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Deciding fate of an All-Ireland decider from penalty spot puts huge pressure on amateur players

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FIGURE OF FUN: Gareth Southgate wears a paper bag

FIGURE OF FUN: Gareth Southgate wears a paper bag

FIGURE OF FUN: Gareth Southgate wears a paper bag

Why are professional soccer players paid so much? Perhaps it's because the comfort of such wealth reduces the need to tap into the advertisement market.

It may not be as bad as Gary Lineker and Roy Keane's St Patrick's Day lark for Walkers crisps but the Pizza Hut promotion where Stuart Pearce, Chris Waddle and Gareth Southgate made corny jokes about 'misses' rated high on the 'cringometer' as a play on England's abysmal record when it came to penalty shoot-outs at major tournaments.

Pearce and Waddle were fall guys in 1990 when England exited the World Cup to Germany at the semi-final stage, Southgate failed to convert from the spot in the Euro 1996 semi-final, once more against shoot-out masters Germany.

In the advert, Southgate wore a paper bag over his head to conceal his identity, a clear inference to the stigma attached to missing a kick in a sudden-death moment and puttuing your country out of a major tournament. In the same shoot-out, Pearce had converted one of the previous five kicks, redemption for six years earlier.

'C'mon Gareth, it only took six years for me to get over it. Have some pan pizza," a consoling Pearce declared.

On the way out, the pizza has clearly revived Southgate's spirits but he walks into what appears to be a column, leaving his bemused defensive colleague to declare: 'This time he's hit the post.'

It's good that they could see the funny side and even make some money out of it. As professionals, putting those misses behind them is that bit easier, given that their environments can shelter them from so much of the outside world. But miss a penalty in a shoot-out and you are likely to be remembered forever, whatever your status is.

The memory of that Pizza Hut ad came back last Friday as the GAA unveiled the shape of the inter-county calendar that they hope to roll out in the latter half of the year if the public health conditions remain favourable.

In declaring 'winner on the day' for all matches, including finals, the stakes were being raised quite significantly for any player who might find himself in that situation.

Imagine it, six days before Christmas, bending down to place a ball on the spot, and straightening to see Stephen Cluxton or David Clarke in front of you, knowing that a slip finishes it for everyone.

Many players thrive under that pressure and the prospect of such excitement, with inevitable comparisons to big soccer nights, was welcomed in many quarters. You can point to frees that have won All-Irelands and frees that haven't drawn them, but there will always be pressure frees in the games. Those that don't seize that opportunity won't be alone, there'll be a decent-sized fellowship to fall back on for that.

Likewise there is case history for goalkeeping mistakes, red cards and all the other specific elements that can be associated with the loss of a final.

But an All-Ireland final being decided by a penalty shoot-out would be unique in that it will almost certainly not be written into rule for any future championships to displace the current replay/extra-time model.

So if one is required, whoever is standing over the faultline when it comes, and it always comes, will be remembered forever.

The distinction between amateur and professional is regularly made in the GAA, even last Friday to outline why Friday night action would not be an option. But the imposition of  penalty shoot-out, if required, and its consequences has brought no such divergence in this case.

The prospects are still quite remote, it must be said. But bearing in mind that there have been five All-Ireland finals between hurling and football in the last decade (2012, 2013, 2014 hurling and 2016 and 2019 football) you could make the case that, on recent evidence, there is a one in four chance that it will happen again in one or other decider next December.

Of course, two 10-minute periods of extra-time will follow any inconclusive 70-plus minutes but with tiring limbs and potentially more adverse weather conditions, the scope for distance between two deadlocked teams narrows further. Which is why over the coming months, teams will pay much more attention to the art and repetition of penalty-taking.

The idea of getting championships 'done and dusted' in such a tight timeframe and in the same calendar year is an appealing one, supported by most in the knowledge that not everyone can't have what they want.  

And that has understandably meant doing things that wouldn't normally be done, especially in football, like back-to-back provincial championship games for most teams. If Monaghan or Cavan, for instance, are to reach an Ulster final, it will require them to play on six successive weekends when their two remaining league games are incorporated.

For sure, an open knock-out football draw would have been novel and taken a week less to play off. Even then though, the schedule would have been tight.

But is the sacrifice of penalties, or more specifically, the burden of loss on the shoulders of one or two who may end up as fall guys worth preventing a further replay into a new year after 90-plus deadlocked minutes?​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ In the context of deciding a final being contested by amateurs so uniquely it doesn't seem so.​​​​​​​