Wednesday 19 September 2018

Ciaran Whelan: Supporters want the game they love

Diarmuid Connolly
Diarmuid Connolly

THERE was a time when every weekend Gaelic football was top of the agenda on the Sunday Game highlight programme. Football was always first up in the prime time slot from 9.30 onwards.

Hurling played second fiddle unless something extraordinary happened on any given day.

Oh how times have changed!

It is now a common feature that the footballing pundits are assigned 'the cheap seats' hoping to hold the audience late into a Sunday night on the basis of game that was either a low-scoring affair or a lopsided contest that was effectively over as a proper Championship duel by half-time.

It is with regret that I express this view but this is a reality and I would not be honest if I did not suspect that it will continue throughout the upcoming season.

Over the next few months, each weekend, I will optimistically look forward to our games and will be glad if I am proved wrong.

I have spoken with numerous former intercounty footballers in recent months and they all expressed an opinion of boredom relating to the modern intercounty structure and how the game has evolved.

I am not going to beat the Joe Brolly drum about having an obligation to the game and to the Gaels of Ireland by playing the game in the right spirit.

I understand and accept the reality that Gaelic football is a results business. Teams and managers alike are under severe scrutiny and pressure to deliver. It is a competitive game played to win and defensive tactics are tailored to be competitive.

It is with some jealousy that hurling on the other hand is on the rise.

Hurling now brings a guarantee of high scoring, high levels of skill and tight games for supporters and neutrals alike.

Meanwhile football remains hampered by clichés around the blanket defensive systems, cynical play, new championship structures and the use of black card.

Do not get me wrong, football is my passion; I will always take an optimistic outlook and will continue to look for the green shoots.

Dublin's approach to attacking football, the balance and flair of James O'Donoghue in full flight and the Mayo duel with Kerry were all high points for me in 2014.

From August onwards we might get mouth-watering clashes that will capture the public imagination. But is that enough? Two or three games a year?

I have in the past documented my views on the urgent need for radical reform and many respected commentators have also expressed their views in recent months.

It gets under my skin that this rant is becoming an annual crusade for change.

But change within the traditional fabric of the GAA inner circles is slow, very slow.

So when can we expect some radical change? Not anytime soon unfortunately.

Three weeks after this year's All-Ireland final, the draw will be made for next year's championship and we will get the usual public relation spins that the game is in a healthy state, crowds are up and football is in a better place than ever.

Last year, the outgoing president Liam O'Neill was asked for his highlight of the footballing year after the All-Ireland Final? What was his answer? "The introduction of the black card"! Does that not say a multitude about where modern day football is presently?

Jarlath Burns recently described the game between Derry and Dublin as the "death of football". It was quite a stark comment considering he is the new chairman of the Football Review Committee. His committee and their recommendations will only be one cog in the wheel of change. The passing of motions at Congress and the provincial council structures means the turkeys will not vote for Christmas and another report could gather dust on the shelves of Croke Park.

The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change. The supporters of Gaelic football want their game back.



It gets under my skin that this rant is becoming an annual crusade for change. But change within the traditional fabric of the GAA inner circles is slow,

very slow.

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