Shootout pressure should not be heaped on amateur players

I was in the Gaelic Grounds yesterday at 3.10pm. I was still there after 7pm. On another day, I’d have watched three matches in that time but yesterday’s contest was no ordinary game.

Shootout pressure should not be heaped on amateur players

It was an extraordinary afternoon which stretched into a seemingly eternal evening.

I was glad of all the winter training gear I’ve accumulated from different teams over the years because the air temperatures were dropping all evening but this was a contest to warm anyone’s heart.

And yet, I was still left a little cold by how the match was decided.

As a Clare man, that has nothing to do with the outcome.

I’m just not gone on shootouts. There were a couple of sound Limerick lads behind me in the uncovered stand and I turned to them at the start of the second half of the second period of extra time and said that I hoped one team would win it in that period, and that the match wouldn’t go to a shootout.

It is guaranteed drama but I just don’t think it’s in the spirit and ethos of the GAA.

It definitely feels different. You can sense the nervous energy and novel anticipation, almost like a penalty shootout in a big Champions League knockout tie. But when one of those players misses, they can retreat behind their gated mansions, and pick up the cheque for a hundred grand or more at the end of the week.

In time, nobody will probably remember that Niall Deasy missed a free in a league quarter-final (and has to face work in Limerick this morning), but I still think heaping that kind of pressure on amateur players is not fair.

It’s all well and good to imagine the spellbinding drama and dripping tension if a Munster final comes down to a shootout but do we really need to subject that kind of strain on the poor old devil who eventually cracks under the heat and doesn’t convert his chance?

This game had everything but I just don’t think it needed the method of how it was eventually decided.

I know why the GAA have made their decision. I understand how they are trying to free up more time for club games but I’m not sure if they are getting this whole new approach right.

They’ve already made a mess of the fixtures scheduling this spring. They are continuing to increase the demands on players, and a shootout is another form of that increasing strain.

You could argue that a replay, and another day out, is even more strain but I don’t think players think like that when they have given so much on the battlefield, like both teams did yesterday.

This was epic stuff, in every sense. It’s hard to believe that Peter Duggan could score 0-21 (including the two frees in the shootut) and still end up on the losing team. On another afternoon, Tony Kelly’s 0-6 from midfield would have been enough to win the day but Limerick just kept coming and coming and refused to give this up.

Gillane’s 2-11 was massive but in the end, Limerick’s four goals were decisive. It was a tribute to Clare that they were able to stay alive for as long as they did when conceding four and not raising any green flag themselves.

Clare looked the better team for long periods, especially in the opening 20 minutes, but there was still a sense that Limerick looked to have blown it in the first period of extra time when their wide count soared through the roof.

The game ebbed and flowed like that all afternoon.

There were some epic contributions all over the field; Davy McInerney seemed to be out of the match for stages but then he thundered into it; Gearoid Hegarty and David Fitzgerald had a massive tussle; Cian Lynch had some huge moments; so had Colin Ryan; it took Limerick a long time to switch Diarmuid Byrnes over on Duggan but that was another fascinating battle when the two matched up.

Byrnes buried his late free with real conviction but, after watching Sean Moran nail his late chance with Cuala too on Saturday, you’d wonder is it time to re-evaluate some of the setups for those frees?

Are there too many players on the line? It nearly seems as easy to stop a one-on-one now than a close in free with eight or nine bodies lined up.

Byrnes’ late strike prolonged the entertainment and it was some value for a Bank Holiday Monday. Sunday may have been a disappointing day for Tg4 with all the cancellations but they certainly made up for it yesterday.

I’d say their ratings went through the roof as the match went on, and the excitement continued to increase.

I’m sure social media was going into meltdown with how this game continued to twist and turn. I didn’t look. I hadn’t time. I was writing copious amounts of notes to try and make sense of the match but all those notes were nearly pointless when it came down to the shootout.

On the way home, I was thinking about all the great scores and brilliant plays over the 100 minutes but they still invariably almost melt into oblivion when the match hinges on a freetaking contest.

The tension that brings, and the impact it has on the public’s collective memory, effectively becomes the match. And in a game of such brilliant quality, that can’t be right.

This kind of drama is new and exciting for many GAA supporters. I’m still not convinced it’s the right way to go but I won’t deny the drama that it brings.

On the way into the game yesterday afternoon, I was listening to Midlands Radio and the final few moments of the Offaly-Kilkenny quarter-final.

Offaly were level with time almost up and the commentators were almost apoplectic with anticipation. I thought that would be the limit of the hyper excitement for the afternoon.

But I was wrong. You couldn’t have made this up because there was drama and tension at every turn.

The floodlights went on at 6.24pm. The clocks haven’t gone forward yet but this felt like an eternal summer’s evening.

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