Dave Barry: ‘Gaelic football may be a cultural mainstay, but that doesn’t mean it can’t evolve’

Former Cork star Dave Barry has called on the GAA to take immediate measures to improve Gaelic football as a spectacle.

The two-time All-Ireland winner doesn’t fear for the game because it is embedded in Irish culture but is concerned more people will be driven away by the prevalent defensive styles.

In the midst of what has been a largely disappointing All-Ireland championship to date following a similarly poor one last season, the ex-Cork City midfielder Barry wants to see the GAA make rule changes to make Gaelic football more exciting.

“The GAA needs to take a hard look at themselves and ask ‘where are we going?’ Because it’s no good just keeping your head down, shrugging your shoulders and saying ‘everything is going to be okay’.

The All-Ireland final will always pack out Croke Park but the qualifiers and things like that, people won’t show up for them if football keeps on going the way it’s going.

“I don’t fear for it because it’s in our culture. It’s just a running game now and if you’ve the physique and stamina to run for 70 minutes you’re going to make teams. I’m heavily involved in soccer and things were brought into the sport like the keeper not being allowed to pick up the ball from a pass, three points for a win and one point for a draw. The GAA have to look at things like that to make the game more entertaining.

“People go to games to see the likes of Gooch and Bernard Brogan but if there are three men around them where is the quality and excitement?

“They don’t want to see defensive walls. Soccer made changes to speed up the game and cut out the tackle from behind as a way of stopping players who were going out to stifle the best players. The sport grew as a result.

“The GAA can’t say the game is grand. Young fellas at six, seven and eight are being taught about defensive structures and in 10 years’ time they’re going to get better at it and you’re going to see a totally different scenario.

“I know when you’re in a dressing room, it’s very difficult to make the call to be entertaining. It’s not about entertainment, it’s about producing the goods but everyone outside the dressing room wants to be entertained.”

Barry isn’t a traditionalist who believes football was better in his time, but recognises the safety-first approach at present is doing it no good as a source of entertainment.

“It’s a sore subject but with football at the moment, and it’s getting into the hurling as well, tactics have really taken hold. I was at the last two All-Irelands and last year Kerry and Dublin played with sweepers although it was an open enough game. Donegal have specialised things the last number of years. I heard they were getting beaten by 20 points before Jim McGuinness came in and the question is do they stay getting hammered?

“I know myself in the years Kerry were beating us year-in, year-out and there was no backdoor, if somebody had told me we would have a chance of winning putting 15 behind the ball I don’t know if I’d say no. But, as a spectacle, it’s not good. In under-age everyone wants to come off the shoulder and everybody wants to hand-pass it.

“In Coláiste Chríost Rí, we were taught to look up when we got the ball. If it wasn’t on long then look short. The big thing being coached at the moment is marking out a square with 20 fellas in there just hand-passing the ball.

“If you’re teaching kids at the ages of seven, eight and nine the minute they get the ball to keep their head down and look for a fella two yards away, I think it’s totally detrimental to the sport.”

Barry says it’s no surprise the best teams in the country are those that kick more than others. “I loved the kick-pass. The Dublin and Kerry teams, that was their forte, and I still think they do that.

“But then Kerry were criticised for years for being naive, wanting to play man-to-man when other teams were playing sweepers and breaking past them then. It made me laugh when people said teams were fitter than Kerry. When you’re running into space, you always look quicker than the fella running into a block of players.”


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