Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Joe Kernan: Donegal show cynics are yesterday’s news

Jim McGuinness has helped Donegal to emerge as a more expansive side

The Football Review Committee under the capable chairmanship of Eugene McGee has certainly been burning the midnight oil recently in its in-depth analysis of gaelic football and just what improvements can be recommended.

Like quite a number of people, I believe that there is little wrong with the game as it stands although there is a major question mark hovering over the interpretation of rules by referees and the win at all costs attitude deployed by a lot of teams.

Certainly, the Review Committee did not hesitate to deal with what many view as some of the more contentious issues within the sport –—cynical fouling, the impact that county team managers can have on club fixtures programmes, the lack of real punitive content in a yellow card and the manner in which serial offenders escape meaningful censure.

Among the eighteen proposals offered by the committee are suggestions to introduce the ‘mark’ and a game clock for championship matches.

It also recommends that a clean pick-up of the ball from the ground should be permitted and that points can be scored with the open hand while recommendations are also made in relation to the tackle rule.

But it’s in the area of cynical play that I feel the Review Committee can have a lead role in helping to eradicate one of the cancers within the sport.

Time-wasting, repeated fouling, not allowing free-kicks to be taken quickly, deliberately falling on top of another player — these are just some elements of the game that are leaving supporters severely disenchanted.

A number of teams now use fouling as an actual tactic and actually earmark areas of the field where fouls should be permitted so as to prevent opponents getting closer to the posts.

The Committee has also taken on board the lack of consistency in refereeing with chairman McGee candidly admitting that “this drives people mad and can dominate post-match discussions and this should not be the case.”

There is absolutely no doubt that the team going forward should be given every advantage just as is the case in rugby.

I welcome the suggestion that the ball should be moved 30 metres closer to goal rather than the current 13 metres if the player against whom a foul has been awarded does not release the ball immediately or if a player or players from the defending team seek to interfere with the attacking player’s bid to take the free-kick.

While the FRC proposals must go before Congress before they are ratified and then enshrined in the Official Guide, it will be 2014 before any meaningful changes are implemented. I welcome the recommendation too that the mark should be introduced for any catch from a kick-out where the ball is caught cleanly on or past the 45-metre line.

The player will then have the option to play on immediately or if he intends to avail of the mark , he must indicate this to the referee.

If he elects to take the mark he must then kick the ball from his hands. This will certainly help to speed up the game and perhaps help the overall standard of midfield play. I would imagine that a number of the FRC recommendations will eventually be implemented and that this will certainly help to improve the intrinsic entertainment value of gaelic football.

Spoiling tactics, an emphasis on negativity and a total preoccupation with defensive strategies have detracted from the quality of play in numerous games over the past couple of season. Donegal were lambasted for their safe

ty-first policy in 2011 but re-invented themselves this year when they adhered to a more expansive mantra that brought them unprecedented success. Perhaps their more adventurous strategy devised by manager Jim McGuinness will now prove a template on which other teams can build their plans for success.

The vast majority of managers, of course, will pursue their quest for success by taking the view that the end will always justify the means.

In other words, if the requirement is to play ugly then this will be adopted.

Gaelic football is still a tremendous spectacle when it is played within the framework of the rules and in the right sporting spirit.

If some of the FRC proposals are implemented in 2014, then it can become an even more appealing sport and hopefully players will derive greater satisfaction from their involvement and spectators will further relish their attendance at matches.

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