The proposed new rules in Gaelic football do not deal with the root cause of the game's problem - as I have previously said. Instead they deal with the symptoms.
lanket defending, placing a sweeper in front of the dangerman at full-forward, running down the clock and cynical fouling to deprive the opposition of a scoring opportunity are the root problems. The symptoms are a glut of handpassing, a full-forward left with no room inside to show his ability, and a serious deterioration in the quality of the contest. As a result of the failure to rigorously deal with these problems, the philosophy of the game has now become 'game management'.
Game management means killing the contest. It involves depriving the other team of the opportunity to contest the game by holding the ball for long stretches, cynically fouling, dropping back in numbers to swamp the scoring zone when your team is ahead in the last quarter, passing the ball back and forth with the goalkeeper to run down the clock, etc etc.
In other sports, for example rugby, basketball and American football, they have taken swift and decisive action to prevent game management and have continuously brought in new rules or tweaked existing ones as each new threat to the skills and spectacle of their games has emerged.
When Ireland played the US in Lansdowne before Christmas, just after the Americans scored their first try, they were working their way towards the Irish line in a rolling maul. They had good momentum and looked as though they might get the try when, ten metres out, the maul collapsed. The referee adjudged that one of the Irish players had deliberately brought down the maul. The offending player was sin-binned (professional foul preventing a potential score). A penalty try was awarded (preventing a clear try scoring opportunity) .
The stats show that when a sin bin occurs in rugby, the average score against the offending team during the sin bin period is seven points. In rugby, they do not mess around when it comes to preserving the integrity of the game and the enjoyment of the contest. The total penalty awarded against Ireland was seven points, with the potential for more during the sin bin period. Unlike our game, the player sent off was not clapped on the back for 'taking one for the team'.
Don't get me wrong. The sin bin is better than the previous ridiculous rule that the offender could be replaced. But it still does not deal adequately with the core problem. I have argued for a rule that where a clear goal-scoring opportunity is denied, there should be a red card and a penalty. Where a clear point-scoring opportunity is denied, there should be a sin bin and a 30-metre free in front of the posts. Until these measures are introduced, cynical fouling will continue to be worth it.
In basketball, they ruthlessly protect the integrity of the contest. The spectacle had been eroded by the innovation of game management techniques. The top players were double and triple-marked inside a zonal defence (like Gaelic football). A team that was ahead could play keep-ball indefinitely (like Gaelic football). Cynical fouling was the order of the day (like Gaelic football). All of this was stamped out in the face of coaches howling in protest that the rule makers were "ruining the game" (which will happen in Gaelic football if we ever get around to taking the steps necessary to preserve the game's integrity).
So, they banned zonal defending, introduced a shot clock which gives the team in possession 24 seconds to take a shot, otherwise the ball is returned to the opposition, banned back-passing over the half-way line, and brought in a range of measures to ensure that no player or coach would ever again think it was a good thing to 'take one for the team'.
I was at the NY Nicks v Brooklyn game in Madison Square Garden a few weeks ago and marvelled at the risk-taking and sense of adventure. This excitement is caused by the rules. Indeed, the rules of basketball enforce excitement. They enforce a skill-based game. They enforce a contest. You cannot sit back and protect a lead. You cannot double-team their best player and deprive the audience of seeing him express himself. Your only choice is to go for it.
The coaches cannot criticise a player for taking a risk because the player has no choice. This in turn means that the skills of the players have gone through the roof and the spectacle is incredible. I watched the LA Lakers v The Golden State Warriors (the current two-in-a-row champions) over Christmas and it was a magnificent, full-on sporting contest. The rule makers have left coaches and players without a safety net. The contrast between this and what we regularly see in Gaelic football is obvious. This is because the philosophy of our game is now game management, conservatism and cynicism. Which happens to any game unless the rule makers are watchful and alert.
I advocated a number of rules, some simple, some more complex. None have been trialled. So, blanket defending has been left as it is. Ball retention has been left where it is. Game management remains untouched.
'The keeper may not take a pass from an outfield player' is a simple one, and along with the equally simple 'the ball may not be passed backwards over the half-way line' would have stopped teams playing keep-ball when a team is courageous enough to push up and press them. So, Monaghan couldn't kill a game playing keep-ball with Rory Beggan.
Or the Dubs couldn't do what they did in the last few minutes of the 2017 final against Mayo, running the ball from corner-forward the whole way back to Stephen Cluxton, then playing keep-ball off him. But no. Both ignored. The kick-out beyond the 45, with teams going to their starting positions for each kick-out, was also ignored. They crapped a brick because it is just far too much for GAA administrators to cope with. This would, like rugby, enforce a contest from the kick-out. Coaches hated it because instead of retaining 90 per cent of their own kick-outs, they would have had to take a gamble. Brilliant for the game and the spectators. But very poor game management.
I advocated an exclusion zone 30 metres out from the goals in a semi-circle, ending 10 metres from the sidelines, inside which only man marking was allowed, with a separate official to police that zone. That was also discounted. Everybody knows that it is impossible for one man to referee an inter-county game, and that is a massive problem when it comes to any suggested rule change, but again nothing at all has been done in this regard. The video referee is an easy, inexpensive measure that I have been advocating for several years. Crowds love the drama of it, and it is worth getting it right on big calls, like red cards, cynical fouling etc. But no.
One of the members of the committee privately told me it would have been better if my name had not been associated with any of the proposals. The real problem is too many handpasses.
Sunday Indo Sport