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Burns can help to battle the boos and win back crowds

By dDeclan Bogue

Published 01/04/2015

Eyes on the prize: Dublin’s Cormac Costello peels away from Oisin Duffy of Derry last weekend as the Oak Leafs restrict their opponents to four points in 63 minutes
Eyes on the prize: Dublin’s Cormac Costello peels away from Oisin Duffy of Derry last weekend as the Oak Leafs restrict their opponents to four points in 63 minutes

The concept of a Dublin crowd booing at the football offered up on their lap is far from new.

For the All-Ireland semi-final between Donegal and Dublin in August 2011, 81,436 people turned up. Such was the secrecy of Donegal's gameplan for the day, their own players' mobile phones were confiscated.

With just Colm McFadden in an advanced position, they scrambled the Dublin gameplan until manager Pat Gilroy realised he had to keep men back to mind the house. After a quarter of an hour, the booing rained down from Hill 16.

Kerry manager Jack O'Connor, who had already booked their passage to the final the week before with victory over Mayo, was there on a very public scouting mission. He later commented: "It was the most surreal game that I was ever at. There was sustained booing from the crowd. I'd never seen that previously.

"One thing stood out for me. You need ferocious courage to go with a gameplan like that and stick to it and get the players to stick to it. That takes some convincing."

After the game, Donegal manager Jim McGuinness was asked for his thoughts on the booing. He replied that he hadn't noticed, that his mind was on the game and hadn't heard roughly 20,000 people booing.

Instead, he emphasised the gains his team had made, that his job had been to put medals in the pockets of his players and that they had done that twice and almost made an All-Ireland final.

They wouldn't, as he said, be going back to training in Ballybofey and Castlefin to "make Pat Spillane feel better about himself".

How the landscape has changed since.

The architect of this pragmatic thinking has been hailed as a revolutionary. It is a fitting title, as he did indeed revolutionise the game.

And we can all see with our eyes that the revolution has made Gaelic football a less attractive game, although we can object to the way in which the debate has been personalised and men like Mickey Harte have been subject to public profanities.

When Harte is asked to defend the type of football Tyrone play, he by extension is speaking on behalf of the majority of inter-county coaches.

He speaks for someone like Brian McIver, who sent his team out last Saturday night to play a Version 2.0 of Donegal's 2011 edition, and limited Dublin to four points after 63 minutes of football. Just over a year ago, Derry lost to the same opposition by 15 points in the league final.

Clearly, this represents progress. But the garlands tossed in McGuinness' way by the coaching musos will not come the way of a coach like McIver or Harte.

I have been covering football matches for the last six years. So far, the games I have covered in Ulster this year have left me feeling that I am in my own production of Groundhog Day.

Teams collect a short kickout, they work it 'through the hands' until they are faced with a defensive press, and then they seek to get a player running an angle to puncture a line of defence and seek to disrupt the defensive system.

It is a tactic traditionally associated with Rugby football, now imported into Gaelic football.

Here's the thing though.

Rob Carroll of Scoring Stats published a graphic showing that in league games, the average score in Gaelic football is holding up. So far this year, the average is 28.8 points a game, which is admittedly down on last year's 32.8, but still way ahead of 2001's measly 26.3. And that was before the Ulster defensive systems came to the fore.

So what has to change is not how many scores arrive, but how scores arrive. Good luck with that one. I wouldn't like to be taking on that task.

Jarlath Burns, the Chairman of the GAA's standing rules committee, has already signalled his intentions, tweeting during the Derry-Dublin game that it was the "death of Gaelic football".

He added context yesterday, saying in a radio interview: "You don't blame managers. Managers are there to win and do the best with the team that they have."

That kind of level-headed response was needed. Burns also said: "A skill is something that, if you're watching it, it makes you involuntarily get up off your seat."

We all know what he is talking about. Let's wish his committee all the best in their work.

Belfast Telegraph

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