Let’s get tough on time-wasters
It was instructive to listen to Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan after their loss to Tyrone last Sunday.
He agreed that the game was intense, ‘not far off’ the levels it can reach during Championship football.
For most of the game, however, it can be argued that this was football every bit as intense as what we will see in the height of the summer, the only difference being that come Championship time, both teams aim to be leaping out of their skin and the ground will be harder, making for an even faster pace.
The previous night Fermanagh and Antrim played out a draw that although lacking the finesse of what transpired in Healy Park, was contested just as fiercely.
Given the fortnight break in the fixture programme and the opportunity that presents for county teams to put in some gruelling work, players had gone stir-crazy for a game of football.
With nothing but the name of the next team on their mind for the best part of the month, it made for some thrilling, tight contests.
There was a noticeable air of tension in Casement and Healy over the weekend.
Managers may scoff at league defeats and pretend they aren't bothered one way or another, but most teams put tremendous worth in their league performances.
For a player, it means everything in establishing yourself and every league game is another audition.
When there are 30 muscled, motivated men with adrenaline, testosterone and tempers all looking to secure league points, things inevitably spill over.
We have talked about the issue of ‘sledging' before in this column, but we were pleased to notice the topic earning a significant mention in the Director General's report to annual Congress.
In Paraic Duffy's report, he notes, 'such behaviour goes profoundly against the spirit of sport… Sport must always be about pursuing enjoyable athletic activity. The GAA needs constantly to re-state the values that underpin Give Respect — Get Respect and to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure acceptance of these values among all our members.'
At the Stormont launch of the Ulster under-21 Championships on Monday, recently-elected Ulster Council President Martin McAviney referenced the Respect initiative, urging anyone involved in Gaelic games to adhere to it.
After the year that was 2012 and the numerous controversies arising from sledging, it is pleasing to see that the GAA are not ignoring the problem.
All that is for another day however. What we noticed more than anything at the weekend was a desperation for league points that frequently manifested itself in violence.
Here is a typical scenario; as the clock ticked down in Casement Park with the game in the balance, either team would break with the ball in an attack.
Neither side were particularly keen on shooting form from distance, so quite often the ball was taken into the tackle and the attacker was blown up for over-running the ball.
Instead of handing the ball over, the attacker would then lie on it, frustrating the team awarded the free, but also making time for his own team mates to get back in defence and organise themselves.
This nonsense generates too many flashpoints and judging from the black eyes and lumps on the faces of some players as they marched past reporters into the dressing rooms, some very serious punches were thrown.
There is a particular bravado in those situations.
Players are encouraged not to back down, but it provokes bare-knuckle fighting. And who seriously gets their kicks from watching that?
Of course, the Football Review Committee have a proposal that should go some of the way to eradicating this practise, by stating a player must immediately drop the ball and retreat after conceding a free kick. Failure to do so will result in a black card, meaning the offender will play no further part in the game.
The ball will also be moved on a full 30 metres.
At Healy Park on Sunday, we had a glimpse of how this scenario might play out in the future.
In the 44th minute, Tyrone substitute Aidan Cassidy latched on to a loose Donegal handpass in midfield. He was dragged to ground and as he was frustrated in his attempts to get up, referee Joe McQuillan brought the ball forward, within shooting range.
From a worthless free in midfield against a packed defence, into a chance of a score. Niall Morgan ambled up and kicked his third point of the afternoon.
Should this action be taken at Congress, the reaction would be a much more attractive game with far more scores.
It would also put an end to the chest-thumping idiot carry-on of wrestling for the ball.
It really is that simple.