Don’t ring the changes, improve the skill level

WRITING a column slagging off the poor Gaelic football fare on offer in the championship last weekend would be the easiest option in the world today.

(Try the second-hardest option – Ed.)

Ahem. Fair enough.

More seriously, could the Weekend of a Hundred Wides (86 in fact; we rounded the figure up) become a watershed in the development of Gaelic football?

Possibly. On the basis that if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem, we thought we’d run the rule over some possible answers.

Dropping a player or two: it’s odd that whenever field sports consider ways to improve the playing standards, cutting a participant or two doesn’t seem to feature.

Yet most of those sports began not in the last century but the one before that again, when people were smaller and dressed in non-streamlined sportswear.

The reality for Gaelic football is that almost everything has changed about the sport — down to the footwear and the ball — with a view to making the proceedings quicker. Yet the playing area remains the same.

Given that everyone knows that footballers are fitter now than ever, is it any wonder there’s so little room to operate in?

If teams were composed of 13 rather than 15 players there’d be a little space.

Players could show some skill instead of charging into each other like Transformers (Robots In Disguise).

But the chances of that happening, with its attendant whiff of falling player numbers, are nil.

Point posts/limiting solo-runs and hops/shot clock: If you walk into any bar in Ireland and ask about great GAA miscarriages of justice the score conceded by a footballer who hopped the ball twice is at number one.

Every townland in the country can spit venom about a poor referee who didn’t see some sleeveen bounce the ball as he went around the full-back “and then AGAIN as he sold the keeper a dummy to score the goal that won the championship...”

Asking referees to take any combination of one solo/two hops or vice versa on board for a game is tantamount to the line at the bottom of my first-year mathematics book: THE PROOF OF THIS ASSERTION IS BEYOND THE CAPABILITY OF THIS CLASS.

A shot clock has some merit: encouraging players to have a go would certainly rid us of the sterile mini-games of rugby league we’ve been subjected to, and would stimulate some interesting tactics.

But the point posts? That would be rewarding poor execution.

Changing the rules to address a sporting new reality can send out an odd message. When the lineout in rugby union became too difficult to police, the authorities tacitly conceded the battle by legitimising lifting, but raising the points value of a try offered a strong incentive to rugby teams not to settle for a kick at goal (the bonus-point system we applaud as well, but for a championship/knock-out system it doesn’t offer much).

The argument could be made that new(ish) tactics in Gaelic football have made the game far less enjoyable as a spectacle, but you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, and you certainly can’t stuff the extra wing-forward who drops back to help out his defence back into the bottle.

You’re better advised to view those golden games of yore as ones of astounding tactical naivete, in which the premium on winning your own personal duel with an opponent counted for more than combined play and availing of the room on the field.

That explains the high premium placed on low-percentage skills such as high fielding decades ago.

The irony is that the way around the dour collisions and crowded zones of today is to perfect those same skills — good catching and accurate kicking over distance.

The gear changes, the body shape changes, and even the football changes. But the value of good skills remains constant.

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