PRESIDENT Trump made a speech at the United Nations General Assembly recently where he said “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of the country.” Which caused the delegates to burst into spontaneous laughter. The GAA hierarchy have been telling annual Congress for the last decade that things have never been better. Only, at Congress, they don’t laugh. They clap.
This week, the Club Players Association removed themselves from the GAA’s Fixtures Farce Force prior to the publication of their report on the basis that they have concluded that it is a whitewash, designed to keep things more or less as they are.
All of the CPA’s carefully considered proposals to restore a fair balance between club and county for players, and for the communities that support them through thick and thin, were completely rejected. No wonder the CPA’s Michael Briody (CEO of one of Ireland’s biggest companies) was outraged at their press conference this week.
Sitting beside him was Joan Kehoe, head of JP Morgan’s Asia division. As you might expect from such high calibre GAA people, they had assumed the Fixtures Farce Force report would be compiled in good faith. Instead, they discovered it was a stitch-up job, leading them to announce they could not “in good conscience” continue to be part of the process. The CPA’s statement had this to say on the matter:
“..the taskforce is a trojan horse designed to give cover to the GAA authorities to ratify the status quo, while having the appearance of consultation and thoughtful deliberation.”
Basically, they had the piss taken out of them. It is this culture of laziness, old school dishonesty and cute hoorism that is slowly killing the GAA.
Look, for example at the way the Rules Committees similarly squandered the opportunity to revive the excitement, passion and core skills of Gaelic football.
Everyone knows that the starting point for any serious attempt to revive the game is to accurately identify the problem. That core problem is zonal or blanket defending, where players drop off their men and take up a space inside the scoring zone.
Look at the Ulster Club semi-finals from the weekend. Four teams who set up with blanket defences and attempted to grind each other down over the course of 60 agonising minutes. First up, Clontibret v Glenties. Glenties (the home of the blanket defence) were hot off the back of a hard won Donegal championship victory.
They played Gaoth Dobhair three times to win it, in three games that were systematic and unwatchable. After 60 minutes in each game the scoreline was 0-8 to 08 (No ET), 1-6 to 0-9, and finally 0-8 to 0-7. On Saturday evening they ground it out again against Clontibret, who are not up to speed on the full blanket defensive game plan.
On Sunday, it was Derrygonnelly v Kilcoo, another picture book blanket defensive game. By half-time the score was 0-4 to 0-2 for Kilcoo. I taped the second half, then played it forward at high speed as an experiment. Funny thing was it looked like the same thing repeating over and over again. Hand-passing. Holding possession. Making late runs through the blanket in numbers. Winning frees. Not fouling. Cynical holding and taking one for the team.
The final will be precisely the same. I was talking to a well-known coach this week, who is a genuine football lover. He said to me the last team he went to they started with a training match and the inside forwards were flying. He said they were the most naive team he had ever seen. After 15 minutes he called them over and said “Lads, get a sweeper in there now. You’ll not be playing that sort of football come championship.” As he said to me himself, “if we play like that we will be murdered.” Last year’s Ulster Club semi-final provided an excellent example of this. Crossmaglen went man-to-man. The Gaoth Dobhair midfielder Dara O’Baoill soloed through the wide open heart of the defence (vacated by his team mates) for three goals.
Because of the complete laziness, lack of competence and leadership, and associated fear of rocking the boat, nothing at all has been done to deal with this problem, leading inevitably to the mind-numbingly dull televised Ulster Club semi-finals over the weekend.
I have strongly advocated various new rules. Primarily, the scoring zone becomes an exclusion zone, where a defending player can only man-mark and no one can take up a space there. I have trialled this at minor training and it looks great. So, there would be a semi-circle (marked in yellow) from the end line, 10 metres in from each sideline, running to 35 metres at its tip.
Only man-marking would be permitted in this zone. This means that the attacking team dictate who goes in there. So, if their full-forward stations himself on the edge of the square, a la Michael Murphy or Kieran Donaghy, then the full-back can be there with him. If the attacking team decides to play two forwards in there on either side of the square or wherever, then there will be two defenders in there. For the others, they can only be in there if their man goes in there.
This has a number of consequences: It means that an early ball can be kicked in. It means that a coach will be working on attacking strategies to take advantage of the man-marking rule. Crucially, it means that there is no point in a blanket defence since a) they cannot protect the scoring zone and b) an opponent will not be able to mark space and must man mark since an attacking player can attack into the exclusion zone at any time.
Say for example the right half-forward kicks a diagonal ball into the exclusion zone to the full-forward. The left half-forward or midfielder times his run and sprints into the zone to get off the full-forward’s shoulder and take the pass. If he is not being man-marked, he will be through on goal.
It is easy to police at county level. We already have four inter-county refs at county games, two doing the sideline and one assessing the ref. One ref could be used in each half of the pitch to police the scoring zone and ensure no zonal defending. Like say Aussie Rules. The other ref could police the match as usual. The proposal was discounted.
The second linked proposal was that the kick-out must go beyond the 45 and that for the kick-out, the teams must form into their starting positions (just like we always used to). This would force teams to start with a full complement of forwards, make it very hard to set up a blanket defence, prevent short kick-outs designed to retain possession, and encourage contests for possession. Discounted.
No pass back to the keeper. This would have encouraged the attacking team to push up on the full-backs without them being able to release all the pressure by passing back to the goalie. Discounted.
No back pass across the halfway line. This would enforce forward play and make it very difficult to see out games by holding possession for three or four minutes by hand-passing backwards and sideways. Discounted. A proper sanction for deliberate pull down depriving a clear goal scoring opportunity (red card plus penalty) and deliberate pull down depriving clear point scoring opportunity (21 metre free in front of the posts). Discounted.
Instead, the GAA packed the Rules Committees with their own sort. They pretended to listen to ideas but instead came up with proposals that do not deal with a single one of the problems that are ruining the game as a spectacle and for the players. Like the Fixtures Task Force, it was merely designed to create the impression that something was being done, while doing nothing at all.
This week, the CPA said of the Fixtures Farce Force upcoming whitewash, “We are bitterly disappointed and frustrated that this is an opportunity missed… and that the proposals in the report do not address the concerns of players and teams.” Which could be said of every single report that comes from GAA committees. Mind you, they do a lovely steak dinner afterwards.