At the White House, Irish dance sensation Cairde was performing her thunderous routine on St. Patrick’s Day when two of the dancers almost jumped to the front row. Poor Nancy Pelosi almost swallowed her false teeth.
They danced for seven minutes and when they were done, the audience stood and gave them a prolonged ovation before President Joe Biden and the First Lady took the stage and shook hands with them.
Then they spotted me and came running like excited puppies, all talking to each other. “Joe, football has gone terribly bad. You couldn’t see it.” A few photos were taken, the boys had a drink and off we went. “We went to the Galway-Clare game at the weekend and left 20 minutes from time. Pathetic shit.”
“I refuse to go to the games,” said one of them. “What is the problem?” another asked me. “The problem,” I said, “is that the game isn’t a spectacle anymore. Can you imagine if you guys danced the way modern Gaelic football is played? You wouldn’t lose your three million Tik Tok followers for long.”
I pointed out that the basic components of an event and an audience are that there is a spectacle to enjoy and that the GAA seems to have overlooked that. They were laughing and jumping up and down and chatting enthusiastically until their manager took them for a photo with the US Marine Band. Chatting with these guys would make you seasick.
At the moment, people go to the games because we have a strong bond with our boys and the older ones remember the exciting game. It’s a triumph of hope and loyalty over reality. But what about the younger generation? Will they keep coming?
I’ve posted a number of noughties games to my Twitter feed over the past few months and the response has been incredible. Tyrone vs Meath 2007. Derry vs Dublin 2007 and so on.
Watching them again, I couldn’t believe it was the same sport. The man-to-man competitions. The abilities. The long, precise pedaling. The ebb and flow of the game as teams attacked from end to end. The excellent one-on-one defense. The thrill of the crowd. The noise from start to finish.
Now the games sound like a cricket match. I watched England play cricket with Dessie Fahy from Drumragh GAC, the only cricket fan in Tyrone. The crowd chats during the game. They drink pints from plastic glasses. Every now and then (more than now, to be fair) there’s a little cheer when something happens. But more often than not, everyone is just spending a pleasant time in the sun while being gently numbed with pints of bitters.
In our games now the ball is thrown up, there is a bit of cheering, one team wins the ball, the defending team’s sweeper falls before the full forward and the sideways and backwards moves, the endless solo and hand passes begins. At this point we are chatting in the stands and waiting for something to happen.
The Derry matches, like all the others, are copies of each other. The goal is to play like Kilcoo, extremely efficient but extremely boring. The Derry-Roscommon game a few weeks ago was the usual: 4,000 Roscommon supporters chatted among themselves, then excitement erupted in the final five minutes.
Then it was: “Why are we bothering?” and “Why isn’t anyone kicking the ball anymore?” but you already know that. Oliver Callan said on radio last week that X was “more boring than a Donegal County final” but he could have referred to football anywhere. As the game has become a niche for trainers and anoraks, players work their way through like a man sleeping with a woman he no longer likes.
Donal O’Neill, a founder of the GPA who now lives in Cape Town, where he is a wellness/Pilates guru and filmmaker, spoke last year (while holding the position of Downward Dog) of the terrifying spectacle that the game has become has become: “When you apply professional principles to an amateur sport, that happens.”
As with most things, he’s wrong. The problem is that unlike other sports, our rule makers have so far looked at the symptoms and not the disease. The core problem is the sweeper in front of the full-forward line, which automatically kills the flow of the game. This is easy to spot.
Instead of having two highly skilled inter-county umpires decide if a ball went over the touchline, let’s pitch one every half. Your main job would be to make sure there is no zone marking.
For five years I have been advocating a restricted zone 30 meters in front of the goals in a semicircle that ends 10 meters from the touchline and in which only man marking is allowed. A defender can only go in if the forward does. If a defending team player goes in there alone, the attacking team has 21 yards clear.
If any of the three officials conclude that there are zone markers, then it is a free in from the 21 yard line. That will solve the core problem and bring us back to what survived over 100 years until Jimmy McGuinness showed up.
Some other simple rule changes: The goalkeeper is not allowed to accept a pass from an outfield player. This would stop the keep-ball that keeps teams from pushing their way up, encourages press across the court, and encourages the defending team to kick long. So the pressing team can’t do anything when the ball goes to the goalkeeper again.
Another simple rule: the ball must not be played backwards over the center line. Again this will stop keeping the ball aka game management / running down the clock.
That way, the Dubs couldn’t do what they did against Mayo in the closing minutes of the 2017 All-Ireland Final, running the ball from the corner forward all the way back to Stephen Cluxton and then playing the ball . The kick-out beyond the age of 45 should also be mandatory in the senior area, simply to promote competition and increase the risk. Coaches hate it because instead of keeping 90 percent of their own kickouts, they would have to take a risk.
Either that or allow us to drink at games.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/gaelic-football/these-rule-changes-would-reignite-gaelic-football-and-get-fans-excited-again-41491509.html These rule changes would revitalize Gaelic football and get fans excited again