The most basic numerical system in the GAA is the team lineout: one to 15.
Lately there have been calls for a squad approach, for giving panellists numbered jerseys from one to 30, as managers make so many changes in personnel and positional switches that the programme lineout is worthless.
I asked GAA Operations Manager Fergal McGill to outline the rationale behind sticking to the 1 to 15 template.
“The first thing is that, rather uniquely, we line our teams out in the programme, which you don’t see in other sports.
“People like that, we find. In a 15-man game, it’s easier to keep track of players when they’re lined out in the programme in that format.
“Obviously there have been suggestions that we adopt the approach that’s been used in soccer — read out the teams over the tannoy in the stadium half an hour before the game and let people take out their pens and mark in this player is in goal, this player’s right-corner-back, and so on.
“From our discussions with people around the country — a lot of people — we’ve found no great appetite for that approach, frankly. We think the system we have is still the best system, and it’s definitely the best system if you have the cooperation of managers — or even 80% to 90% of managers.”
Herein lies the rub. We’ve had some high-profile cases this summer of sweeping pre-game changes...
“There are issues when teams change massively ahead of the game,” says McGill.
“There are times when that’s fair enough — someone goes over on an ankle in the last training session before the game and has to withdraw. That’s fine and supporters don’t have an issue with that.
“The problem arises when there are wholesale changes. It’s when people don’t cooperate or are trying to outsmart opponents there are problems.”
Are the antics of the few colouring perceptions?
“I think they are. In the vast majority of games there have been no more than one or two changes, which isn’t a problem. There have been one or two high-profile games in which there have been a lot of personnel and positional changes, obviously, but the association needs to be careful not to make policy based on the exception rather than the rule.”
Broaden out the issue. How about those jerseys which are unforgiving to the myopic journalist trying to distinguish numbers from 100 yards away...
“There have been cases of teams with new jerseys where the numbers were difficult to make out, and it happened once in Croke Park, where journalists pointed out to me that you couldn’t make out the numbers on a certain county jersey. We mentioned it to the county and in the next game the numbers were far more distinct.”
And that hardy annual call, the suggestion that names should be put on jerseys?
“The first thing is that it would have to be done on a weekly basis, which isn’t practical,” says McGill.
“Or else you’d have to name a squad at the start of the summer of 30 players. Someone who’s no. 24 on May 1, then, would still be no. 24 in September.
“The problem there is that our county teams represent the clubs in those counties, and I like the notion that a lad who excels in the club championship can get called up for the county team, but the squad numbers and names notion would militate against that, because you named your panel in May. I’m not sure that’d be a runner for that reason, not to mention the significant costs involved at a time when we’d be trying to keep costs down.
There’s also the symbolism. “You love seeing the number six on a hurling team field the ball and launch it forward. Same with the number 14 jersey in football, you’ve a view of them as special players. That might be a romantic notion but I think it holds true. We’ve looked at this whole area in different ways, and we’d feel that if it’s acceptable that counties name a panel on May 1, then the squad numbers idea becomes a possibility but at present there doesn’t seem to be an appetite for that.”
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