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GAA must club together to create a better future

Solution is needed to reward loyal stars with regular games, not more games

By Declan Bogue

Has anyone the slightest appetite for an examination of the ills of Gaelic football? Our old friend, the language of catastrophe, came back with a vengeance through the winter.

It prophesied the death of the GAA's soul through their commercial dealings, the excessive demands on players and what exactly is the role of the Gaelic Players Association?

Now we come to the poster problem - the blanket defence.

It has become a catch-all term for any team caught in the act of bringing back forwards as defenders. Catchphrases are addictive little things, but they become an all-conquering argument against nuance.

Little time is given to examine, for example, how the Donegal team have perfected the counter-attack and the angles they run.

Such a point gets drowned in broad-brush analysis. Recently, I spoke to a one-time talking head of The Sunday Game. He told me that Anthony Tohill was advised to not get into the nuts and bolts of a game so much, but to become 'more entertaining'.

The consumer culture demands more entertainment and Jarlath Burns is gathering up his members of the Playing Rules Advisory Committee with a brief to make Gaelic football more attractive.

We cautiously wonder exactly what they will look for.

Over the weekend, we spotted a few skills of Gaelic football, such as Rory Beggan strolling up to a free and clipping it between the posts from an astonishing 63 metres.

Consider how an artist like Odhran MacNiallais, with his grace and poise not only surviving but thriving in the modern day game. For those same commentators who lionise their period of playing, surely they would concede that a willowy talent like the Gaoth Dobhair man would have been horsed out of it in their era, punched, kicked and pinched into distraction.

The skills of Gaelic football are still there, and we must be careful not to over-legislate.

Take, for example, the black card. A year ago it seemed to be the cure for all ills in Gaelic football.

On March 27 last year, Joe Brolly wrote: "A game that was being submerged in a quicksand of cynicism and bad footballers is already being transformed… spoilers are doomed.

"Secondly, the blanket defence is dying on its feet. Its success depended on being able to body check and wrestle opponents in order to slow them up in their own half. Even Donegal are now pressing up on their men, going man to man when not in possession."

We don't dredge this up to embarrass Joe, but to hold that optimistic view up against the awful display of deliberate fouling in Healy Park two weekends ago that proves beyond debate the existence of 'the good foul'.

On the other hand, Gaelic football can be a sterile pursuit as witnessed in the first semi-final between Cork and Donegal last Sunday, with Donegal committing only 12 fouls and not having a single player awarded a card.

In a matter of weeks, the Championship will be here. Questions of aesthetics become a distant consideration.

It's easier to be negative and the 'better in my day' gang have maintained a winter campaign that while sounding convincing, is fairly harmless nonetheless.

If there is a danger to Gaelic football, it is nothing to do with one horseshoe shot out of the blunderbuss; it is the lack of regularity in club fixtures and the amount of training.

Last year, a minor team in Ulster won their county Championship. They trained 136 times.

If a club in Fermanagh are knocked out of the Championship in the first round, they will have played 19 games all year, excluding any potential play-off scenario. They will have easily trained over 100 times.

This kind of training load is nothing short of madness. Mick McGurn has pointed out that the All Blacks rugby team do not have as heavy a training to games ratio.

Gaelic football trades on the loyalty of those who want to represent their parish.

Nowadays, that demands utter and absolute commitment, abstinence and for young men to insulate themselves from the life around them.

The least we can do is find a solution to give them regular games and the chance to experience the odd holiday.

Belfast Telegraph

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