Sunday 25 August 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Boring styles and one-sided games turning public off football'

Last Saturday’s Dublin v Mayo game drew people from all three groups – hence the scramble for tickets. From a support perspective, it was the first time this year that Dublin fans engaged en masse, as many of them couldn’t be bothered to turn up for the Leinster and Super 8s games. Photo: Sportsfile
Last Saturday’s Dublin v Mayo game drew people from all three groups – hence the scramble for tickets. From a support perspective, it was the first time this year that Dublin fans engaged en masse, as many of them couldn’t be bothered to turn up for the Leinster and Super 8s games. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It has always been the case that people attended sporting events for one, or more, of three reasons: to support a team or individual, to enjoy the entertainment as a neutral or to be part of the occasion.

The majority are in the first category, but there are many in the second group too. As for the third lot - and they are heavily represented at Ireland's rugby internationals - good luck to them, it's a day out, even if the on-field action is very much secondary to the social side.

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Last Saturday's Dublin v Mayo game drew people from all three groups - hence the scramble for tickets. From a support perspective, it was the first time this year that Dublin fans engaged en masse, as many of them couldn't be bothered to turn up for the Leinster and Super 8s games.

It was a clear case of getting too much of a good thing, with Sky Blues fans not interested in watching their team demolish weaker opposition.

That's a particular issue for Leinster, although it has now extended to the Super 8s too.

Dublin aren't to be seen as a problem in all of this, since it would be ridiculous to blame a team for being too good. Nonetheless, their excellence has depressed attendances - even among their own supporters - except for games that have the potential to be competitive.

Referee James Owens. Photo: Sportsfile
Referee James Owens. Photo: Sportsfile

Part of the solution rests with the likes of Meath and Kildare, even if they don't appear to have the remotest idea why they have fallen so far behind their powerful neighbours.

Complaining about Dublin's generous games development funding doesn't address the reality that the Royals and Lilywhites are a long way off where they used to be.

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Dublin apart, there's another issue worth addressing after a disappointing 33,848 turn-out at Sunday's Kerry-Tyrone semi-final. This was a clash between last year's All-Ireland runners-up and an emerging team from the greatest superpower of all, yet the attendance was down almost 20,000 on their 2015 semi-final clash.

That brings us to the second category of spectator, the one who has no attachment to either side, but who goes along to enjoy the game. It's a very large constituency in a city the size of Dublin. Were they the ones who stayed away from Kerry v Tyrone? And if so, why?

Could it be that the way the game is being played has turned people off to such a degree that they won't go to games unless their county is involved?

Incessant It's a distinct possibility. Incessant handpassing rules every game now, including at minor level. Last weekend's Cork v Mayo and Galway v Kerry semi-finals were depressing examples of where the game has gone, even at underage.

Talented U-17s, obviously coached in the image and likeness of seniors, turned back as often as they went forward in possession, making sure to take no risks.

From time to time, you could sense their youthful imagination tempting them to try something not in the manual for the dour. It was so refreshing when it happened, but you wondered if they would be hit later by a clipboard analysis of why it was wrong.

There was a time when the minor championship was a more flamboyant version of the senior equivalent, but that's no longer the case. In many respects, it's now almost as sterile, which is a shocking legacy to hand U-17s. Having decided earlier this year, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that the handpass wasn't a problem, the GAA's legislators are effectively telling people their eyes are deceiving them and that they should enjoy the sight of ten successive transfers, half of which go backwards. The public aren't buying it, no more than they bought tickets for Kerry v Tyrone last Sunday.

Another issue of concern in this year's championship is the number of one-sided games. Yes, Dublin were involved in some of them, but there were lots of others too, so it's a widespread problem.

Of the 69 games in this year's championship, 16 were won by more than 12 points, with a further nine in the 10-12 point category. That's over 36 per cent won by ten or more points.

When extended to wins by seven or more points, the percentage shoots up to over 46. Fewer than one in four games were won by 1-3 points.

In 2014, only 25 per cent were won by ten or more points, while 33 per cent were in the 1-3 point category. In 2009, only 18 per cent were in the 10+ points bracket while nearly 47 per cent had 1-3 point winning margins.

Ironically, Dublin were among the biggest losers that year, going down to Kerry by 17 points (1-24 to 1-7) in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Stats have always got to be taken in context, but when they show that winning margins are increasing - in many cases by substantial amounts - the question has to be asked: why is it happening?

Is it a direct consequence of the varying amounts of money spent on preparing teams? The stronger counties splash out vast sums, whereas their lower-ranked counterparts don't have the financial resources to compete.

That has consequences, including shorter careers further down the line as players decide it isn't worth all the effort when they are playing against opposition with marked decks.

All the focus in football for the next few weeks will be on the Dublin-Kerry final, but there's more to this campaign than whether history will be made on September 1.

The increasing number of seriously one-sided games, plus the disappointing turn-out for Kerry v Tyrone have to be top of the agenda in a post-championship review. And not just for sake of it either.

IT has always been the case that people attended sporting events for one, or more, of three reasons: to support a team or individual, to enjoy the entertainment as a neutral or to be part of the occasion.

The majority are in the first category, but there are many in the second group too. As for the third lot - and they are heavily represented at Ireland's rugby internationals - good luck to them, it's a day out, even if the on-field action is very much secondary to the social side.

Last Saturday's Dublin v Mayo game drew people from all three groups - hence the scramble for tickets. From a support perspective, it was the first time this year that Dublin fans engaged en masse, as many of them couldn't be bothered to turn up for the Leinster and Super 8s games.

