Monday 23 September 2019

Pat Spillane: Honourable Jim Gavin obeying GAA rules clearly not hurting the Dubs

Dublin celebrate All Ireland title in 2018
Dublin celebrate All Ireland title in 2018

Pat Spillane

ALL told it was a funny old week. Apparently I was trending on Twitter last Friday week after my appearance on The Late Late Show.  My daughter had to explain what that meant.

I was on the front page of national newspapers and I turned down dozens of requests for interviews from TV and radio shows. And none of this had anything to do with the GAA.

As regular readers know, I hold passionate views on rural Ireland which I articulated on the Late Late Show and then in the Sunday World.

I don't intend to reignite the debate here, although I will say that the vast majority of the social media warriors have been very supportive, which is a first.

Minister Michael Ring's attack on me was a classic old-style GAA tackle where the guy goes for the man and not the ball. The personalised nature of it did not reflect well on the minister.

And that's my last word on the issue. Meanwhile, back in GAA-land everything has gone quiet because of the decision to designate April as a club-only month.

In theory the concept is laudable, but on the ground it hasn't worked as no other organisation is better at circumventing its own rules than the GAA.

Last year approximately half the counties decided not to play any club championship games in April. Fewer counties appear to have scheduled championship matches this month.

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County players are supposed to be available to train with and play with their clubs this month.

This was a pie in the sky idea because county team managers now largely dictate what happens in counties. The idea of not having their players for an entire month just before the championship does not sit well with most of them.

Jim Gavin is an honourable exception. Again he has released the Dublin players from all inter-county duties in April. Other counties have found ways to circumvent the regulations.

County players have been released to play in club games, but they are also expected to train with the county squad.

The majority of county squads are currently undergoing a gruelling module of pre-championship stamina training – their second this season.

Simultaneously, the players are also expected to perform for their clubs. This double jobbing is leaving them knackered and injury prone. So much for protecting the well-being of players.

Maybe managers ought to pause and consider this fact: Even though they didn't train collectively last April, Dublin still went on to win the All-Ireland title.

The package of experimental rules used during the league is now in cold storage until its fate is decided at a Special Congress in the autumn. Overall it was a case of much ado about nothing and the impact was minuscule.

Part of the problem was that a lot of teams basically ignored the rules because they weren't going to be used in the 2019 championship.

Did anybody notice that sidelines had to be kicked forward? Likewise, taking the kick-out from the 20m line didn't really make much of a difference. It was a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Essentially the attacking mark enabled players to have a free shot at goal and it was surprising that it wasn't exploited a bit more.

There was a lot of confusion about how exactly the player in possession signalled to the referee that he was taking a mark.

In the event of this change being adopted on a permanent basis this grey area needs to be addressed. There can be no ambiguity.

But rewarding a player for catching a ball which may have only travelled 20 metres with a free shot at goal is a bit rich. I'm sceptical that it will foster the growth of kick passing.

The belated introduction of the sin-bin was a step in the right direction. The issue here was that teams did their best to negate the rule. When down a man they tended to play keep-ball deep inside their own half.

Furthermore players suddenly suffered complex injuries – which necessitated medical personnel tending to them on the field. All the while the clock ticked on and the player in the sin-bin probably missed only five minutes of action.

If the sin-bin is to be kept then players will have to spend 10 playing-time minutes in there when they are black carded. This means it will be virtually impossible to implement at club level.

Meanwhile, the championship is upon us again. Next Sunday the Connacht series kicks off on foreign soil with James Horan's Mayo travelling to the Big Apple, while Galway meet London in Ruislip.

All four provincial championships will be done and dusted by June 23 when the Leinster and Ulster finals are down for decision. The first round of the All-Ireland qualifiers takes place on June 8 with the second round two weeks later.

That means that by June 22 the season will be over for 16 counties, who then face the prospect of seven months of inactivity.

Last year seven counties played two football championship matches and another eight managed three.

Just think about how lopsided the fixture schedule is. All counties are guaranteed seven matches in two months in the league whereas last year 15 counties had at most three more games during the rest of the year.

It's utter madness. No wonder the gap between the top teams and the rest is widening. It's about time the GAA stopped talking about introducing a tiered football championship and simply did it.

The Sunday Game, which will be back on RTE in the coming weeks, will be dominated by live hurling games, which highlights the problem facing the provincial football series.

The Leinster and Munster championships are dead in the water. Apart from a probable Galway v Mayo final, there is nothing to look forward to in Connacht and at a stretch there are three games in Ulster which would merit live TV coverage.

By contrast the live football matches shown during the league attracted excellent viewing figures because they were competitive and entertaining.

Meanwhile, with no relegation from Division 1A of the hurling,the top teams merely went through the motions during the spring.

Now the tables have turned, which doesn't bode well for armchair football fans during the next few months.

Online Editors

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