JOHN FOGARTY: Dub-proofing football is risky business for GAA

The term ‘Tiger-proof’ entered golf’s lexicon after the aforementioned Eldrick Woods claimed the US Masters by 12 shots.

The sight of Woods hitting a wedge into the par-five 15th had Augusta National officials spluttering their ice tea all over themselves.

And so over the years the course changed. From 6,925 yards 21 years ago, it played 7,435 yards last April. These days, the grain of the fairways is cut towards the tee so as to curb roll. Bailout areas and vantage points have been filled with trees and mounds. More rough has been added.

As technology tracked Woods before moving alongside him and 300-yard-plus drives became the norm, many PGA Tour tournament courses followed suit. For the 2004 US Open, Shinnecock Hills was 6,996 yards; for this year’s second Major of the year it measured 7,445.

Woods never made too much of a fuss about how tournament organisers moved to protect their courses from him largely because lesser players also had to negotiate the tighter fairways and extended holes.

But as the GAA consider moves towards curbing some of Dublin’s strengths, it’s doubtful they won’t kick up about it.

When the kickout rule change was introduced last year so that all restarts had to clear the 20m line on top of being 13m in length, Dublin vice-chairman Mick Seavers spoke against the proposal in Special Congress.

He claimed: “We are punishing the team that wants to innovate and rewarding the teams who want to play negatively. This rewards the people that can’t play ball properly.

Now, there is a bigger change afoot. In July, we brought you news of the playing rules committee’s plans to introduce experimental rules in Gaelic football and hurling to be put into play during the 2019 pre-season competitions and Allianz Leagues. Led by Derryman David Hassan and featuring Cork secretary Frank Murphy, the group are considering the idea of all kickouts having to clear the 45m line.

Combined with the mark, such a recommendation would well and truly safeguard the art of high fielding but it would be difficult not to believe it was the next attempt to thwart Stephen Cluxton.

Consider on Sunday that Dublin didn’t lose one kickout after his early difficulties when he was aiming for targets across his half-back line. By going short most, if not every time thereafter, Dublin were able to win 29 of 31 kickouts (94%). Niall Morgan, who was more varied with his length of kicking, hit his men 18 out of 24 times (75%).

To a lesser extent, a determination to reduce the number of hand-passes might also be regarded as a move to upset Dublin given they have mastered the skill particularly in playing keep-ball at the end of games.

Six points up, the champions were at it as early as the 51st minute on Sunday but then admittedly some of it was riveting.

In all, they strung together 29 passes between Cluxton’s short kickout as the clock read 50:21 minutes and Brian Fenton’s kick sailing over the bar at 52:09. Breaking those passes down, including the kickout there were eight kicks, which would run consistent with the four hand-passes to one kick-pass statistic that was cited by the Football Review Committee in 2012.

Pass master Ciarán Kilkenny hand-passed three times in that spell including the lay-off for Fenton. Ten passes went backwards including 15m-plus efforts from Kilkenny and Con O’Callaghan, the latter deep into his own half for Jonny Cooper to restart the move.

Tyrone were as frustrated as Dublin themselves were in additional-time in the 2007 All-Ireland semi-final when Kerry had strung together 15 passes before Declan O’Sullivan’s insurance point. Watching from the sideline alongside his opposite number Pat O’Shea, Paul Caffrey could only smile — “We can’t get the ball off ye,” he told O’Shea.

Rest assured, Dublin’s means of effectively going to the corner flag won’t be as praised because the war against extended possession has well and truly begun.

At the start of this year, Pat Spillane argued the 20m kickout rule was as much an attempt to hinder Dublin as the end of the hand-pass goal was against his four-in-a-row winning Kerry team.

Remember, back in the early 1980s the GAA outlawed handpassed goals and made other changes to the rules in an effort to put the brakes on Kerry’s dominance of the All-Ireland championship. The change didn’t stop Kerry from winning more All-Ireland titles and I don’t see how the new rule will reduce Cluxton’s influence. The simple fact is that great teams and great players can adapt.

Heaven knows Gaelic football is need of repair but in attempting to improve the game, the GAA must be careful their actions are not to be interpreted as an attempt to knock Dublin off their perch. Moving the goalposts would be a cheap short-cut to levelling a playing field the GAA themselves have helped to make lopsided by means of financing.

From their ready-made dinners that are delivered to their doors two times a week to the match-day expenses afforded to their partners, Dublin players have perks other counties can only dream of. But as Cluxton alluded to in his acceptance speech, they are the best because they work the best.

Another golf phrase Woods inspired was “The Tiger Line”, given to the ambitious direction he would strike with pinpoint accuracy from the tee. For aiming so high but most importantly being able to hit those heights, Dublin shouldn’t be punished.

Make hurling the headline act

The curtain fell on another inter-county year with a drab enough football final and perhaps it is hurling’s turn to see out the season.

Although it didn’t come to fruition, when former GAA director general Páraic Duffy put forward the new Championship structures and schedules he said there was the possibility that hurling could provide the finale of deciders.

Dub-proofing football is risky business for GAA 

He said in January 2017: “The motion of the timing of the All-Ireland finals that will go before Congress will ask that both All-Ireland senior finals be played on or before the last Sunday in August, on a date determined by Central Council. It does not specify a particular Sunday, nor the order in which the finals would be played.

There is absolutely no reason, therefore, why Central Council could not decide to play the hurling final after the football final if it was concerned that there would be too few major hurling games in July or August.

After genuine fears hurling could be dwarfed by football in terms of quantity of games, the question now is can football raise itself to the high-quality standards of the smaller ball code. If the GAA are looking for a surer bet to finish off the inter-county calendar in style and leave everyone wanting more going into the autumn and winter, hurling is the winner.

Otherwise, they can alternate but hurling should no longer be the regular support act.

Many losers in Mayo’s latest sad chapter

A damning silence was largely the order of the day in Mayo last week.

The players keep their counsel, choosing not to commit to any statement even though there was speculation some had gripes with Stephen Rochford.

Stephen Rochford
Stephen Rochford

Given their previous form, an announcement, something along the lines of thanking and praising Rochford before hoping the best decision is now taken for Mayo football, would have served them well.

Instead, apart from a couple of individuals, they kept schtum and it didn’t do anything to address whispers of more unrest.

The county board’s decision not to respond to Rochford’s claim that he did not have their complete backing was also embarrassing.

Rather than show conviction, they chose to constructively dismiss the Crossmolina man.

It might be a different county board to four years ago but the same failings keep cropping up.

After his statement, Rochford’s preference for silence was understandable only to later discuss his situation on RTÉ when being interviewed by Miriam O’Callaghan.

Rochford got a raw deal from the Mayo executive but when he looks back he might regret that interview as well as other oversights like not making a substitute until the 55th minute against Kildare on that sweltering evening in Newbridge, by which stage Kildare had made three. Using just four of his six subs quota also reflected poorly on him.

The common belief is Mayo remain the best-placed team to deny Dublin the five in a row but after weeks like last week, the manner in which they do their business is appalling.

PaperTalk GAA Podcast: Stand by for seven in a row but Dubs are still good for the game

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