Leading inter-county football managers run the risk of losing sideline privileges for several games should they continue the habit of keeping their actual starting teams for Allianz League fixtures under wraps until the 11th hour.
Monaghan’s Malachy O’Rourke is notorious for the practice, averaging over four changes per each of the county’s seven league games last season, as is Dublin boss Jim Gavin, while Declan Bonner made a multitude of late alterations to his teams last spring. Between them, the trio made 66 last-minute switches across the seven rounds of their 2018 campaigns.
Against Kerry, Galway and Dublin, O’Rourke altered six of the side that had been announced in the lead-up.
Up to now in the league, managers have been able to keep the opposition guessing about their panel, never mind the 15 players they field at throw-in because there is no rule pertaining to naming teams in the competition. In the Championship, a withdrawal of sideline privileges and €1,000 fines are applicable to those counties who do not submit their match-day 26 to the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) before 9am on the Thursday before a weekend game. A team that adds a player not registered in the original 26 forfeits the game.
However, the CCCC have introduced a new regulation for the league whereby counties who do not submit their 15 starting players and 11 substitutes to the referee 20 minutes or more before throw-in will be fined €500 per individual breached and/or the manager in question will lose his sideline privileges for one game.
Monaghan have always maintained what they release in the week of a game is not the team but in fact the panel, while Donegal under Bonner did not provide much pre-game information on their starting line-ups, at least not during their 2017 league. Bonner shares with his new selector Stephen Rochford a common belief as he too was fond of deviating from the teams he released on Fridays as Mayo manager.
It is not certain how many of Monaghan’s switches were confirmed past the 20-minute mark but theirs and others’ behaviour has compelled the GAA to act. Dublin have regularly kept everyone in the dark about their team selections in the league up to as close to throw-in time as possible. For example, Gavin’s decision to bring in Darren Daly, Michael Fitzsimons, Kevin McManamon and Dean Rock for the win over Mayo in Castlebar last February was only made known minutes before the start.
It is understood Allianz League broadcasters TG4 and eir Sport had become exasperated with the amount of inaccurate team news being provided that they made representations to the GAA. It is also known Croke Park themselves had become frustrated from a match presentation perspective with supporters constantly being provided with erroneous starting line-ups over PA systems.
The matter came to a head last March towards the business end of the league. Aside from Monaghan, Mayo and Dublin’s plethora of late personnel alterations, Donegal made five to the team they gave to Monaghan for the match programme in Clones. In the same round, the Tyrone team carried in the match programme for their trip to Castlebar showed 15 changes, either personnel or numbers, to the one that was announced on the Friday beforehand although it was later claimed this was done in error.
Also that month, Armagh released their team to face Fermanagh on their website on Friday night but come the game there were three changes including Brendan Donaghy who wasn’t mentioned in the match programme.
The likes of Gavin’s Dublin have sometimes assigned jerseys to players differently to the way the team was announced or listed in the match programme. In Omagh in 2014, several Dublin players who togged out weren’t listed in the programme.
Asked about it following the game, Gavin replied: “That would be outside my sphere of influence”.
Kerry did the same against Monaghan in Inniskeen last year although that was prompted by the delay in the game due to bad weather and the fact the programme had gone to print the week before.
Dummy teams were all the rage for the likes of Ger Loughnane and Justin McCarthy in the late 1990s and early 2000s but hurling is largely removed from such chicanery now. However, former Waterford manager Derek McGrath changed over half the team that had been named for their Division 1A game against Clare in Walsh Park last spring.
Former GAA director general Páraic Duffy, who brought in the squad announcement protocol for the Championship, accepted the organisation had to do more to address the problem of dummy teams. In his last annual report 12 months ago, he wrote: “There is frustration among both media and our supporters at the practice of naming ‘dummy’ teams. It has got to the point that little notice is now taken of announced team line-outs.”
He continued: “Changes of status from starting player to substitute and vice versa within the 26 are now the norm and it is not unusual to see two or three alterations in personnel to the starting line-out.
“I received one excellent suggestion during the year from the former Laois player Billy Sheehan as to how this problem can be addressed. If a change is made to the starting 15 after the Thursday morning deadline, that change should be made to count as one of the six substitutions that a team may make during the game. Team managers would think twice before knowingly naming an incorrect starting 15 if it reduced their options for substitution during the game.”
That proposal doesn’t consider injuries between Thursday and throw-in but it’s a step in the right direction as is the new regulation in fighting GAA’s version of fake news.
Monaghan 29, Donegal 19, Mayo 19, Dublin 18, Tyrone 10, Kildare 5, Kerry 5, Galway 3.
Waterford 11, Cork 5, Tipperary 3, Wexford 3, Kilkenny 2, Clare 1.