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John Fogarty: 10 ways to win back Gaelic football

John Fogarty: 10 ways to win back Gaelic football

The All-Ireland senior football championship is collateral damage this year but from 2023 you will have to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time (it couldn’t get much worse).

As soon as Proposal B calling for the championship to be the All-Ireland League was dumped at Special Congress last year, there was no chance of the 2022 competition being anything more than a wink to the past and a nod to the future. 

With provincial winners reaching All-Ireland quarter-finals and the introduction of the Tailteann Cup, it was a case of something old and something new.

Seeing as the split season required a bedding-in time, introducing a substantially changed All-Ireland SFC format in the same window would have been a perfect storm for Croke Park. 

You need only look at the kneejerk reactions calling for county-club schedules to be altered to appreciate that much.

The problem right now is that the something old feels obsolete. The provincial finalists are hardly rewarded having to wait a month for their knock-out games. The new also seems stale. 

The more games are played the more it appears there should be more than two tiers, hence why the proponents of the league as championship idea have been coughing up “told you so’s” in recent days.

The green proposal, voted in a Congress in February, was endorsed too late to be considered for this season and rightly so when Sam Maguire Cup positions are predicated on finishing positions in the league, which was already up and running before the vote was taken in Mayo.

However, its timing has caused plenty of consternation among managers, from Leitrim’s Andy Moran who was of the belief the Tailteann Cup would be a round-robin competition this year (when it will be in 2023) to Jack O’Connor who is pretty peeved at just how long Kerry have to wait for their last-eight game.

Not that the green proposal is perfect – it is a marriage of convenience that ensured the provincial councils were on board – but it’s a step towards shrinking the importance of their championships. 

Before the end of this decade, the league could very well be the template for the championship – we give the green proposal a maximum of three years before it is replaced – but the history of the provinces is such that their winners will have to be rewarded in the grander scheme of things.

A qualitative analysis of this year’s provincial championships and this first-ever weekend when all four finals were played would make for grim reading. Two-thirds of the Munster SFC boasts Division 1 and 2 teams but the difference between one and the other may as well have been day and night. In Ulster, it was a case of twilight as Derry downed top flight counties Donegal, Tyrone and Monaghan but the northern province has long been an exception to the rule.

The qualitative approach to dismissing the provincial championship isn’t as clear but does contribute to the arguments. According to Twitter account @gaa_stats, this year’s provincial championship boasted the most goals since 1997 with 77. The winners, representing 12.5% of the competing teams, scored 25% of them – Dublin and Galway (both 7), Derry (5) and Kerry (1). An aggregate 1,088 points were scored across the four provinces, the third highest ever, and the champions again accounted for just over a quarter of that total (278).

Proving above all else that scores don’t mean quality, the average points per game in the provincial championships broke the record with 43. 

What’s more accurate is the total difference between teams in provincial finals which was 44 points this year (an average of 11 points per decider) compared to 37 last year, 29 (2020), 28 (‘19), 51 (‘18) and 37 (‘17).

For those who claim that the green proposal deincentivises the big teams from winning the provinces seeing as they may already have qualified for the Sam Maguire Cup round-robin stages via their league position, they are correct yet this current system, making Derry, Dublin, Galway and Kerry wait until the end of June to play again, doesn’t offer much of a carrot.

Cutting the waiting time between provinces and the All-Ireland series, the green proposal, as O’Connor acknowledged on Saturday, is an improvement. It may not have the bells and whistles that were attached to the red option, which belatedly reattached the provinces to the Sam Maguire Cup, but it does reduce the significance of the provincial championships.

It is also based on realism and that the GAA, which is one day a fiefdom and the next day a platoon of independent states, can’t move as quickly as some of the best brains in the association work.

And so after two championships which could have been lost to the pandemic, this is the one that has been virtually sacrificed if only for the greater good.

Silent managers miss the point

Kudos to Limerick, the only one of the four counties participating in this weekend’s provincial hurling finals to organise a press conference.

There may be genuine reasons behind Clare, Galway and Kilkenny’s decisions to keep silent. The hype in Clare is quite something right now as they look to repeat Derry’s heroics and end their 24-year wait for provincial silverware. Brian Lohan may consider an event would add to the expectation, which is genuine given their fine form in the round robin stages.

Galway won’t have wanted to drop the temperature of the Shefflin-Cody Cold War any further. The same goes for Kilkenny, although the last time the Cats organised a pre-Leinster final media gathering or at least made themselves available for interviews Shefflin was wearing the black and amber. Besides, it’s a game and a sideline that sells itself.

Narrative is the latest word to be used and abused but John Kiely understands that some of it can be controlled. He might not be able to dictate what questions are asked of him but in responding to them he can shape what is going to be in ink and on the airwaves over the coming days. His three fellow managers don’t have such power and those vacuums will be filled otherwise, perhaps not to their liking either. Either way, it’s beyond their reach because they chose to be that way.

Kiely would be aware that it’s more difficult to be critical of someone or a team who fronts up. Part of the genius of Joe Kernan and Mickey Harte was how open they were with the media. Allowing their players to speak, taking the game to the edge and often passing it wasn’t condemned as much.

It may be a failing of human nature to go easier on those we know but it is just as much a shortcoming of silent managers not to realise that it’s actually good form them to talk.

Ten ways to win back football

Sickened and saddened by the state of Gaelic football? 

Tired of teams passing the ball across the field and backwards over and over again? 

Simply want to see the game improved? Try these suggestions on for size.

1. Give the pathetic advanced mark the almightiest boot up the arse (it won’t happen when the playing rules committee who introduced it are still in charge).

2. Ban the fisted point. The score is a cop-out, let’s be honest. So was the hand-passed score in hurling. It’s gone 30 years and nobody has shed a tear.

3. Consider getting rid of the palmed goal too if you really want to put the foot back into the game.

4. Trial a shot clock in the leagues. If you want to make the sport attractive, end the negative possession or at least curb cyclical play.

5. Prohibit players from passing the ball behind the halfway line as soon as it has been played beyond it.

6. Limit the number per team who can retreat into their own half of the field at any one time to 12.

7. Listen to Mick O’Dwyer, allow direct pick-ups from the ground and see the foul count drop.

8. Increase the black card spectrum of fouls to pull backs if not jersey pulls.

9. Educate referees on simulation and punish the perpetrators with black cards.

10. Realise the clock/hooter will actually benefit the game.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie 

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