Alan Brogan: Six things I would change about Gaelic football to improve our game
I love the game of Gaelic football. It's been my life since I was six years old and when it's played in an open attacking fashion it's wonderful to watch. I still find the game intriguing and look forward to every championship Sunday, but like any progressive organisation, we must endeavour to change with the times to keep the game relevant provide a spectacle to the people who love it so much.
Here are six things I'd change to achieve this, some are from my experience and some are from frustrations others have repeatedly relayed to me.
1 Finish the inter-county season in August
This would give inter-county players back to their clubs and ease the burden that the length of the inter-county season brings. Throughout my Dublin career I flitted in and out of the club game but rarely got a sustained period when I could give my all to the club, St Oliver Plunketts Eoghan Ruadh, that had developed and nurtured me as a young footballer.
There were times when the lack of time and effort I could give my club due to inter-county expectations was a weight on my shoulders. Finishing the championship in August would have helped this situation, one which I'm sure many footballers find themselves in, particularly in the stronger counties.
2 Change format of Dublin Club football
After a year back as a fully-fledged club player, I can see the frustrations players in Dublin have. A league that runs from the end of February to probably November, with matches played sporadically throughout the year, gives no continuity to the competition and prolongs a season for no apparent reason.
The championship is run as a straight knockout with the first round taking place in April and the remainder in late September / October. It's a long season when you lose in the first round. Plunketts have first-hand experience of that this year with our season basically ending in April with a first round loss. My recommendation is to play a league competition from March to June. Break for the summer and resume a championship in early September with a round robin format of eight groups of four with two from each progressing to quarter-finals. This way each senior club is guaranteed at least three championship matches.
3 Introduce a no backpass to the goalkeeper rule
How often have we seen a corner back under pressure from a tackler and with nowhere to go, have the escape of a simple handpass back to the sanctuary of his goalkeeper's hands? The best modern forward units don't press the ball carrier until they reach the 45-metre line at the earliest because there is little chance of turnovers before that.
Although a little left-field, this rule would encourage teams to press up man on man if the defending team are left without the option of a pass to their goalkeeper when they come under pressure. We would see more turnovers in dangerous areas of the park which would lead to more scores.
4 Introduce a back-court rule similar to basketball
In basketball, when the ball crosses the half-way line it cannot go back into your own half again. In recent times we have seen teams defending a lead by playing around with the ball in the middle of the pitch, trying to coax defenders out. There is no doubt it is a ploy Dublin are using to try to frustrate the opposition. Defenders are reluctant to press up because the attacking team has superior numbers around the middle and gaps will be left behind them.
With this rule, once the half-way line is crossed the team with the ball would be forced to continue the attack and this continued recycling of the ball backwards and sideways would be cut down. Blanket defences might thrive because attackers will be forced to kick or carry into areas where the opposition have numbers, but my next suggestion should help alleviate this. The two would go hand in hand.
5 Introduce a rule on kick-outs where six men must start inside the 21m line
When a kick-out is taking place, three men from each team must start inside the 21-metre line. The ball cannot be kicked to them and they cannot cross this line until the goalkeeper takes the kick-out. Taking six men out of the kick-out play would leave more space around the field and make it difficult from teams to get 13 or 14 behind the ball quickly.
If the team taking the kick-out win possession and transition quickly, there won't be enough time for the dreaded blanket defence to get in place. This would encourage goalkeepers to look for a longer kick-out and encourage players around the middle to deliver long kickpasses before the retreating forwards can get in place in their own defences. For a short period of time it would be like playing 12 against 12. Imagine this on the wide open plains of Croke Park.
6 Show replays of flashpoints on the screens in Croke Park
Last weekend I found myself resorting to Twitter to try to find replays of some of the key flashpoints. I didn't have any joy so it wasn't until later that night that I could form an opinion on the incidents that someone in the GAA deemed inciteful to the crowd.
I don't want to wait until The Sunday Game to see Sean Cavanagh's second yellow or Eoghan O'Gara's red. Currently, flashpoints are not shown on the big screens in Croke Park and I presume this is so the crowd are not incensed or maybe it's so that referees are not influenced by the replays.
Spectators pay hard-earned money to travel from all over the country to attend matches in Croke Park. In my eyes we should be able to see these flashpoints replayed on the screen. The sporting public in Ireland have a wonderful reputation all over the world and I'm sure GAA fans can handle a bit of frustration if we see a decision going against us without starting a riot.
Some or all of you may agree with some of the ideas above, as we know making changes for the better is not an exact science. I firmly believe any rule changes now should be made to reward and make life easier for teams that are attack-minded. The rule changes above seek to do that.
However, for every reason to make a change there is a reason not to change. Progressive changes need brave leadership. I think we have that in the GAA at present and the thought process in the corridors of power at the moment is steering the game in the right direction.
Sunday Indo Sport