Saturday 25 January 2020

Grimley: Crowds will vanish unless GAA fix tackle problem

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

A bleak future for Gaelic football has been painted by one of the game's most journeyed coaches, who has called on the GAA authorities to prioritise addressing what he feels is a serious malaise.

Paul Grimley -- who has coached Armagh, Cavan, Kildare, Monaghan and Meath over the last decade before returning to the Orchard County at the start of this season -- has called for the GAA to establish a proper forum where all inter-county managers and team captains could come together and get a consensus to where the game is going.

Grimley said he found himself agreeing with director-general Paraic Duffy's view that football was suffering badly as a spectacle, but acknowledges that they may be coming from different angles on it.

Grimley believes the game will be "cleansed almost to extinction" and argues that blanket defence is a by- product of what he feels is the absence of a properly defined tackle.

"I don't think I'm exaggerating it here when I say that if things continue, the league will be like the Railway Cups in a few years -- there'll be no one going. I hear it all the time, people saying they're just not bothered going.

"Figures look like they're holding up between reduced prices and packaging, but I'm really concerned about the direction Gaelic football is heading."

Grimley believes players and coaches deserve a greater voice when it comes to addressing playing rule issues. The GAA did have high-profile managers like Brian Cody and Kieran McGeeney on the rules advisory task force last year; Donal Og Cusack and Dessie Farrell, chairman and secretary of the GPA respectively, were also involved.

But Grimley thinks the forum should be broadened to a far greater extent and a more radical approach should be taken.

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"Why not give the like of Pat Gilroy, Jack O'Connor, Conor Counihan and their likes a great say? And all their captains. They'll all say the same thing: the different interpretations of contact is killing the game," he said. "People are beginning to drift away from the game and if the crowds go, then the prestige of winning will go with it. And where will the game be then?"

Grimley lays the blame for massed defence -- which Duffy references in his report -- on the tackle as it exists.

"Why does a coach flood his defence with so many numbers? Because it provides security that he can't get otherwise. If you can't tackle forcefully in one-to-one situations, then you need numbers," he said.

"The rules on the tackle -- as they are laid out -- make it a forwards game. The rule makers want scores, so the attacker gets the advantage.

"But that desire for more scores has created new ways to defend in greater numbers. And I agree with Paraic when he says it's a poor spectacle. The defender must be given more leeway, and a tackle that allows much greater contact between the hip and the shoulder is the solution."

Grimley believes people don't go to games to see nice scores -- they go to see combat and competitiveness.

"They want to see a bit of rough and tumble. I'm not saying it should be cynical combat. But last Sunday, Ciaran McKeever and Paul Flynn were booked for shouldering each other off the ball. No malice in it, just two fellas standing their ground. I couldn't believe it," he said. "If the GAA don't address this, then the people will address it for them by staying away."

Grimley says that in the decade he has been involved in coaching inter-county football, he has noticed a considerable change in people's attitude towards the game. He believes an Australian Rules-style tackle could solve Gaelic football's problems.

"You ask a referee what do they want from a tackle and they shout 'hand in, hand out'. But how can you execute that when a player is running straight at you? The only two forms of tackle that are straightforward are the block and the shoulder-to-shoulder, but you see very little of that any more," he said.

"Everyone has a responsibility to the game -- players, managers and administrators -- to ensure that it's the game people want."

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