Sunday 19 November 2017

Blanket defence: Be wary of rules redraft

Dublin/Derry a turn-off but tactical shifts will ultimately 'enrich' football - Moyna

Daniel Heavron, Derry, in action against Diarmuid Connolly, Dublin. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 6, Dublin v Derry. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Daniel Heavron, Derry, in action against Diarmuid Connolly, Dublin. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 6, Dublin v Derry. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

WHEN a football obsessive like Niall Moyna passes the ultimate judgement - via remote - on a televised Allianz League match, you know it must border on excruciating.

That's what happened when DCU's four-time winning Sigerson Cup manager was watching Dublin/Derry on the box last Saturday night.

Then again, Moyna didn't actually turn off … he merely switched Setanta channels to watch Down/Meath instead!

The bigger (non-televised) picture in all of this, though, is the game's future now that blanket defence is increasingly the inter-county norm.


"The death of Gaelic football," tweeted Jarlath Burns of Saturday night's snoozathon - a comment bound to attract banner headlines given the Armagh man's new position as chairman of the GAA's standing rules committee.

Yet Moyna warns that we should tread very warily before tinkering with the rules.

"Every generation defines how the game is played," he told The Herald. "Because who's game do we want to play, according to who? The 1950s, '60s, '70s, '80s? I mean, what's the ideal game?

"Obviously I don't particularly enjoy watching (it)," he stressed. "But if I was over a team and I was coming up to play Dublin and they hammered me in the league final last year … do I want them to hammer me again? It might be great for spectators that Dublin beat you by 20 points (but) you've got to be a little bit pragmatic.

"I think what's going to happen, when the dust settles on all of this, the game is going to be enriched. Because tactically, even in the last five years, a player's thought process has changed 180 degrees.

"A player from the 1990s would be lost today, tactically. It's a game of chess. And that's very positive.

"But the other side is it's very, very difficult to look at - playing the ball across the field and retaining possession.

"I don't know what the solution is going to be. It's going to have to be pretty radical, though. I don't think there's any simple solution, and I always get worried when people go around changing the rules to define a game to be played a certain way.

"Down played it a certain way. In fact, in the 1950s, Antrim played it a certain way - a very short handpassing game. Meath play a certain way. So I don't think we should be imposing a single style of play on Gaelic games. Let each team decide."

Moyna then highlighted a "very good point" made by fellow Monaghan man Dick Clerkin this week. "There isn't equality in the GAA," he said.

"Dublin have a pick of over a million. Monaghan have a pick of 50-something thousand. And Monaghan have to say 'If we go toe-to-toe against Dublin, they'll probably beat us by 15 to 20 points most days'. As a manager you'd be ludicrous to do that."


In February, the professor led DCU to its fourth Sigerson success in a decade. He has observed the emergence of this new, tactically-enlightened generation, on whom he's loath to advocate the imposition of restrictive rules.

"People are saying restrict the number of handpasses - sure if that's the case, within a month they'll be saying 'Okay, give them the four handpasses and then close them'.

"If it's a kickout over the 45-metre line, what they'll do is bunch and put ten men around the ball," he cautioned.

"As soon as they make the decision, coaches are going to catch up with it.

"So you have to be very, very careful ... we have to come up with a solution that is still going to give coaches and players the freedom to express themselves, that they're not pigeon-holed too much either."

Highlighting how football has undergone several metamorphoses since Kerry's handpassing style made it "like a game of basketball" in the 1970s, Moyna expanded: "We're just in that funk at the moment where there is such tactical nous coming into the game.

"And for the first time, teams in Division Three and Division Four are saying 'We're coming up against one of these big teams in the championship, well maybe there is a way to play against them, rather than getting hockeyed by 20 points'.

"I mean, that doesn't serve anyone either. And for me that's the biggest issue with the GAA, that you do all of this training at the beginning of the year when only four to five teams - on a yearly basis - have any chance of winning the All-Ireland," concluded Moyna.

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