modern game would frustrate the hell out of me.
"It's frustrating the modern players too but it seems there's nothing they can do to change it. Neither can the public who are paying into games that have become less enjoyable to watch."