LARRY RYAN: God bless the mark, the Big Man finally catches on

It has been a landmark week for the Big Man, ushered in from the cold as Gaelic football’s saviour.

The lighthouse to guide the Gah back to its glory days of catch and kick. Or kick and catch and hang on a few seconds while we tap over the free, as it may be known, going forward.

It is taken for granted nowadays that there is a think tank working round the clock to fix Gaelic football. That there is always some committee in place trying to reverse engineer a way back to the game they loved, though still mainly hated at the time.

The chief problem with Gaelic football has never changed; neither counties or clubs play enough meaningful games so Gah Man, accordingly, watches far too many matches as a neutral, wanting to be entertained, affording him ample opportunity to notice he is not being entertained.

That comes back to ’structures’, which is the other thing that occupies Gah Man round the clock. But in Gaelic football’s version of rose-tinted nostalgia, it is never possible to recall a time when anybody was happy with the game, only a vague idea that it might once have been not quite as bad, before coaches got notions about keeping possession.

That is the principle that guides the think tanks, not so much the search for a bright future but for a more tolerable past.

So the Standing Committee on the Playing Rules has come up with various contrived ways of inhibiting the scourge of possession. But they have also elected a talisman, a totem to proudly carry the gah backwards.

In a remarkable turnaround for a marginalised, persecuted species, the Big Man has been crowned king.

The lanky streak of piss. The big galoot. The lummox. Dev. The ’Hand me down the moon’. The beanpole. The Big Big man. This is your time. This is your charter.

He had been nearly extinct. A victim of the game’s evolution, like the big number nine in soccer.

First they surrounded him. They swept in front of him and pulled and dragged at the back of him. Then, in the unkindest cut of all, they asked him to run.

When Donaghy, the Big Men’s shop steward, retired last month it was with one final lament that he was being forced to chase back towards his own goal, an undignified exercise he couldn’t face into any more. Another sacrificial lamb to the possession game.

But now, in this brave old world, all they will ask the Big Man to do is catch the blessed ball. No more and no less. And they will award him a score for his trouble, provided the ceremonial act of tapping the ball over the bar is then performed, a straightforward task they assume even the Big Man can manage.

God bless the mark, it is the kind of remarkable turnaround for big men that Crouchy, the shop steward across the water, enjoyed early in his career.

One minute it was ‘freak freak freak’ roaring from the terraces, as he recalls in his new book. A couple of goals later “it was all ‘good touch for a big man’ as if it was somehow impossible that someone my size could control their feet when they were four inches further away from my brain. I didn’t mind. It was better than ‘bad touch for a big man’”.

Now it will be all about the Big Man. We might even see Crouchy shipped over yet for a swansong at the edge of the square, next time the banks send for his old gaffer Harry, for a viral video to help us forget their own wheeler-dealer past.

However, there is one main problem with the new mark rule and Gaelic football’s fetishisation of the catch; we may never again know what kind of feet the big man has.

What set Donaghy apart from the lesser members of his species was not so much his work in the air, but what took place when he came back down to earth. He had the hips to swivel, the wing mirrors to see a pass, and the feet, God forbid, to kick the odd score himself, if all else failed.

That was when the magic happened, with the Big Man. Not much magic will be needed in this new regime, when the Big Man will have done the trick before he hits the ground.

Of course he deserves this moment in the sun, instead of blocking out the sun, as they often jibe. He deserves at least one national league campaign when it’s all about him, when discarded Big Men will once more congregate around the small parallelograms of the land.

But Gah Man may eventually tire of the Big Man proudly taking all these 21-yard frees they would never let him take before, even if he does the robot after slotting them. 

There are other problems, needless to say, with the proposed new rules, chief among them the impossibility that any referee could apply them, particularly in a sport with no regard for the letter of the law, and even less for the spirit of the law.

If possession, particularly of the meandering kind, is the chief scourge preventing the Gah getting in touch with its tolerable past, mightn’t it be easier for everybody to just make one small tweak and insist all handpasses must go forward?

If nothing else, it’s the exact opposite of rugby, which is never a bad starting point.

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

God bless the mark, the Big Man finally catches on Leo Messi:

Lionel Messi: There is a tendency, every six weeks or so, to pause and reflect and worry that the great man is now 31 years old, but is there really any need when it’s clear he’s getting better?

Thomas Bjørn: Threw management consultancy practices into a state of utter confusion by proving you can restore continental pride without recourse to constant motivational jargon and blue and yellow goldfish.

HELL IN A HANDCART

Juventus: There’s backing the employee on which your on-field plans and revenue projections are built and there’s wading in two-footed with insensitive guff about a “great champion” at precisely the wrong moment.

God bless the mark, the Big Man finally catches on

Declan Rice: Observing a studious silence about his international future while maintaining an active but cryptic social media presence suggests this lad is turning into a bit of a troll.


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