Thrilling All Stars bolster case for 13-a-side
'09 All Stars 10-8
'10 All Stars 9-11
(All Stars 2009 win on penalties)
KUALA LUMPUR in 90 degrees with lightning crackling, thunder rumbling and rain spitting down from dark skies was an unlikely place for experiment, but it still had its interesting moments as Gaelic football tried out the 13-a-side game.
There are those who argue that amid the increasingly defensive nature of the game, reducing the team size to 13 (an experiment which applied for a few years in college competitions in the early 1970s) would be a sensible move; but, so far at least, it hasn't found its way onto any of the trial packages hoisted on the inter-county game.
Its use in Saturday's exhibition All Stars game in Kuala Lumpur's Royal Selangor Club was down to the prevailing conditions (intense heat and high humidity) which required regular breaks for players who interchanged on a continuous basis. The small pitch also suited the 13-a-side game, although not testing it as satisfactorily as would be the case with regulation dimensions.
Still, there was enough evidence to suggest that a 13-a-side game would test the defensive mousetraps in a manner which isn't possible in the more crowded game.
Granted, tackling was very much of a shadow nature, but with both sides operating two-man full-forward lines, the options available to the player in possession were higher than usual.
The end result was a free-flowing, open game which ended level before being decided on a penalty shoot-out, where the 2009 team proved more reliable.
It was all pretty novel, with the local crowd gathering just behind the players as they took their kicks, but then it was exhibition stuff where the emphasis was on entertainment rather than the result.
It looked at one of stage as if the game would have to be abandoned as intense lightning lit up the skies. Indeed, the first half was cut short by a few minutes, with the players being taken off the pitch amid fears for their safety.
However, conditions improved somewhat, enabling the second half to proceed, much to the delight of the crowd of around 1,000 and the organisers who had put so much effort into setting up the event, which was played on a ground usually used for cricket.
The 13-a-side game left defenders facing a puzzle for which they were poorly equipped, so it wasn't surprising that goals were created and taken from all angles.
Roscommon's Cathal Cregg was the biggest beneficiary of all, helping himself to four goals while also kicking two points.
Bernard Brogan and Daniel Goulding scored 2-3 each, with Joe Sheridan, John Miskella, Pearse O'Neill, Barry Cahill, Leighton Glynn, Kevin McKernan, Aidan Walsh, Donncha O'Connor and Benny Coulter also getting in on the goal rush.
The occasion also made history for providing the first player from Vietnam to the All Stars in the form of Nguyen Ngoc Quinh, who guested for the 2009 team.
An accomplished soccer player and a journalist by trade, he only took up Gaelic football a few months ago, but adapted so well that he was chosen on the Asian All Stars and was further rewarded with an opportunity to play among Gaelic football's best on Saturday.
Quinh marked his introduction to the game by scoring a point and later had a few attempts for goal blocked, before finally finding the net in the penalty shoot-out, albeit at the second attempt. He certainly looked like a player with lots of potential and with his colleagues bringing him into the game at every opportunity, it was a day he will never forget.
With forwards enjoying the extra space available in the 13-a-side game, goalkeepers Alan Quirke and Brendan McVeigh were always going to be under pressure.
Both did extremely well, pulling off some brilliant saves, despite the fact they conceded 19 goals between them.
The 2010 All Stars led by three points (3-8 to 3-5) at half-time, before their opponents struck for a series of goals. However, it was brought back to parity before the end, leaving a penalty shoot-out as the tie-breaker.
Goulding, Donie Shine, Glynn and Quinh all found the net from the penalty spot for the 2009 side, while only O'Connor was on target for the 2010 team.
Despite the unfortunate weather conditions, the local GAA community in Kuala Lumpur was delighted with the opportunity to host the All Stars in what was their third trip to the Far East, having previously played in Hong Kong and Singapore.
"One of the advantages of coming to Asian cities is the excellent support network we encounter from the local GAA clubs and boards," said GAA president Christy Cooney. "We are fortunate to have such dedicated volunteers who work tirelessly to promote our games and our culture, not just with Irish people but with people of all nationalities."
Next year's tour, featuring the 2010 and 2011 hurling All Stars, has been fixed for San Francisco. Despite the downturn in the economy, the GAA intend to continue with the tours, which were resurrected in 2001 after a lengthy absence.
They tend to be fun occasions for the players, although Saturday's game will at least open a debate as to whether the 13-a-side game should be considered as an option for the future.
It certainly would be interesting to see it formally tried out over a National League campaign or, perhaps, at underage level.
Scorers -- All Stars 2009: D Goulding 2-3, J Miskella, J Sheridan 2-0 each, P O'Neill, B Cahill, L Glynn, K McKernan 1-0 each, D Shine 0-3, M McCann, N Ngoc Quinh 0-1 each. All Stars 2010: C Cregg 4-2, B Brogan 2-3, A Walsh 1-1, D O'Connor, B Coulter 1-0 each, M Clarke, P Kerrigan 0-2 each, D Kelly 0-1.
2009 All Stars -- A Quirke (Cork); K Lacey (Donegal), M Shields (Cork); R McMenamin (Tyrone), K McKernan (Down), J Miskella (Cork); N Murphy (Cork), S Scanlon (Kerry); L Glynn (Wicklow), P O'Neill (Cork), J Sheridan (Meath); D Goulding (Cork), D Shine (Roscommon). Interchange: M McCann (Antrim), B Cahill (Dublin), N Ngoc Quinh (Vietnam).
2010 All Stars -- B McVeigh (Down), Justin McMahon (Tyrone), C Harrison (Sligo); P Kissane (Cork), A Moran (Mayo), Joe McMahon (Tyrone); P Keenan (Louth), A Walsh (Cork); D O'Connor (Cork), M Clarke (Down), P Kerrigan (Cork); B Brogan (Dublin), B Coulter (Down). Interchange: P McMahon (Dublin), D Kelly (Sligo), C Cregg (Roscommon).
Ref -- D Coldrick (Meath).