Grab your sledges
IT SEEMS everyone has had their say on sledging this week. I know I’m coming late to the party, but I would like to share my pain with you all too!
That kind of mouthing was only really practised by certain teams. Not everyone was guilty of it when I was a player. Generally, we took it and gave it back, but the situation in Portlaoise became much more severe because of Paul Grimley running onto the pitch to remonstrate with the referee.
People were letting their emotions run amok, and the press statement from the county board reflected that. Abuse on the scale that is being alleged is neither acceptable nor excusable, but the great surprise was that it was brought out into the open so much.
As a forward, we were always the first in line for the taunts and the smart comments. I always found though that it was all about how I was playing. If I was on top of my opponent and skinning him, he wasn’t likely to waste his breath. The mouthing will happen if a player feels he has you on the rack.
In my soccer days, there were a few comments thrown about, but the referees were always straight onto it and would signal to the offender to cut it out. There are clear guidelines about that sort of conduct in soccer, not so in Gaelic football.
It’s harder to police because of a bigger pitch, and despite the best efforts of some teams, the action is still not as concentrated in one area as it might be in rugby or soccer. Tight marking also has plenty to do with it. It is difficult for referees in the GAA, and they should not be expected to be fully vigilant on 30 individuals on a field.
When playing for Ireland in the Compromise Rules, the Australians didn’t go in for it at all. I know Aussie are meant to have a rich history of teasing opponents, such as cricketer Mervyn Hughes, but their footballers were different. They just ploughed straight through you and used their size and strength. Quips weren’t really needed when you had the minerals these guys had!
I indulged in a bit of verbals myself once. Westmeath goalkeeper Gary Connaughton was mouthing at me throughout a game, so I informed him he was the missing link between man and ape. He didn’t like it. I didn’t like doing it either, and felt bad after.
Generally, the National League was full of slagging matches, but it was almost like the sort of craic that takes place in a pub, because it wasn’t taken that seriously. You could go for a pint with your opponent after the game back then. But then, Ulster football got so serious that the practise ended.
Some teams, you just wouldn’t bother with at all. I’ll let you guess the identities for yourself…
The tackle has been giving me a bit of concern over the last few weeks. Down’s tackling in particular is costing them games. Against Mayo, they rode their luck a lot with giving away frees. If the westerners had have had a cast-iron right-footed free taker, they could have had something from that game.
It came home to roost against Armagh. The home side hit 1-14, but their job was made easier when you consider that 1-8 of that came from placed balls.
When the highlights package was screened, they mostly focused on all the lovely attacking play by Down and the impressive points they scored. Meanwhile, Armagh were keeping in touch with them all the way. Ciaran McKeever’s fine point from out wide was all the inspiration they needed to push on and win the game, with a late free.
Armagh were not blameless either, considering that Aidan Carr helped himself to six points from frees.
When Paul Grimley came back to the Armagh set-up, the reaction of the players was that they were in for a whole load of tackling drills in training. That seems to be the case from what we’ve seen in the meantime. I just wonder if the drills and methods that Grimley used when Armagh were at their absolute zenith, are applicable now.
The Armagh tactic of the time was to surround a player in possession, and use their upper-body strength to pen him in, along with a small bit of grappling to slow them down. The team that I see copying that model most accurately at present are Laois, while Armagh are creeping over the edge of what is allowed too often.
When Grimley criticises referees and claims they are taking the physicality out of the game, he should perhaps look at what referees are prepared to accept now, and what happened ten years ago.
Back then, Armagh pushed the definition of the tackle to its’ limits. Kieran McGeeney openly advocated bringing in the Australian Rules style grab and hold, and for a time, referees were happy, if uncomfortable, with how their defence worked.
Nowadays, a defender will rather foul a forward away from goal, than let him get past and have to attempt to make a recovering tackle. Once a forward gets clear of his marker, then the back is only five minutes away from being called ashore.
Tactical fouling was not invented by an inter-county management team in some bunker surrounded by laptops and statistical analysis, it was developed from nervous defenders trying to hang onto their place in the team, and coaches soon copped on that there wasn’t much wrong with coughing up a free in the opponents’ half.