Colm Keys: 'Time for role of 'maor foirne' to be decommissioned'
In an effort to tidy up the congested sidelines at inter-county games at the end of 2006, a series of new match regulations designed to bring more order to presentation were introduced.
Among them was the creation of a 'maor foirne' or runner to mirror the AFL equivalent, a member of the management team, not the manager himself, who could access the field to give instructions during a break in play. It was looked upon as a trade-off for keeping managers within a restricted area around their dug-out after a series of confrontations that year.
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The GAA went further by seeking to have all other members of ever-expanding backrooms put back to the stands but managers in both codes reacted and a meeting in Mullingar a few days before Christmas, attended by some of the highest profile figures at the time, drew up a wish list for the GAA to reconsider that restored selectors sideline access.
Eventually, a compromise was reached but the role of the 'maor foirne', as envisaged, wasn't diluted and has remained in place.
Naturally, what was agreed at that Mullingar meeting was eroded over the years until a new GAA president, this time Liam O'Neill, sought to clean things up, radically trying to remove almost everyone, including medical staff, from sidelines on the basis that most of the time their presence in such proximity to the play wasn't required.
The premise of O'Neill's argument was that the playing area was for playing and no one else was required inside the white lines unless it was an emergency. Once again the reaction from those at the coalface was fierce, then Kilkenny hurling selector Martin Fogarty being among the most vocal.
"Many of the people making these regulations, even though they do not realise it, are miles removed from the reality of what is involved in working with teams or else they just do not care," said Fogarty.
"Most of them have never been on sidelines and if they have, they haven't been on lines where the stakes are high and the pressure is savage," he suggested.
This time the GAA dug their heels in a little deeper however and, after further review, the numbers permitted on the sideline was reduced to five. But those guidelines have been slowly stripped back and these days match sidelines at most venues look just as populated as they ever were.
Through all of this the role of the maor foirne has remained unchecked. According to rule, in order to make changes or give instructions to players, they "shall enter the field of play through the substitution zone and only when the ball has gone out of play following a score or a 'wide' or during a stoppage in play which is called by the referee for medical attention to an injured player".
The reality is that some of the occupants of those yellow or tangerine bibs have taken the liberty of doing much more than what is prescribed above. In some cases, they have become weapons of discreet disruption, quietly seeking to wind opponents up, running across their paths, acting as peacemakers which has the inevitable effect of pouring petrol on a fire or standing in to areas of space where kick-outs or puck-outs might be aimed at.
The access given to them in good faith is primed for exploitation in the belief that there is some marginal gain to be made. Dublin hurling 'maor foirne' Greg Kennedy has turned the spotlight back on the roving role after his unprecedented intervention in Nowlan Park on Saturday, running back to 'mark' Billy Ryan and then intercept TJ Reid's quick free, preventing a possible goal opportunity.
The probability is that referee Cathal McAllister, who had his back turned to the play as he spoke to a Dublin player, would have called play back anyway but it was never Kennedy's place to assume the role of player in that instance.
It begs the question now as to whether the value of the role, as initially envisaged by managers, has been undermined by some gross exploitation of the access provided.
Kennedy's intervention may well be isolated but some of the other abuses of the role as mentioned have been prevalent for years.
In the cauldron of Anfield on Tuesday night of last week, Jurgen Klopp didn't need a runner to get instructions to his players. In time-honoured fashion he whistled and gesticulated with his hands. Admittedly, GAA fields are bigger and the players are more dispersed.
But in the wake of Saturday night the whole area of pitch access needs to be reviewed and a luxury that has gone too far decommissioned.