If you can't beat them join them! That is Kieran McGeeney's candid outlook on how to tackle the problem of ‘bluffers' conning referees into awarding them frees in Gaelic football.
‘Geezer’ turned his anger towards the inconsistency of referees after his Kildare team's narrow NFL Division 2 victory over Westmeath on Sunday and embellished his point about the coaching of tactics designed to win frees at the launch of the VHI Cul camps at Croke Park yesterday, where he was unveiled as a football ambassador.
McGeeney's patience with different interpretations of the tackle in Gaelic football has been wearing thin during his time as Kildare manager and he is sure that the art of bluffing to win frees is being coached extensively — though not by him, he is keen to add.
However, he feels that soon he will have to give consideration to doing so too because of the influence frees have in winning games.
McGeeney's Kildare lost last year's Leinster final scoring their entire tally of 18 points from play against Dublin. But he is adamant that it was soft frees awarded against them that cost them the title.
“It's being coached. I don't (coach feigning tactics), but definitely you have to start considering it, because free-kicks win games now,” he says.
“Most championship games are won in the last five or six minutes. Go back to the Leinster final. Two or three decisions just went against us, and game's over. I would look on them as harsh decisions, but I'm sure if I was wearing a Dublin jersey I would have thought they were fair.
“It's difficult, you look at soccer and diving has obviously gone into their game. I don't think there's so much diving in ours, it's just that wrap around the arm.
“One of the biggest problems in Gaelic football at the minute is the manufactured foul. There's very few aggressive fouls, although some people would lead you to believe it (that there were).
“You can all watch it from the sideline, and a lot of the times the fouls are somebody holding on to somebody's arm, and going down. The players have a big part to play in that as well, playing the games fairly. But I suppose in competition when there's a win-at-all-costs mentality, if referees are giving soft frees to another team, and they're not giving you free kicks, you're going to probably play for them.”
McGeeney turns his attention to Kildare's penultimate group match against Laois, a repeat of their fractious O'Byrne Cup quarter-final earlier this year when seven players were red carded. He predicts an “edge” to their latest encounter but adds that the same edge is always there when neighbours and rivals meet.
“There will be a bit of an edge to it but you would have that in every Armagh-Tyrone game or every Meath-Dublin game,” he says. “I suppose those things stay in everybody's head.
“I would hope that it would have no bearing. This is a game between neighbouring counties but hopefully we won't have the same mistakes that we saw the last day.”
On Kildare's inconsistency in the O'Byrne Cup and league, McGeeney believes injuries have played their part.
“We haven't been playing with a full deck at all. Last year I was playing with a full deck from the start of the year through the whole year. At one stage this year I have had 15 of my panel injured.”
He adds: “We are only one point off where we were this time last year so there hasn't been a big difference.
“People might say we are playing a better brand of football and that might just be true.”