'People in my pub are turning off gaelic football for other sports' - Larry Tompkins
Cork legend says punters are losing interest with poor quality of games
Larry Tompkins watched last Saturday's Dublin-Derry game on TV with a mixture of sadness, irritation and frustration.
The sadness derived from what he regarded as a grotesque distortion of a sport he loves, the irritation from what he sees as gross negligence by those entrusted with protecting the integrity of the game and the frustration from a belief that it can be easily remedied if the will is there.
However, he warns that there will be serious consequences if the negativity is not addressed.
"If something isn't done about it, more Irish people will be watching cricket than football in a few years' time. Why have the rules been allowed to reach a stage where the basic skills of football don't matter any more?" said Tompkins, one of football's all-time greats with Kildare and Cork.
As a pub owner on Lavitt's Quay in Cork, a popular venue for sports enthusiasts, he is ideally placed to assess broad public tastes which, he says, are being turned off Gaelic football.
"The people in my pub were very interested in watching the Dublin-Limerick hurling game last Saturday but when they saw how the football game (Dublin v Derry) was going afterwards, they didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Many of them watched soccer on another screen.
"It wasn't just that game either. It's very noticeable that customers are losing interest in football. The locals will watch if Cork are playing, but otherwise I'd often be asked to switch over to soccer, rugby, racing or golf.
"We get a lot of people from around the country coming in here and it's the same with them - they watch the football if their own county is playing, but have no great interest beyond that. It's completely different with hurling. Everyone watches it, whether their county is involved or not," he said.
A trip to an 'away' football league game has become an annual outing for his customers, but because Cork's schedule featured long journeys to Monaghan, Tyrone, Donegal and Derry this year, it was decided to take in the hurlers' visit to Galway last month.
"There was a big crowd in Pearse Stadium. The Galway-Cavan football game was on beforehand and if it had been the second game, I doubt if 300 people would have stayed on to see it. And if they did, they would have been bored to tears after the hurling. I couldn't believe how dull the football was. But that's the norm in so many games now," he said.
His contends that the basic skills have been squeezed from football and replaced with robotic programming, which is as boring to watch as it sounds. Dropping banks of players into the defensive half, contracting space so that nobody has room to manoeuvre and refusing to take on a scoring attempt unless the ball has been moved close to goal have all become so ingrained in the modern game that there are serious concerns over where it's heading.
It annoys Tompkins that this has been allowed to happen, despite repeated reviews of rules by various committees.
"The basic skills of football - catching and kicking - have been destroyed. Can the people in charge not see that? Why aren't they doing something about it?
"Can they not see that the public are switching off? And don't be fooled by big championship crowds. People go to support their own counties but how many neutrals want to watch this sort of stuff?
"I brought my seven year-old son to Croke Park to see the All-Ireland quarter-finals last year and I thought: he could play this sort of game, even at his age.
"Run, run; hand pass, hand pass. If you look sideways at a player now, you get a black card. The public like physical confrontation, good solid hits and good old-fashioned steel. Why do you think rugby has become so popular? People love the physical contact, the manliness of it? It's the same with hurling - at least players are allowed get in a decent tackle," he said.
Tompkins, who led Cork to All-Ireland glory in 1990 and who managed them from 1997 to 2003, wants legitimately hard tackling to be permitted as was the case in his playing days.
"The public liked it then and they would like it now. Of course, I'm not talking about dirty play. There's a big difference between that and a manly game where hard, but fair, tackling is allowed. Players are whistled back for next to nothing now. Worse still, they're gone on black cards. I wouldn't mind if it made for a better game but it most certainly has not."
He believes that a relatively small number of rule adjustments would be hugely beneficial.
Kick-outs should be required to travel past the 45-metre line; no back-passing allowed to the goalkeeper; all scoreable free-kicks to be kicked off the ground (with a ban on goalkeepers taking them); restrict the hand pass to two before the ball must be kicked.
"There's no doubt that the hand pass is a problem but that's easily solved by curbing it. Change the hand pass rule and players will get used it very quickly. Failing that, insist on fist-passing only.
"If the kick-out had to pass the 45-metre line every time, it would lead to fielding contests, which would be a good start. People want as many direct contests as possible.
"How often do you see the ball booted in high to the full-forward line nowadays? Kerry do it because they have Kieran Donaghy but you don't see much more of it. Yet, it provides some of the best excitement," he said.
His opposition to back-passing to the goalkeeper centres on how it slows down the game. The same applies to allowing them up to take long range frees.
"It's a joke. They take forever to come up the pitch to do something outfield players should be able to do. Kicking the ball accurately off the ground is a real skill, but how many modern-day players are able to do it?
"I hear debates in the pub about who was the best free-taker of all time, Jimmy Keaveney, Matt Connor, Maurice Sheridan, Tony McTague or whoever. Everyone has their own favourite but who can be added to that list now? It's a lost skill.
"Ronan O'Gara, Jonny Wilkinson and lots of other rugby players made their name with their place-kicking because it's an art, yet it was thrown out of Gaelic football when players were allowed to kick scoreable frees off their hands. How did the game benefit from that? It didn't, of course," said Tompkins.
His parting shot? "Football needs rescuing from bad rules".
Larry Tompkins blow by blow
"If something isn't done about football, more Irish people will be watching cricket in a few years' time."
"The people in my pub were very interested in watching the Dublin-Limerick hurling game last Saturday but when they saw how the game (Dublin v Derry) was going afterwards, they didn't know whether to laugh or cry so many of them they watched soccer on another screen."
"I organised a bus load to go to Pearse Stadium for the Cork v Galway hurling game last month. The Galway-Cavan football game was on beforehand and if it had been the second game, I doubt if 300 people would have stayed on to see it."
"The basic skills of football, catching and kicking have been destroyed. Can the people in charge not see that? Why aren't they doing something about it?"
"If you looked sideways at a player now, you get a black card. The public like physical confrontation, good hard hits and good old-fashioned steel. Why do you think rugby has become so popular? "