Sunday 24 February 2019

Dick Clerkin: 'Players and managers have put short-term gains before game's future and now it's their turn to find solution to football malaise'

Comment

Gavin White and David Moran of Kerry contest a high ball, which could have been a ‘mark’ under proposed rules, with Kildare’s Kevin Feely during last year’s SHC. Photo: Sportsfile
Gavin White and David Moran of Kerry contest a high ball, which could have been a ‘mark’ under proposed rules, with Kildare’s Kevin Feely during last year’s SHC. Photo: Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

'Eight-Year-olds have no business being at an All-Ireland for €90'…

It looks like I'm destined to take my quote from earlier this week to the grave and any attempts to further clarify what was a much broader point on the recent ticket price hike debate will continue to fall on deaf ears. In an era of click-bait sound bites, it was a whopping own goal on my part. I should have expected the resulting backlash. Best just to move on at this stage.

David Hassan surely couldn’t have envisaged a situation where Fermanagh could circumvent the handpass limitation. Photo: Sportsfile
David Hassan surely couldn’t have envisaged a situation where Fermanagh could circumvent the handpass limitation. Photo: Sportsfile

It is fair to say that large swathes of the GAA support base are in a somewhat exasperated state at present. Especially those from the big ball side of the family. Unable to even stomach a modest ticket price increase for the upcoming National Leagues, any attempts to alter the status quo of the association these days seem to be greeted with resentment, despite any reasonable justifications.

A winter of experimental rules turmoil soured the pre-season mood. Ticket price rises were akin to pouring petrol on the fire.

Last season was regarded as one the worst football championships in recent times. Only Connacht provided a competitive championship final day. There was outrage and discontent from all quarters around the direction inter-county football was going.

One could have been forgiven for thinking that a well-considered attempt at redress would have been roundly welcomed. How wrong.

Shifted

That outrage merely shifted to dissecting every conceivable fault with the experimental rules, and destined them to failure before a meaningful ball could be thrown in.

Writing in these pages a few weeks back, I outlined my uncertainty whether the new rules would prove a success, but that they were certainly worth a try.

At the very minimum I felt they would bring us closer to a potential solution. I don't favour the forward mark, but the black card change is a timely introduction.

These along with the other rules extended to a National League trial are largely inoffensive, and have been awarded a stay of execution at the very least.

They only offer a mere dent in football's bodywork, however, as it was the three-handpass rule that was seen as the potential silver bullet solution.

In truth, the handpass limit was always likely to struggle. Any visible improvements to the game would always be dismissed in favour of the odd mis-count by a referee.

'Too difficult to implement right across the grades' was another potential justification for its demise. That could well have proven to be the case. We will never know.

In case you were not aware, there is little or no scope for any further rule trials ahead of next year's Congress. After which, no more rules changes can be considered until 2025. Those who feel that they have gotten one over Croke Park following last weekend's handpass rule U-turn have been rewarded with potentially another five years of drudgery. Well played indeed!

Even if it wasn't a runner in the long term, I would have liked to see managers and players challenged to be more creative with their approach to the rule than many were in the pre-season competitions. For their own benefit they need to be pushed in a different direction somehow.

At this point in the discussion, I have come to the conclusion that the solution lies largely outside the control of the rule-makers in Croke Park. It lies in the dressing rooms and training fields across the country.

Managers, coaches and the players themselves are the key stakeholders in this debate. Their undue influence in the final outcome of the handpass saga effectively proves as much.

Committees can tinker with rules all they like in an attempt cajole managers and players to reverse the negative trends in inter-county football, but unless those directly involved with the field of play decide to change, there is really little the rule-makers can achieve.

David Hassan and his Playing Rules Committee surely didn't envisage a situation where Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher, in their McKenna Cup game against Tyrone, circumvented the handpass limitation by bringing his goalkeeper out the field to act as an additional backpass option. I didn't see that one coming. The law of unintended consequences, you could call it.

From reports, it was one of the worst games of football witnessed. By modern standards, that is a fairly damning indictment. Where there is a lack of will, there is always a way!

Before a ball has even been kicked, the 2019 season is shaping up to be one of the most significant in the association's history.

Negativity

Dublin's historic drive for five All-Irelands in a row is in danger of being sullied by an overwhelming waft of negativity emanating from many of their rivals. A repeat of last season could cause lasting damage to Gaelic football's image, and there are few rule changes that can significantly influence this trend.

Managers and players have assumed themselves to be a higher authority when it comes to deciding how the game is played. If that authority continues to be abused, a brewing frustration in the terraces could quickly turn away from the Croke Park corridors and towards them.

Putting their own short-term objectives ahead of the integrity of the game will only be tolerated for so long. Their influence on attendances dwarfs anything a few extra euro in tickets prices might bring. The ball is now firmly in their court.

Irish Independent

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