Former Kerry All-Ireland winner Pat Spillane last night mounted a defence of the right of ex-players to criticise inter-county GAA matches after Director-General Padraic Duffy had called on past stars to show more support for the association in his annual report last month.
Spillane, speaking at the official launch of the 2012 Munster GAA championships in Mallow, questioned Duffy’s argument and voiced his opposition to imitating the analysis trends in competing sports, like soccer and rugby. He insisted any negative comments on his part were simply reflective of the negativity that existed at the moment in the game.
“I was interested to read the Director-General’s comments about a lot of us ex-players in the media. He was saying we as GAA people are not as supportive of the association as we should be. But you look at soccer analysis and Sky, it’s just popcorn stuff, easy peasy. Suddenly Gary Neville comes along and he’s the boy wonder of the analyst world because for the first time ever here’s an analyst who’s calling the game as he sees it. Rugby is the sexy sport and the in-sport in this country, and how dare anyone have the misfortune to criticise it? You’ll be ostracised altogether.
“Perhaps we in the GAA world should be more cheerleaders of the association. I can say this without fear of contradiction, there are more bad games played in rugby and soccer than there are in GAA.
“I criticise teams on the field and the association as a GAA man who sees problems that need to be addressed. I’m not for sitting back. I know people say I’m very negative but I’m merely reflective of the negativity that I’m seeing, primarily in Gaelic football in present.”
Spillane also refuted suggestions that he was romanticising about past games in Gaelic football. While accepting that current managers were not “in the entertainment business”, he expressed concern for the propensity of hand-passing currently in the modern game.
“It’s very easy to fall into the trap of saying matches were better in my day. Let me dispel a few myths. There were lots and lots of bad matches in the past. I can understand that managers are not in the entertainment business and it’s about results. I can accept that.
“But I worry about the lack of kick passing in Gaelic football and the amount of hand passing. You look at in the 1976 All-Ireland football final between Kerry and Dublin had 111 handpasses. The 2011 All-Ireland football final between Kerry and Dublin had 285 handpasses. And this year’s Division 2 league final between Tyrone and Kildare had 335 handpasses. That’s three times the amount of handpasses that were in 1976.
“All these guys with the conservative safety first style of football have brought this template down to clubs. I compare them to the snake oil salesmen that operated in the Mid West at the turn of the last century, I think a lot of them are chancers selling a very dubious product. I’ve seen them in action and it’s all about 13 men behind the ball. I think we need to take an audit in the GAA world. Nowadays the players are fitter, stronger and their conditioning is first class. But the product, the game itself is a lot poorer.”
Spillane also called for more aggressive marketing of inter-county hurling and football, citing the lack of live television coverage in certain months of the year as a key issue that needs to be addressed.
“I welcome the open evenings that were held around the country last week but I think we need even more aggressive marketing of our games. But we need to use our inter-county players more because they are the jewels in our crown. But unfortunately because of the media bans by some inter-county managers, you only see them at product launches.
“You look at Kilkenny, the greatest hurling team of all time and only 80% of the first years in my school in Bantry could name two of their players. That’s because they don’t know our inter-county stars. We need to put them at the forefront. Rugby is very good at utilising and marketing our stars. The importance of print and broadcast media cannot be overstated.
“What drives interest nowadays is television. You look at the GAA, for four months we take our product out of the shop window in September and don’t bring it back until February. As somebody working with RTÉ, for seven months of the year the main TV station doesn’t have a live GAA match. We need to have more live matches and we need to market it more.”
Spillane in addition expressed his desire for action to be taken in relation to the difficulties being experienced by GAA clubs in rural Ireland.
“There are major problems in rural Ireland and there are rural clubs going out of existence The GAA club is the only thing still binding some communities that have lost their pubs, their shops, their Garda stations and their national schools. I’m calling on the GAA and the Government to get together and get rural renewal going in this country.”
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