Declan Bogue: Time to tackle problem of tactical fouling
Last weekend there was so much to admire about the health and popularity of Gaelic games. Bumper crowds, old rivalries renewed and all the excitement that brings. A shame, then, that tactical fouling emerges as the major talking point.
Before the Ulster final, Jarlath Burns brought it out into the open that Donegal are prepared to foul the opposition in their own half, then prevent them from taking the free in order to set their defence.
Burns knows this role, as he played it for Armagh, being known as their ‘Stopman’. He lifted the Ulster title in 1999. The ends justified the means.
It's not right to say these players are ‘cheating’. They are merely doing what the rules do not prevent and the boundaries of acceptable behaviour are too loosely defined.
As a case study, we look at how Donegal halted Down in the first half of the Ulster final. There is no point talking about the second half, because they owned the ball in that time.
3 minutes — High ball in from Donegal, Aidan Carr catches it and is fouled. Michael Murphy stand over him, Leo McLoone dribbles the ball away. Ref Joe McQuillan moves the ball on 10 yards.
8 minutes — Conor Laverty tries to round Rory Kavanagh, he is dragged to the floor. With the free given and the ball away, Kavanagh then runs back to Laverty and throws him to the floor. No booking.
9 minutes — The bounce catches out Donegal forwards. Dan Gordon collects the ball and tries to get out of a ruck of players. David Walsh wrestles with both arms around his body. Free out.
11 minutes — High ball into Donal O'Hare, he gets it, and is tripped by Declan Walsh before he can head for goal. Free in.
19 minutes — Ambrose Rogers is pulled down by Rory Kavanagh. Free awarded. Colm McFadden scoops ball up. Tosses it away from freetaker. McFadden was booked for the same thing in the semi-final against Tyrone, being sent off on the second yellow card.
28 minutes — From a Paul Durcan kickout, Rory Kavanagh catches but then touches it on the ground. Down free. Mark Poland and Aidan Brannigan wrestle for the ball off Kavanagh. McQuillan moves it on 10 yards — the first time an indiscretion has been moved into a scoreable position.
29 minutes — Ambrose Rogers gets ball and space opens up — Frank McGlynn hauls him down. Three Donegal players remain close to the ball before it becomes apparent Donal O'Hare is going to take a point from the free.
34 minutes — Rory Kavanagh gets a yellow card for a high challenge on Laverty — should have been second yellow for fouls on Laverty.
That was the Ulster final. The night before, Kerry gave an absolute masterclass in closing the game out against Tyrone. In the last 30 minutes there were 14 kickouts in which they hauled a Tyrone opponent to the floor. It killed any kind of momentum Tyrone could build, but if you were to ask yourself if Tyrone would do the same if they were in Kerry's position, you'd have to say yes.
In Leinster, Meath were desperately seeking a late goal to level against Dublin. With Cian Ward moving into space, Barry Cahill rugby-tackled him and his team mates stood over the ball, preventing a quick free.
The one team that did try and play with a Corinthian spirit over the weekend were Limerick, who had Kildare on the rack in the last few moments of their qualifier.
However, they lost the ball in the last play of normal time, Kildare worked it upfield and kicked an equaliser that brought the game to extra-time.
Five times Limerick had a chance to wrap arms around a Kildare player and drag him to the floor, and win the game.
They did not, they lost, and they go on being patronised and denied the respect a team like Kildare get.
Enlightened journalists have been writing about tactical fouling for years, reasoning that an appropriate penalty should be sought; a 45 metre free for example, no matter where the incident occurred.
According to GAA president Liam O'Neill the purpose of the Football Review Committee set up in April was to identify issues in the playing of the game, how it has evolved and present conclusions, which will form the basis of a national debate.
O'Neill was at Clones and had the courage to go on record over the game’s more unsavoury elements. Every president can become distracted with leaving a legacy, some of them get it badly wrong.
Changing the festering spirit of Gaelic football would be Liam's greatest achievement.