+44 (0)28 8224 3444
Gaelic Life Mast Head

John Morrison – What is modern football?

One-on-one clashes were a staple of the older game, but not so much now in modern football

As the pharisees in the Football Review Committee set about restoring orthodoxy to the mongrel game some believe football has become, Gaelic Life’s John Morrison puts forward the case against those who would condemn ‘modern’ football.

While the All-Ireland football championship gathers pace on the field a debate rages off the field between media pundits, analysts and commentators about whether modern Gaelic football is better than traditional Gaelic football.

But when did modern football start or take hold?

Was it in the 1960s when Down’s running game upset the mighty high-fielding Kerry?
Was it in the 1970s ‘golden’ years of Kerry versus Dublin?
Was it in the early ’90s when Derry, Down and Donegal made the breakthrough?
Was it in the early noughties when Armagh and Tyrone made their breakthrough?

From the late 1990s the GAA have promoted a professional structure within its clubs and counties based on the mantra of faster, higher and stronger.

That investment of finance and qualified personnel to better their product guaranteed that Gaelic games would evolve and change as a result.

Without making any judgement I considered for myself as to what is the difference between traditional and modern Gaelic football. My musings have no particular order or train of thought and are for you to draw your own conclusions.

  • – The modern game functions by tactical awareness and game sense and plan systems whereas spontaneous action using an emphasis on individual skill was the order of the traditional game.
  • – Thus the modern game highlights and praises the team ethic, while the traditional game glorified the individual.
  • – The modern game is results driven, based on keeping possession using advantage ball, 100 percent passing completion, and where any player is expected to score, be it goalkeeper, defender, midfielder or forward.

Every player when their team is not in possession is expected to be a defender.  As a result positions are not rigidly adhered to. The traditional game was entertainment driven, largely catch and kick, with man to man contests. 50 50 ball was the order of the day and while this delivered excitement, it did not necessarily deliver possession.

In a sentence the modern game is more clean ball than the traditional dirty ball.
In the traditional game the forwards scored and the defenders defended and everyone held their position.

No swarming, movement all over the field, interchange of positions and high intensity, sharper running as in the modern game.

The traditional game was dominated by four fundamental skills: High catch, long kicking, soloing and shouldering – the shoulder charge. The modern game operates with a much wider range of skills including variations of those skills.

Training methods were different. The traditional method focused on running laps and playing backs and forwards while modern methods target the three game energy systems, functional conditioning and a mix of grid work, small sided games, to 15-a-side games.

Managers and coaches have a more prominent and active role in the modern game than they did in the traditional game. The modern game emphasises winning while the traditional game placed the glory of taking part on the same level as winning.

The financial cost of preparing teams for the modern game far outweighs the outlay of old and the media, especially TV have greater input into how our games operate than ever before.

The game must move forward using both the best of the traditional and the modern while fixing the ills of the modern game.
My own priorities for the future include

  1. 1. A complete overhaul of our skills. All coaches, players, manager, supporters should use the same terms for each global part of each skill so that they can be learned effectively by all.
  2. 2. All coaches and managers should be appropriately qualified and have served an extensive apprenticeship across a range of teams of different ages and abilities before taking any high profile post. Today’s modern is tomorrow’s traditional and so our future game needs planned so that the game you see today is the new game you’ll be tomorrow.

Tell us your views either through email: comment@gaeliclife.com or via twitter with the hashtag #GLComment


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW