It can be attested to all too easily, having an occupied mind can be essential. An idle mind can cause problems. It’s the type of thing that usually leads to the phenomenon known as the ‘silly season’. Now, obviously, in sporting terms, it besieges different disciplines at various times.
For example, during the two and a bit months of the off-season in soccer, transfer speculation becomes frenetic. All the top players are linked with moves to different clubs – usually Barcelona or Real Madrid or, lately, Manchester City – but in many cases nobody goes anywhere.
In rugby, the same period is when the Brains Trust in charge of that code start fiddling with the playing rules – or ‘Laws’ as they like them to be known, in their own uppity way. Thing is, very few will notice any discernible difference in the game. Spectators hardly will, and how players react to same generally depends of referees’ interpretation thereof. Which can vary like the Irish weather.
This time of year, in contrast, plants rugby minds elsewhere. In poignant mood. For, scarcely believable as it may feel, a year has passed since Anthony Foley passed to the coach’s box above. Of course, some part of logic says life moves on. But in other ways, it can’t. Most fundamentally, naturally, for the Foley family. Yet, for the entire Munster and Irish rugby ‘family’ – and perhaps for devotees of the oval ball around the world – something changed that October day in 2016.
Everything now is poignantly driven. Yet, Munster’s game seems inhibited by periods of stultifying mediocrity, particularly in defence. As was ruthlessly exposed by Leinster. To a lesser extent, Cardiff Blues also. Maybe the latter encounter did most to signify where the red army currently reside.
Consider that, since ‘Axel’s’ passing, they have lost less than a handful of games. However, such is their defensive vulnerability, no great hopes could be pinned on them just yet. Somehow, they have, more often than not, found a way. Doing so with a quiet dignity to bolster the sense that at least some of the old magic remains.
In other ways, though, it’s not the same, never will be. In the aftermath of the recent announcement that Simon Zebo is to leave the province at the end of the season, I posted a tweet to the effect that even loyalty has a price. In one sense, maybe not the wisest way to put it.
What was meant, I suppose, was a pondering of why the IRFU aren’t doing more to hang onto our top players. Last year, Donnacha Ryan, now Simon Zebo, who’s next? And no, this is not suspicion of a witch-hunt against Munster. Players from other provinces have had offers too – and will continue too most likely. The worry is, where does that leave the future of the game here? If, as seems to be the case, the powers-that-be can’t compete with what’s coming from overseas, how can they keep enough talented players here to leave matters secure and competitive?
Mind you, worries about holding onto talent have encroached elsewhere also. You didn’t have to be a Kerry man or woman or child to share Tomas O’Se’s angst at tweets flying from the Australian Football League within minutes, yes minutes, of David Clifford’s masterful display – the latest one, that is – in the All Ireland Minor final.
Look, this corner does not, in any way, shape or form, begrudge Simon Zebo – or anybody else – whatever betterment comes his way. Rather, what grates is a deep sadness at some of the greatest talents in the country – regardless of the sport – being lured to foreign shores. Be in no doubt, if circumstances allowed, I would be farming in Australia or on the Iowa corn belt.
Whatever persuaded Clifford that nearby grass is greener, for now at least, it’s a commendable line for the young man to take. Again, let it be said, my use of the word ‘loyalty’ in relation to Zebo was erroneous. What is clear, though, is that, in terms of GAA, the source of enlightenment when it comes to Down Under wouldn’t take Einsteinian power to discern. Indeed, it would leave a man more than a little miffed, also, to observe certain people using their national media platform to constantly pontificate about the plight of clubs and their players, whilst, at the same time, extolling the virtues of flying the nest. Which of course fits nicely in terms of certain situations.
Anyway, enough of that. Every road eventually turns. It appears, though, the power brokers have finally twigged that something needed doing to make Gaelic football attractive again – not only to what a former Chairman of our club used refer to as the Paying People of Ireland – but also to the playing population.
To that end, there’s good and bad in what they’ve come up with. Good in terms of more time being allotted to club affairs. Also by way of affording counties some home games in the premier competition. Surely the next logical step is midweek or at the very least Friday night games.
More difficult to justify is the new dictum pertaining to kick outs. Frankly, it’s difficult to disagree with Paul Hearty’s summation of same. Short restarts are not the greatest malaise in the game. That dubious accolade assuredly goes to handpassing. Beware: old chestnut about to fall out of the fireplace…
Mention was afforded earlier to how ‘Silly Season’ in rugby usually meant tinkering with the playing rules. For GAA, the ‘pre season’ competitions and National Leagues constitute playthings for similar experimentation. To the credit of the rule makers, some of the dictats brought in over the years have greatly benefitted the game. Namely, the belated introduction of the ‘Mark’ and the decision to permit the taking of frees from the hand.
Yet nobody has grasped the nettle in even attempting to curtail (a cull would be too much to hope for, surely) the most invasive poison which currently pollutes the game – the handpass. At some point in the early to mid ‘90s, the GAA trialled a stipulation whereby after two consecutive sleights of hand, the ball had to be kicked. Transgression meant a free to the opposition.
Bad enough that the idea was defenestrated at all, worse still that, 24 years later, it’s still waiting for a chance, to maybe get a second glance! As is often the case with the implementation of change in the GAA, it’s a positive start, but the elephant is still on the sofa.
FOGRA: Please stay tuned for Act II, regarding the restructuring of the hurling championship.