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Comment: GAA must put a stop to false line-ups

By Declan Bogue

Just in front of the Brewster Park dugout assigned for Armagh, manager Kieran McGeeney was standing alongside selector Paddy McKeever when the stadium tannoy sprung into life prior to their league meeting with Fermanagh.

"We cannot give you the Armagh line-out, as the Armagh management would not give it to us," the voice intoned, bringing a derisory cheer from the home support, who thought it great sport.

It was a light-hearted moment, and I thought I might mark the occasion by putting it out in a tweet: "Guffaws in the stand as Brewster Park announcer says they cannot announce Armagh team as management would not give out the team!"

At the time of writing, it had four replies, 14 retweets and 35 likes - not the kind of traction that might land you a sponsored Land Rover or anything, but enough to lead a few Armagh folk at Monday's Schools' Cup finals to mildly rebuke me.

You see, the tweet was entirely accurate in what was reported. This is what you get here - scalding hot takes flying in every direction. But it doesn't tell the whole story.

In fact, what had happened was that the Fermanagh PRO, Pauric McGurn, was in that moment becoming a father for the first time and he took his place in the hospital alongside wife Michelle. The chore of getting the Armagh team fell between a few stools and nobody had actually asked the Orchard management for the line-up.

Another former Armagh captain told me on Monday that, with the crowd chortling heartily, McGeeney turned to McKeever and said with a wry smile: "You're going to get me in trouble".

Therefore, there is no sense in blaming McGeeney or his back-room staff for any of this. There is a culture that has become accepted of team managements naming teams that have little resemblance to the side that actually take the field on a Sunday.

In recent years, counties have even stopped naming teams to the media, choosing instead to publish a line-up online to drive up those precious page impressions.

Armagh published their team on Friday night through their own website, but it was inaccurate. By the time the ball was thrown in, Jamie Cosgrove, Niall Rowland and Ethan Rafferty were out, replaced by Brendan Donaghy (wearing a No.27 jersey which wasn't even listed in the programme), Colm Watters and Oisín MacÍomhair.

Again, there is no sense in blaming Armagh for this. Fermanagh themselves had a change to their team as printed in the programme, Daniel Teague making way for James McMahon.

There is nothing new in managers wanting to hold back a few trump cards by way of tactical subterfuge and it goes from the very bottom to the very top. Until the last couple of years, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte always released his teams after Thursday night training and - far more often than not - that was how they lined out come matchday.

Nowadays, the team is sent out late on a Friday and Red Hands' line-ups have not been accurate.

Perhaps it was the visit of Dublin to Healy Park in 2014 that convinced him to go another way. The Dublin team that took the field that day wasn't even a second cousin of the team in the programme. It was the first time many of us had seen a player not listed in the programme (Philly McMahon) actually start, while players lined out with jersey numbers contrary to what was printed.

Asked about it afterwards, Dublin manager Jim Gavin, the military man who was chief flying instructor for the Air Corps and once flew the government jet, insisted: "That would be outside my sphere of influence," which is just as hilarious now as when he first said it.

But, and this is a twist that you might not have been expecting, is this any worse than the situation we had, at least in my memory, around the late 1980s?

Back then there was no matchday programme for league games - it was only a Championship phenomenon. For a league game, you would pay at the gate and, just inside, a table would be set up, where someone would hand out folded A4 sheets with the teams either side of the fold.

Each team would have up to half a dozen positions that would be filled with that mythical player, A.N. Other.

Nowadays, matchday programmes are glossy productions. Locally, Derry's 'Oakleafers' is actually a brilliant collection of pieces of journalism from talented local writers, various cultural events are promoted and veteran GAA volunteers are lauded for all of their efforts.

The GAA hand out McNamee Awards for this sort of thing.

It is also a chance to raise funds, with ads for agricultural feeds and energy companies among others.

The difficulty is that with such a production, it needs to be in the printers by Thursday lunchtime. What team manager wants to hand over a genuine team on a Thursday and grant the opposition a full training session that night, along with two more full days to think their way through it?

The solution is simple. Establish squad numbers for the league and run them in full in the programme. One hour before the game, submit the starting XV to the referee and the opposition, with a sanction for alterations thereafter.

Whatever happens during the game - alterations, tactical reshuffles and such - is part of the fun.

Belfast Telegraph

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