On the 17th of May Donegal will put their Ulster championship crown up for grabs when they entertain Tyrone in the preliminary round in Ballybofey. I use the word entertain in more of a broad sense because if you’re looking to be entertained I would advise you to stay away from McCumhaill park on that particular Sunday.
I am not actually sure when this whole debate started. Commentators over the last few years have been very critical on how the game is being played these days and how there is a lack of value for the customer coming through the turnstiles; how that the game of football has turned more in to a game of Rugby League and that the lack of kicking the ball has turned the game into more of an eyesore than that of being entertaining.
First of all from the view of an ex-player was there ever an onus on any player to entertain the public? Since when did Gaelic footballers or hurlers become entertainers? Since when did it become the job of amateur players to provide entertainment for the masses of people who love to come and watch our national games?
I must have missed something along the way or maybe my ex team mates forgot to fill me in but never did I ever hear a manager or coach say lads “make sure the public get value for their money”.
It never happened and I think most sound minded thinking people would agree with that assumption. The game wasn’t meant to be pretty. It was never meant to be something that people could stand back from and say it’s a beautiful game. No, like all sport it’s all about the result. No matter what level you play the game it’s all about winning; how never comes into it.
Over the years managers and coaches have used all sorts of different tactics. I know players who were persuaded to get their opposite number upset because that player had an uncontrollable temper and there would be a good chance he would react and get sent off.
I know managers who send their players out to slow the game down when they concede a free; they tell their players not to retreat the full 13 metres from free kick takers and surprise, surprise they do tell their players to influence the match officials in whatever way they can.
If a manager finds that within his squad he has stronger defence players he will take advantage of that when he sets out his game plan. Most county teams now work of maybe having two or three scoring forwards and the rest do the defending and tackling.
As I said a few weeks ago the game changes with every generation that comes along. New ideas from different and younger coaches have always changed the way the game is first of all played but also in the way teams prepare for games.
This is the way modern sport is and giving out and trying to influence change, just because you have a romantic idea on how the game might have been played much better in you day is rubbish. There is nothing wrong with the way the game is played but it is the way people - and I might add only a minority who are heard on this issue - perceive the way the game should be played.
People have said to me that these negative defensive tactics have become part and parcel of club games, both at adult and underage level, but what do they expect? County teams and their players are the cream of the crop. Everything they do both on and off the field is copied by managers and coaches for all age groups. There are many parents who say nothing to their child when they come home with a diet sheet or a fitness and weights programme because they believe that this is the way things are done now and while I personally have no problem with adult players getting such advice we have to be careful what we prescribe to our underage players, very careful.
But to be fair to most managers and coaches they are well up to date on such matters and I doubt if any one of them with take any extreme chances when it comes to the health of their players.
I remember doing an interview for Newstalk Radio before the All-Ireland final of 2012. I was asked did I like or agree with the way Jim McGuinness had introduced what the commentator perceived as negative defensive tactics. My answer was simple - you take the main strengths of your squad and you use them the best way in order to get the result you want. If that means taking 15 men behind the ball so be it; time only remembers winners.
I know of plenty of intercounty players who toiled for years, training, giving their time for nothing and not even getting the chance of playing in an All-Ireland final. Do you think they would have disagreed with perceived negative or defensive tactics if they had got that chance?
If there is a worrying trend creeping into Gaelic games at the moment it is players trying to get opponents sent of; players surrounding referees and demanding he book or black card the opposition; we have too much of that going on and it needs to be addressed because if that is allowed to fester it will certainly drag the games to a lower level.
So what can we expect when May 17th comes around? Well there will be plenty of men behind the ball on both sides; there might not be a great deal of open free-flowing football; there might not even be a lot of high fielding in the middle of the field and above all there might not be a whole lot of scoring so why do we go.
To win, what else.