Earlier this week, I found myself sitting in a coffee shop beside Meath Street, in the heart of the Liberties. I ordered a tea and to my surprise my international waiter handed me a tea menu with 15 different variations to choose from!
I was a little perplexed that my simple request for a cup of tea seemed to confuse the waiter. As I awaited his return, I couldn’t help but notice the contrasting images outside my window. An electric car was plugged in and silently charging while a local street trader was bellowing loudly with his latest offers of cheap washing powder and toilet roll.
The old and the new. And with the pace of change gathering speed in so many aspects of society, one wonders if the GAA, and football in particular, will be a very different game in another decade of so.
In my childhood, football was a simple game. We tried to catch the ball at its highest point. We tried to pass the ball to our forwards as quickly as possible. We played one-twos to get out of a tight corner or to bamboozle the big defenders. We enjoyed curling the ball over the black-spot. We revelled at any player who could solo with both feet without breaking stride. We cheered when a friend scored a goal.
Having no nets or umpires didn’t matter an iota. It was just a simple game with all the skills on full view to be enjoyed by everyone - players and spectators.
Have we lost our vision that football can be a simple and beautiful game still? Do we need constant rule changes? Are we happy to allow innovative technological advances to improve our sport? Are we really an all-inclusive association who treats everyone with equal respect?
Can we really decommission the (Landlord/Tenant) Croke Park/club sub-plots? How can we all ensure, that while we move through the next few decades, we will still have a game cherished by the supporters, enjoyed by the players and attractive to the youth.
There are no simple answers but here are my suggestions for a 2030 blueprint.
The GAA to include everyone, with male and female to all come under the one association.
Each code to be allowed to express their views and converse in a “common sense” approach to their games.
The GAA will have an agreed calendar.
Players allowed to freely choose to play club, school, college or inter-county.
A six-month inter-county season from February to July.
An all-inclusive club season running between August to November with December a free month.
Club league competitions without inter-county players to be the norm from February to July.
All pitches where possible will have a workable digital clock where the hooter will replace the confusing ‘added time; by the referees. (These clocks will naturally be powered by solar/ice/rain panels)
Every club will bid to have one synthetic surface and floodlights for all their members to avail of.
GAA facilities to be used by their clubs for other community activities and sports without waiting for permission from Croke Park.
Referees, at inter-county level, will wear a microphone and similar to American Football will convey their decisions to the crowd.
Goalkeepers to be allowed to restart the game from either their hand or the ground . All kicks could be taken between the endline and the 20m line and not just in front of the goal. Goalkeepers can solo right up to the 20m line before delivering a kick-pass.
Goalkeepers have 20 seconds to restart once they have the ball in their hands. It will allow both the purists and the modern supporters to see the benefits of both options.
The tackle will not have changed. A tackle - when coached properly and executed correctly - is a wonderful skill and gives defenders and supporters as much enjoyment as when a forward sticks a goal. We need to continue to coach the kids the correct techniques and injuries will hopefully decrease.
Qualified nutritionists and strength and conditioning coaches will continue to give the appropriate education and advice to all teenagers on how and what weights to lift. This will be backed up in secondary schools with a revised PE syllabus where the focus will remain on a positive fitness program for life and not just for sportspeople.
A converted penalty to be rewarded with five points while a scored rebound from a penalty would be worth three points.
Inter-county - Up to ten substitutions to be allowed in each game. It allows for greater participation and there is a purpose to being on a 26 person panel. Sin-bin and red card rules to be continued as normal.
Abusive language to officials and other players to be an automatic red card.Diving or feigning injury to be deemed a sin-bin offensive with a TMO to review footage of incidents.
Six water-carriers to be positioned on sidelines but not permitted to enter the pitch.
My waiter returned. “Have you decided which tea you would like, sir?”.
“Yes, I’ll have a cup of tea. Just a simple cup of tea”, I replied.
The same way I like my football.