Is football ungovernable at the highest level?

The All-Ireland football final, eh? Gripping and competitive and compelling and pulsating and … Stop.
Is football ungovernable at the highest level?

Spiteful and peevish, unedifying and niggly: nasty and brutish, and not even that short.

The focus on former Dublin players talking about Lee Keegan and Diarmuid Connolly last week served as a distraction from the harder question about Gaelic football: is it now ungovernable at the highest level?

Maurice Deegan did as much as humanly possible last Saturday evening but the speed, fitness and attitude of players make it impossible, in this viewer’s mind, for a single referee to keep a handle on everything going on in a game.

I separate attitude from the other attributes above because if one team comes with a particular outlook the other team mirrors that.

In journalese that attitude is often described as streetwise, or combative, or aggressive. Grizzled, on occasion. Sometimes hardened is used.

In plain English, though, dirty serves just as well.

What usually happens in any discussion along these lines is that at this point it goes down a side street towards blaming a particular county for instigating this dreadful state of affairs. Having seen Tyrone of the noughties and Meath of the 80s variously blamed, I note in the 40s another county was indicted for roughing opponents out of an All- Ireland final... but that’s another day’s work.

The general acceptance that Gaelic football is a matter of blocking runs, subtle tugs on jerseys, incessant verbal abuse and as many late hits as you can manage led to the embarrassing capital focus on Keegan last week.

Those gaseous incriminations were a fine exhibition of PR, but were beside the point at the end of the day. The acceptance of what a fine sport has become was the real issue.

The real damage is not to the likes of Maurice Deegan, who at least has umpires, linesmen and fourth officials. The trickle-down effect from what was visible on Saturday has an impact in obscure junior games and underage encounters all over the country, all of them infected by the off-the-ball clowning to be seen on the biggest days in the GAA’s calendar.

While calling for rule change is an inherent acceptance of one’s essential futility, surely the GAA should abandon the black card, with its interpretative ambiguity, and focus instead on barring physical contact off the ball?

Players running on the referee’s blind side should be guaranteed the freedom to move unhindered, facilitated by the linesman if necessary: facilitated by a second referee if absolutely necessary. Given the black card’s, er, successful elimination of cynicism it’s time to retire it as an idea anyway.

What’s the alternative? What you see every Sunday of the summer, if you’re happy with that.

Never enough room for improvement

The seasons roll on. The autumn internationals and World Cup qualifiers will soon be here, so hotels are needed by participants and press alike.

(Kudos to the pal who sent on a lengthy piece on why US sportswriters love the Marriott chain - spoiler: their rewards system. I’ll return to this).

Elsewhere, a Slate magazine piece I stumbled across last week went into some detail about NFL teams and the hotel space they require.

Or maybe just hotels. A typical team requires the following of its accommodation when they’re on the road: six to seven meeting rooms, at least 10,000 square feet of open space, and between 160 and 180 hotel rooms, even though most of the players share rooms.

Seriously. With so many meeting rooms it’s no wonder head coaches don’t last too long: there’re surely too many rooms for their underlings to plot in.

If this is sport, it’s far too dangerous

I encourage sport in all its forms, or most of its forms, but I must call a halt when my own personal safety is at issue.

Last Saturday I drove up to the Avoca shop in Killarney National Park, only to come unnervingly close to extinction more than once en route.

The cause was a race being run through the park in Killarney which involved cyclists descending the road down past Torc and other associated landmarks in the area. Many readers will know that road well, and in particular how narrow it is. It seemed a much tighter route with dozens of middle-aged men in unflattering cycling gear lumbering towards you. On the one hand you had cyclists meandering from side to side of a very narrow road; on the other hand you had lunatic drivers deciding to overtake said cyclists and coming towards oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road.

The organisers of this race were much in evidence at the car park near the Brehon Hotel, but on the route itself? There was someone in a high-vis jacket maybe halfway up the climb who was waving at the cyclists as they came past, and another person in a high-vis vest with a little flag at the car park outside Avoca, and that was it, safety-wise, on this dangerous section as far as I could see.

The race organisers aren’t answerable for the homicidal ignoramuses overtaking cyclists, obviously, but nought out of 10 from this observer for what seemed a life-threateningly laissez-faire attitude to others using the road. If the competition was in aid of charity I applaud the objective, but the execution? Not so much.

Can’t wait to get hold of Jacobs’ biography

There are a few books coming out soon I have my eye on, and I’m not just referring to Ken McGrath’s autobiography when I say that. News there’s a biography coming of the great Jane Jacobs has me drumming my fingers on the table in anticipation: Jacobs came to prominence facing down New York urban planners like Robert Moses in the 60s when they tried to flatten entire neighbourhoods in the name of progress - sound familiar? - and it’s no surprise one of her innovative theories on urban living provides the title for this book.

Eyes On The Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs by Robert Kanigel is one for Christmas.

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