Sunburnt and left roasting old chestnuts

During this period in 1991, one of the most iconic occurrences in the history of the GAA – the four game saga between Meath and Dublin – held the nation enthralled. Think back to the seminal moments in the entire events. Now fast forward to the state Gaelic football currently finds itself in…

Ask yourself, would Martin O’Connell – on or perhaps partially over his own end line – have be able to find himself the space to ensure extrication and thus begin the move which led to Meath’s salvation? Or would David Beggy be afforded the time or space to appear bewildered to have received a wild Colm O’Rourke free (needlessly conceded by Dublin sub Ray Holland) to keep the movement going? And, most pivotally, would Kevin Foley be allowed to proceed unhindered towards the Dublin goal to get on the end thereof?

Gut feeling is that in all cases the answer would be negative. Football now gives the impression of being stagnant. A game dominated by the restriction of skill and stifling of expression. Congestion, fear and – perhaps to a worryingly large degree – petulance have become the modus operandi of choice to ensure success.

Future All Star Ian Byrne with  Meath forward Andy Tormey

Of course, there are exceptions. Dublin have won two All Ireland titles in recent years by playing what could easily be termed old style football that was pleasing to the eye and cleansing to the soul. Their usurpation by Donegal last year had more to do with Jim McGuinness’s side being able to expose the minimal flaws that do permeate their makeup rather than any deviation from their tactics of choice.

Lest we forget, either, that the great bastions of the game that are Kerry harvested autumnal gold last year not thanks to any flamboyant statement of football aristocracy, the confirmation of their supremacy owing itself to outdoing Donegal at their own expertly honed, often contentious, battle plan.

Essentially, I feel there are two issues maybe negating the attractiveness of Gaelic football presently. Namely, the way the game is played by the principal flag bearers and the inability of the remainder of the flock to conform. Yes, there’s a glaring contradiction in there but stay with me here.

Recently whilst in situ as Meath defeated Wicklow, one was left sunburnt and roasting old chestnuts concerning what ails the game at the minute. Think about it – the final score was 2-19 to 3-12, do any of the sides at the pinnacle of the game concede such totals? Before departing base camp on match day, the opening exchanges in the Donegal-Armagh encounter were taken in.

By the time the wheelchair was secured into the van for departure, Paddy McBrearty et al had catapulted themselves into such a position that the inevitability was that the contest was over. They ended up conceding eight points over the course of the 70 minutes. Nobody will win anything scoring that little. Equally, there’s just as little chance of any team ending up with silverware after coughing up the likes of the totals the participants in Pairc Tailteann plundered off one another.

Cue a reheating of long held chestnuts. It was opined here recently that the ‘doing it for the love of it’ stance has to now be a hard sell when there can only be love in it for so few as tangible reward is realistically out of the reach of so many. Yet, for whatever reason, the lure of representing one’s people attracts so many.

As evidenced by Dunboyne’s goalkeeper of brilliant skill and longevity, Johnny O’Connor, donning the county colours once again after all too long of a hiatus with the Meath juniors. The plight of Sean Barry’s side is also symptomatic of the divide – and there’s scarcely another way of describing it – currently engulfing football.

The All Ireland JFC has long been – shamefully in my view – the poor relation of GAA competitions. Playing at any level of inter county fare should be a huge deal, and is for players and those involved in preparing teams for same. Thus, there is something inherently wrong and plainly disrespectful about playing a provincial final – regardless of the grade – midweek.

It certainly won’t add to appeal. On the day of the Meath-Wicklow game my nephew Ian Byrne took part in the exhibition game at half time, representing Dunderry NS. Yet, prevailing ponderings thereafter centred on just how attractive playing county football or hurling will be to youngsters going forward.

Playing rules require alteration to increase exactly that. Now here come those chestnuts. Some years back, I produced a piece – aware at that point that football was engaging in a worrying slide. The nub of which were two proposals: the introduction of the ‘mark’ and a stipulation limiting the number of consecutive hand passes permitted.

It’s hardly rocket science, rewarding high fielding must encourage it, thereby reducing the emphasis on crowding and spoiling. The other idea might require the introduction of a second referee. So what? Remember, basketball – a five-a-side discipline – has three and video replays. Anything that makes football more watchable must be good.

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