MANUS BOYLE COLUMN: Time for rule changes to protect our football game

Waiting for Congress to make the changes required is just too conservative in thinking

MANUS BOYLE COLUMN: Time for rule changes to protect our football game

Since Stephen Cluxton lifted the Sam Maguire a few weeks ago and the Dublin team were proclaimed to be the best ever, the spotlight has turned to where exactly Gaelic football is at.

During 2018 the hurling championship has taken centre stage; football has become the poor relation, and many would suggest rightly so. The hurling championship delivered everything you would want in a championship, exciting end-to-end games, great skills and exceptional scoring and the physicality that has seemed to be taken out of the football game. The match officials let the hurlers fight for every ball, they didn’t blow to stop games because someone lay on the ground and weren’t as keen to show cards for innocent fouls.

Most of the hurling championship games were in front of sell-out crowds; the crowds reacted to the fast movement and scores from great distances. Compare that to football where some teams do not compete for the opposition kick-outs; there is usually a slow build up with lateral passes and teams drop back, set up a zonal defence and entice those with the ball to break them down. Many sides have no creative game plan to create more scores.

Only Dublin seem to have it in their arsenal to press at all times, thus putting the opposition under pressure high up the field; boring stuff for many who want the same excitement as hurling offers.

The match officials in football are often criticised for their impact on games. However, as more and more technical rules have been introduced to football the game has become impossible to referee. Plus the fact that players are stronger, fitter and faster than before, it leaves the match officials with a next to near impossible job at times.

Then one of the biggest criticisms after Dublin won their fourth All-Ireland in-a-row is the disparity between the money available to Dublin and that available to the rest of the country. Coupled with Dublin being able to play nearly all their games in Croke Park leaves them with a distinct unfair advantage over every other side in the country.

Dublin have used the funds available to them to set up a coaching structure that many professional soccer teams in England would die for. They have put professional structures in place in terms of nutrition, player welfare, strength and conditioning, defensive and offensive strategies, injury prevention, injury rehab and many more. They have kept many of their past players involved so unlike other counties, who struggle to do this, they don’t lose that invaluable wealth of experience.

Of course the fact that they have the funds to carry out everything that is needed to be as successful as they are, leaves the job a bit easier, but what can be done about the disparities about wealth throughout the GAA community. I don’t see Croke Park getting involved in spreading the money out just to be seen to make things fairer. Anyway ten or more years ago, Dublin county board decided to put a long term plan in place and are now reaping the rewards for those decisions.

Is it not the fault of other county boards for not following a similar plan? Are other county boards too inclined to look for the quick fix? Or is it simply the fact that some counties have not got the capacity to put in place everything that other counties might have because they just don’t have the money?

Can the GAA as an organisation be expected to do anything about that? Should they restrict the funding to Dublin just because they are successful? Then there is the chat again that Dublin would be separated in two or even four different teams. What happens if another team comes along in the next five years and have the same success; do we split them up as well?

Again I think many people are discussing things that are not feasible. All the Dublin management would have to do is put their best 30 players at the one address, problem solved. Maybe it would be better to approach the change in the game to the game itself.

I have always been of the opinion that in the last number of years there are too many players on the field. 13-a-side would be ideal. Less players on the field would make loads of space for players to excel. Make goals worth four or even five points; anything scored outside the 45 to represent three points. The changes we have made in the last few years have all had a negative tone bar the mark from the kick out. The black card has been a disaster but nobody wants to admit it. Define the tackle for once and let coaches coach their players in the art of tackling. The shoulder charge was for many decades ago; players are to quick to turn into the shoulder now and take the free. Also if there was a decent shoulder hit during a game it would be more than likely blown as a foul. Use the stop clock from the ladies game. It cuts out any blame on the referee for blowing it up to early or allowing a team to equalise.

There are so many opportunities to make the game better but we are stuck in a time warp with many of our rules and regulations.

I have said it many times in the past, if we do not change things for the better in Gaelic football nobody will want to go and watch it. Then the interest will go out of playing. Then where are we at?

Everything changes, games evolve, players and managers find new ways of doing things, every sport tinkers with the way they do things. Rugby are evolving their rules all the time and everyone adapts; surely we are capable of that.

This year’s attendance figures for football are well down. Take a look at what turned up in Croke Park for both semi-finals. Something needs to be done and waiting on Congress every year to make changes may be too slow and too conservative.

Just as the hurling people protect and enhance their game for the good of all that play it, football people who love to play, watch or coach this great game need to get their act together.