It was a clear case of getting too much of a good thing, with Sky Blues fans not interested in watching their team demolish weaker opposition.

That's a particular issue for Leinster, although it has now extended to the Super 8s too.

Dublin aren't to be seen as a problem in all of this, since it would be ridiculous to blame a team for being too good. Nonetheless, their excellence has depressed attendances - even among their own supporters - except for games that have the potential to be competitive.

Part of the solution rests with the likes of Meath and Kildare, even if they don't appear to have the remotest idea why they have fallen so far behind their powerful neighbours.

Complaining about Dublin's generous games development funding doesn't address the reality that the Royals and Lilywhites are a long way off where they used to be.

Dublin apart, there's another issue worth addressing after a disappointing 33,848 turn-out at Sunday's Kerry-Tyrone semi-final. This was a clash between last year's All-Ireland runners-up and an emerging team from the greatest superpower of all, yet the attendance was down almost 20,000 on their 2015 semi-final clash.

That brings us to the second category of spectator, the one who has no attachment to either side, but who goes along to enjoy the game. It's a very large constituency in a city the size of Dublin. Were they the ones who stayed away from Kerry v Tyrone? And if so, why?

Could it be that the way the game is being played has turned people off to such a degree that they won't go to games unless their county is involved?

It's a distinct possibility. Incessant handpassing rules every game now, including at minor level. Last weekend's Cork v Mayo and Galway v Kerry semi-finals were depressing examples of where the game has gone, even at underage. Talented U-17s, obviously coached in the image and likeness of seniors, turned back as often as they went forward in possession, making sure to take no risks.

From time to time, you could sense their youthful imagination tempting them to try something not in the manual for the dour. It was so refreshing when it happened, but you wondered if they would be hit later by a clipboard analysis of why it was wrong.

There was a time when the minor championship was a more flamboyant version of the senior equivalent, but that's no longer the case. In many respects, it's now almost as sterile, which is a shocking legacy to hand U-17s.

Having decided earlier this year, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that the handpass wasn't a problem, the GAA's legislators are effectively telling people their eyes are deceiving them and that they should enjoy the sight of ten successive transfers, half of which go backwards. The public aren't buying it, no more than they bought tickets for Kerry v Tyrone last Sunday.

Another issue of concern in this year's championship is the number of one-sided games. Yes, Dublin were involved in some of them, but there were lots of others too, so it's a widespread problem.

Of the 69 games in this year's championship, 16 were won by more than 12 points, with a further nine in the 10-12 point category. That's over 36 per cent won by ten or more points.

When extended to wins by seven or more points, the percentage shoots up to over 46. Fewer than one in four games were won by 1-3 points.

In 2014, only 25 per cent were won by ten or more points, while 33 per cent were in the 1-3 point category. In 2009, only 18 per cent were in the 10+ points bracket while nearly 47 per cent had 1-3 point winning margins.

Ironically, Dublin were among the biggest losers that year, going down to Kerry by 17 points (1-24 to 1-7) in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Stats have always got to be taken in context, but when they show that winning margins are increasing - in many cases by substantial amounts - the question has to be asked: why is it happening?

Is it a direct consequence of the varying amounts of money spent on preparing teams? The stronger counties splash out vast sums, whereas their lower-ranked counterparts don't have the financial resources to compete.

That has consequences, including shorter careers further down the line as players decide it isn't worth all the effort when they are playing against opposition with marked decks.

All the focus in football for the next few weeks will be on the Dublin-Kerry final, but there's more to this campaign than whether history will be made on September 1.

The increasing number of seriously one-sided games, plus the disappointing turn-out for Kerry v Tyrone have to be top of the agenda in a post-championship review. And not just for sake of it either.

‘Sin bin’ better option than ‘black’

On the basis that it was almost inevitable a bad rule would eventually cause problems coming up to an All-Ireland final, Stephen O’Brien’s black card complication is no surprise.

Having got a third ‘black’ of the season against Tyrone, Kerry’s wing-forward will miss the clash with Dublin unless he succeeds in having one of the previous two, picked up against Galway in February and against Meath last Sunday week, rescinded.

He couldn’t challenge any of the first two until he got a third one and therein lies the anomaly. The disciplinary process would be clogged up with appeals against first and second black cards because a one-match ban follows a third offence.

It’s a bad system from start to finish. The black card was designed as a sanction against cynical fouling, which had to be addressed.

However, a sin bin is a better option for two reasons. One: it leaves a team a man down for 10 minutes. Two: it deals with the issue on the day, with no comebacks later, as is now the case with O’Brien.

Owens honoured on the double

James Owens has been at the high end of the GAA’s elite hurling referee list for several years, but is he that good that he merits being appointed for a second successive All-Ireland final?

Brian Gavin (2013-’14) and James McGrath (2012-’13) had double bookings, but that was because all three finals finished level in 2012, ’13 and ’14. Owens’ fellow Wexford man, Dickie Murphy (1997-’98) was the last referee to be appointed in successive years where no replays were involved.

Owens refereed this year’s Kilkenny-Cork quarter-final, with Colm Lyons (Cork) on the Tipperary-Laois game. Seán Cleere (Kilkenny) and Alan Kelly (Galway) officiated at the semi-finals. Obviously, Kilkenny’s involvement ruled Cleere out of this weekend’s decider, but Lyons or Kelly might have expected a call-up for the first time.

Incredibly, no Galway referee has officiated at an All-Ireland final since Aubrey Higgins in 1964, while Paschal Long was the last Kilkenny man to get the honour in 1984. All very curious.

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