Is Gaelic football becoming too predictable? Are the GAA doing enough to promote to help the club player? Eamonn Hickson gives us three ways we can improve our native sport.
1. Turn Provinces into Regions
For a while now, we’ve been hearing about how the strongest teams in Connacht and Munster have an easy path to the All-Ireland quarter finals, or at worst, the fourth round of qualifiers. It is hard to argue with such a statement when one looks back at the list of provincial winners in recent years; Kerry and Cork have won every Munster Championship bar one, since 1935. In Connacht, Mayo and Galway’s dominance is not so profound, yet it still forms a pattern.
The easy answer is to do away with the traditional provinces and replace them with regions of eight teams each (New York and London to play-off to enter Connacht proper). With an even number of teams in each region, the All-Ireland route can be marked out well in advance—which has benefits for club and county team.
Of course, there will be those who think that traditions should be upheld over everything else. In response, one has to realise that we are living in the 21st century; progression and development is essential, even unavoidable in some ways.
2. Consider the club player
One of the knock-on effects from the previous recommendation is the planning and scope allowed for club games during the summer months. So many counties are happy with playing club championships and leagues in November and December. It does not make sense to be ‘idle’ during the summer months (in Kerry county leagues, clubs average one league game per summer month). Yes, some clubs will state that a lot of their younger players are unavailable during the summer months due to the trend of extended summer holidays to the US. But, surely the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? Club teams slog it out in January and February in awful conditions, while the summer weekends are wasted.
3. Reward the skills
The introduction of the black card is a step in the right direction; it rewards forwards who take on their opponent, and punish sloppy and cynical defending. While there may be growing pains (the Corn Úi Mhuiri incident), the benefits far outweigh the negatives. This time next year, the black card will be an accepted part of the GAA.
Another step in the right direction would be the introduction of the ‘Mark’ when a kick-out is fielded cleanly, as used in the compromise rules series. A motion to bring it in narrowly failed at the last meeting of congress. Such displays of supreme skill should be rewarded, instead of the current situation where it has become a bad thing to win a clean kick-out—it is far more favourable to win a ‘breaking ball’ as the player has less chance of being swarmed when he gains possession. If the mark was brought in, maybe club and county managers would be training their midfielders to catch instead of trying to break the ball around the middle. If we want Gaelic football to be a skill-based sport, with physical elements, instead of a physical sport, with questionable skill levels, we have to start rewarding those who show exceptional skill.
Pundit Arena, Eamonn Hickson.