Thursday 18 January 2018

Roche's Point: Rulemakers must go on a charm offensive

Derry manager Brian McIver
Derry manager Brian McIver

STRANGE as it sounded, coming from the man who had just set up his Derry side in search of a scoreless draw (only a slight exaggeration), but Brian McIver was almost pleading with the bigwigs to do something about it.

"Look, until the GAA authorities do something to change the rules or whatever … " he mused.

McIver, of course, is right. That doesn't mean he's right to embrace the new defensive zeitgeist - check out Derry's Division One standing - but we can't all keep blaming managers and their blight of tactics for "ruining the game".

The only meaningful response is to tweak the rules so that ultra-defensive football doesn't pay.

Which brings us to Jarlath Burns, new chairman of the GAA's playing rules committee.

On Saturday night, the former Armagh captain tweeted: "Derry v Dublin tonight at Croke Park. The death of Gaelic football."

Now, not everyone thinks a man in such authority should be so strident ... but HQ visitors/victims would surely sympathise.


If Dublin/Tyrone was a hard watch, you could at least grudgingly admire the method behind Tyrone's defensive madness; and it almost came off.

Dublin weren't gung-ho against Derry (they've learned that lesson!) but, contrary to McIver's suggestion, they were not joint-architects of this joyless negativity. They simply struggled to cope with it. Derry could claim a victory of sorts, being level beyond the hour - but it was a paint-drying spectacle and, worryingly, not a one-off.

A majority of Ulster counties are now set up to stifle first, then hit you on the counter … if someone blinks first. The trend is spreading: even Kerry, the arch-pragmatists, eschewed man-for-man in last year's All-Ireland final for fear of being drawn into Donegal's web.


Kerry were ultimately triumphant; as were Donegal in 2012. Successful counties are aped by less successful counties (and clubs), who pack their defences but don't have the playmakers or finishers to maximise counter-attacking opportunities that arise. And that's where the real problem starts.

Saturday's double-header attracted 19,224 customers. The Spring Series has lost some of its lustre, but any more borefests and you could be dipping below 10,000. What's to stop similar summer trends if the entertainment quotient keeps dropping?

Jarlath Burns is in a position to influence the fightback, via rule change proposals that reward the risk-takers. It's debatable whether limiting the number of handpasses would work, given this is actually one method that can breach 'the blanket' … but forcing teams to have four players inside the attacking '65' at all times might help.

PR guru/former Dub Mick O'Keeffe tweeted two solutions - that all points struck from beyond a new 40m line arc would count double, while all frees for cynical fouls be taken from the 20m line.

Maybe these could work. Or maybe some other ingenious tweak can recalibrate the balance.

Sports evolve, not always for the better; the guardians need to keep pace.

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