There are few more interesting interviewees in Gaelic football than Michael Darragh Macauley and he was in top form again last week when conducting a round of promotional media chats.
His contribution to Newstalk’s Off The Ball was among the pick of them, his thoughts on how the GAA is letting itself down in terms of marking Gaelic games a highlight.
“You don’t need to like Gaelic football to enjoy a match but I think you do. If you don’t enjoy Gaelic football, you should still be able to come and enjoy the performance that is put on, the show that was put on.
“I went to a basketball game, a (Boston) Celtics game with my girlfriend and she couldn’t spell basketball — she’s no interest.
“And, like, we were up in the bleachers, they were crap seats, and she had the best time ever. She was able to go in and get hot dogs and nachos, music came on, they shut down the lights in the crowd, everybody came out with these big handshakes, steam came up as they ran out.
“Half-time came and they fired up T-shirts and she was enthralled by the experience. She couldn’t tell you if you paid her who won but she enjoyed the experience. I think that needs to be brought into the GAA in a big way. We need to sell experience.
Presenting Gaelic games has improved incrementally in recent years as former GAA Director General Páraic Duffy aimed to strike a balance between the need for more razzmatazz and retaining the traditional aspect of the game.
There is a lot more music and visual effects in Croke Park than there would have been 10 years ago.
Not everyone has received the memo, however. We’ve beaten this drum before but ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ is a marching song and without a band to back a solo singer it sounds like a hollow lament. But the marketing mistake in Castlebar on Sunday wasn’t how the national anthem was sung, or the singer unfortunately momentarily forgetting the lyrics, but the game itself.
Obviously, Mayo and Galway were going to do what they had to do. It was always going to be spiky and defined by caution over anything cavalier.
When so much was riding on it, nerves were going to play a part too but they could hardly be held up as the reason behind the downright woefulness of some of the football played.
Mayo’s wide count of 12 told a story but Galway had a trying day too in front of goal and there didn’t seem to be any end to the amount of ball each team dropped short.
But perhaps what was the most excruciating was the amount of time both teams kept the ball in their possession.
In the second half, Galway had the ball for close to two minutes. If Mayo’s build-ups were yawningly slow, Galway’s were long as they looked to prevent the home side building any momentum.
Those chains of handpasses were brilliantly effective in keeping the vast home support schtum. As 1993 US Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson told his players in The Belfry, “Listen for the silence. Silence is good.”
It did nothing for the game as a spectacle, though. Like Macauley’s other sport, it was basketball without the shot clock.
But what if there was a shot clock? Okay, it mightn’t reduce the number of shots that drop short or wides — in fact, it might add to them — but at least there would be an inbuilt urgency to be proactive with the ball.
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In 2012, Seán Cavanagh was describing Gaelic football as “essentially basketball”, which was three years before basketball coach Mark Ingle was introduced to Jim Gavin’s Dublin ticket along with Jason Sherlock, a man also with a lot of experience of the hardwood; over five prior to Éamonn Fitzmaurice bringing in James Weldon to his Kerry set-up. Both appointments came as the result of Gavin and Fitzmaurice reviewing chastening All-Ireland semi-final defeats for the counties.
In other words, both were predicated by a need to be more defensively savvy. The skills of basketball has always been aligned with those of Gaelic football but now the sport is being played like it and all because possession is king. But placing a time limit on, even if it would more than likely mean a second referee, would lend to more excitement than the dirge served up in Castlebar.
The game has proven that those who felt Dublin’s All-Ireland semi-final win over Tyrone last year would herald a new exciting age for the sport, that everyone would have to start thinking and playing like Dublin, was wrong.
The 44-point Donegal-Cavan match was a turn-up for the books but it’s clear when a county with Galway’s penchant for attacking football are now more concerned with watching their backs and are reaping rewards for it that the penny hasn’t dropped because there isn’t any.
Limiting the handpass would be a counterproductive measure and, as we saw in this year’s All-Ireland senior club final, there can be quite brilliant passages of football involving it.
Macauley could do his small bit for the promotion of the game by kicking the ball once in awhile but it’s not what he does best. Keep-ball is now best practice, even if it’s clearly not the best for the game.
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